• Saraki, Dogara, others witness ceremony
• Experts lament delay, 2018 proposals ready in Oct
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday signed the N7.44 trillion budget for 2017, ending months of speculations over the status of the document. The ceremony took place at the Presidential Villa, Abuja with both members of the Executive and the National Assembly in attendance.
Specifically, Osinbajo was joined at the ceremony by Senate President Bukola Saraki; House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and other principal officers of the National Assembly.
Others who witnessed the signing were the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari; Head of the Civil Service of the Federation Winifired Oyo-Ita; Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Habiba Lawal; Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun; Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma; Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan; Director General of Budget Office, Ben Akabueze; and key aides of the president and acting president.
With the signing of the budget, government can now begin to release funds for the execution of its projects and programmes for the development of the country. The absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, who is on a medical vacation in London, had stalled the signing of the bill with conflicting reports indicating the acting president would either sign it or it would be delayed till Buhari returns.
The signing yesterday came following the presidency’s receipt of a full brief on the 2017 Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly. President Buhari had, in a statement at the weekend, indicated that it was in the interest of the nation’s economy for Osinbajo to sign the Appropriation Bill into law to strengthen the unity at the highest level of government.
In a letter dated June 10, 2017, which he personally signed and addressed to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Buhari also said he was “pleased by the joint resolution that the executive would submit next year’s budget proposals by October 2017 and the National Assembly will conclude the appropriation process by December 2017, so that the country can return to a normal fiscal period from next year onwards.”
With the signing of the 2017 budget into law, the Federal Government will authorise the release of N7.441,175,486,758 from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Of that amount, N438,412,952,249 will be for statutory transfers, N1.841,345,727,206 will be for debt service, N177,416,296,707 will be for a Sinking Fund for maturing bonds, N2.987,550,3436 for recurrent non-debt expenditure while N2.177,866,775,867 will be for contribution to the Development Fund for capital expenditure, exclusive of capital expenditure in statutory transfers for the year ending on 31st December 2017.
Delivering a speech after receiving the document from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang assisted by his House of Representatives counterpart, Suleiman Kawu, Osinbajo noted with satisfaction that there were no allegations of errors, or mistakes in the document.
He also noted a significant improvement in the quality of the preparation as well as the presentation.Osinbajo however lamented the delay in the presentation and signing of the budget, blaming the situation on disagreements the executive had about the changes introduced to its 2017 budget proposal by the National Assembly.
“The executive took the view that the changes fundamentally affected some of our priority programmes and would make implementation extremely difficult and in some cases impossible,” he said.
A fiscal governance expert, Eze Onyekpere, in a swift reaction to the signing of the budget, said there was no feat so far achieved, if it would take six months in a new fiscal year for the government to approve its financial plans.
“We have to scrutinise ourselves and see what manner of people we are in this country. Are we celebrating that the fiscal year has shifted further from May to June, when it should be January?
“When is it going to be right? Every year the country will be rolling over its plans to another and opening up opportunities for the mismanagement of the scarce and borrowed monies,” he lamented.
For a research analyst at Ecobank Nigeria, Kunle Ezun, the uncertain nature of the country’s budget process has conditioned many to either plan outside the document or take the initial mention of the figure.
He noted that the first half of the year has gone and the signing now kick-starts financial market’s strategy that is targeted at the country’s fiscal plans, particularly those that deal with interest rate and borrowings.
“Whatever plans now will only be manifest in the second half of the year, because the first is already gone,” he said.
The Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Jide Ojo, said it was so sad that the country’s fiscal plan was coming late, lamenting that the yearly budget failure is linked to the ugly trend.
“Budget is about time and resources. Now, we are busy borrowing and running out of time to implement the proceeds. We have been clamouring for a harmonised fiscal year, but end up elongating it. This has bred corruption through continuous rollover.
“To get back to the track, the ministry and the agency in charge must, as a matter of urgency, begin immediately the 2018 budget preparation, such that by January, the remainder will be rolled over once for all time,” he said.