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Honour Your Word

National Assembly must pass Budget on March 17 as promised. It is getting too late.

Stasis. That perhaps best describes the national economy as indeed the activities of the Federal Government at the moment. A third month into the fiscal year, nothing really significant is going on. At a time of grave emergency marked by plunging oil prices, of foreign exchange market running riot, and a collapsing national infrastructure, a Federal Government that ought to be calling the shots has practically gone missing in action.

If we expected both the executive and the legislature to move swiftly to arrest the drift in the political economy, to demonstrate their understanding of the nature of the emergency, and to match the pace of action with the demand of the moment, it has been disappointment all the way.

Nearly three months into the year, the 2016 Budget – the fiscal instrument on which the Buhari administration’s promised change is anchored – remains largely hung. We are not even talking of implementation yet, but rather the procedural matters of its passage into law.

Right from the time it was presented to the National Assembly on November 22, 2015, it has been one controversy or another. First, it was the story of missing budget documents; soon after, the civil servants were alleged to have tampered with the subheads to such a degree as to make nonsense of the administration’s original fiscal projections. As a result, a budget initially projected for passage for February had to be shifted to the end of March.

Now, the signal from the joint committees of the National Assembly on appropriation is that the budget would be passed on March 17. Considering that this is only a few days from now, Nigerians will hold the lawmakers to their words.

Of course, were these to be normal times, the sloppiness and the inexplicable tardiness that it gave rise to would not have mattered much. After all, the budgetary process has never been known to be anything different in the last 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration.

But then, these are extraordinary times. No thanks to the collapse in oil prices, the nation currently earns a fraction of what it earned two years ago. And this at a time of record unemployment, of yawning infrastructure gap, of shrinking industrial capacity, and reduced disposable incomes across board and of declining rate of accretion into our foreign reserves, etc.

Unfortunately, if we expected a matching response to the looming emergency, the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, by its snail-speed approach to the budget business, appears oblivious of the urgency required to turn the tide.

We think it’s high time the administration sat up.

Passing of the fiscal instrument on March 17 as promised would certainly be a significant step forward. To the extent that the budget constitutes the pivot of the government’s activities in the current year, its passage will certainly go a long way to douse the continuing apprehensions about the general economic direction of the Federal Government. It would give reassurances to the private sector that has largely maintained a wait-and–see attitude while the current delays lasted, that the government is finally poised for action.

The greater and more compelling reason for its speedy passage however lies in the volume of the work to be done. We understand that at the best of times, our bureaucracy has been known to implement a fraction of the budget as passed. So, the earlier it is passed, the better the prospects of implementation. The second reason derives from the limited time for implementation. With the rains already set upon us, we wonder how much of road construction can be done with the remaining time left in the year. Would the latter not bring back that recurring alibi that has been recycled year to year?

Bottom-line is  – Nigerians expect more from an administration that promised change; they want to see real, meaningful action in the coming days.



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