Budget Long Delayed, Is Budget Long Dead On Arrival By Dele Sobowale

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Justice delayed is justice denied” has long been one of the axioms of legal practices worldwide – except in Nigeria where a man would have finished a prison sentence only to be pronounced “not guilty” by the Supreme Court of Nigeria five years after his release from Kirikiri Prison. Very few Nigerians have noticed that the same sort of mindless, unpatriotic and destructive delay has crept into the annual budget exercise.

President Muhammadu Buhari presenting the 2017 Budget before a joint session of the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 14, 2016.
And, it is getting worse. This article is being written on Friday, May 19, 2017, because it was important to wait and see if a budget supposed to have been approved by the National Assembly, a week before, would have been signed after crawling into the Presidency for action. Notwithstanding the dispute about who will sign it when it finally hits the Rock. It has not!! Nigerian horrible “wonders” never cease.
Since “journalism is the first draft of history”, according to the late Editor of the WASHINGTON POST, it is pertinent to repeat for our historical records that the 2016 Budget was officially closed on May 6, 2017. That meant four months and a week after the year ended. That was a new record and a new low for any government of Nigeria and perhaps any government anywhere on earth. None of our elected officials in the Presidency or the National Assembly, NASS, even took notice; certainly nobody was embarrassed by the development.

By delaying the final passage of the 2017 Budget, the All Progressives Congress, APC, as the ruling political party is set once again to break its own record for fiscal irresponsibility. Spending on the 2016 Budget was kept open by the Accountant General of the Federation, AGF, and it was a measure that has saved Nigerians the spectacle of the Federal Government shutting down. The AGF deserves a medal for saving our Republic from global ridicule. He was the only official of government who kept his head while others were losing theirs in the Three Arms Zone of Abuja. Unfortunately, that intervention, which should occur once in a long time, is threatening to become the new normal for Nigeria. Apparently, henceforth, budgets prepared for one year will run into the first term (a term is four months) of the following year.

For non-economists or financial experts, this might appear as something unimportant. But, financial analysts know better. To start with, that approach to management of budgets makes analysis and annual comparisons almost impossible. Computation of annual Gross Domestic Product, GDP, always an informed guesswork at the best of times, becomes almost untenable when a large percentage of the previous year’s allocations are spent well into the fifth month in the current year. One good example will illustrate the point.

The Social Protection Programme, SPP, received the largest single vote – N500 billion – in the 2016 Budget. It was specifically highlighted in Buhari’s address to the joint session of the National Assembly. Below is what is on record with regard to SPP last year. By November of last year, the SPP, which was a major campaign promise was already an unmitigated disaster to all but the propagandists in the Presidency. Please read on.

“WHY THE SOCIAL PROTECTION PROGRAMME WILL CONTINUE TO FAIL – 1.

“If they go about solving the problem this way, how many more problems will they have created by the time they finish? James Baldwin, c 1968. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 201.

The president had announced the Social Protection Programme, SPP, with the sort of hyperbole expected of people still having a hangover from the promises made during elections. According to Buhari, “I am happy to formally launch, by far, the most ambitious Social Protection Programme in our history. A programme that both seeks to start the process of lifting many from poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves.” (President Buhari, presenting the 2016 Budget to the National Assembly). As we enter the last two months of the year, it is time for an interim review to determine if the Social Protection Programme, SPP, for which provisions of N500 billion were made, and for which less than N90 billion had been provided, could not have succeeded even if all the N500 billion was available. There is no need to cry over spilled milk. The project, which sought, among other promises, to engage 500,000 teachers, pay N5000 monthly to five million unemployed people and feed 5.5 million school kids had failed miserably in 2016. Even the government’s most able propagandist would find it difficult to deny that one. But, if 2016 is gone, 2017 is still ahead of us. And, the same programme is back on the national agenda for next year. The critical question for 2017, apart from whether the funds will be available, is one concerning the programme itself. Will it ever work?”

That article was written in November last year, by which time it was clear to all but the self-delusive people in Buhari’s government that the promises made for 2016 would not be fulfilled last year. Less than N100 billion or twenty (20) percent of what was promised was actually available and released and presumably well-spent in 2016. Consequently, 500,000 teachers were not engaged, five million unemployed people failed to receive the N5000 monthly stipend and 5.5 million kids were not fed. Efforts to get Mr Laolu Akande, the spokesman for the VP to substantiate the claims regarding number of kids fed, unemployed paid and teachers employed have met a brick wall. But, on Wednesday morning in an AIT News report, people in parts of Kaduna State, denied that their kids are still receiving free food from government. Kaduna State, whose governor, El-Rufai, has been one of the loudest propagandists of SPP, is not alone. Attempts to locate schools in Anambra State enjoying free food have been unsuccessful. Who is getting the food and where exactly? Those remain questions to ask the Federal Government. The same questions can be asked about the “free money” to unemployed people and the number of teachers eventually hired and where deployed.

Fortunately, two events occurred to give more life to the SPP, which is lodged in the Vice Presidency. First, the 2016 Budget spending was extended for everybody until past the first quarter of this year. Second, Buhari went away for fifty-one days, almost two months. Those two events made it possible for the SPP to obtain more funds to spend. But, the additional funds were released in 2017. That raises a lot of accounting questions and issues relating to the computation of GDP.

Left to government the expenditure on SPP between January and May 6, 2017, could be regarded as part of 2016 expenditure or 2017 allocations to SPP depending on which one favours the propaganda machine. Yet professional and honest accounting officers know that it is fraudulent to handle expenditure that way.

With so many questions hanging on the fate of the allocations to SPP in 2016, it is easy to understand why confidence in the disbursement of the 2017 funds and expectations are so low. To begin with, the same request for N500 billion had been made and approved as in 2016 – with two subtle differences with regard to expectations for results.

First, in 2016, the Joint Appropriation Committee of the National Assembly, NASS, had at first thrown out the entire request. They advised the Presidency to take more time to study the programme which appeared to them as “wet”. Brought under Executive Branch pressure, the NASS relented and approved the request. Today, they are co-sharers in the colossal failure for last year. Mr Akande, in his latest release, spoke at length about how many kids had been fed and how much was supposedly spent on SPP. All the actual results fell far short of budget. Not once did he point out what was promised to the people whose votes were delivered based on the promises made in the President’s address quoted above. Akande did not mention the promise because it would have been too obvious that the government has failed woefully. His release was, in that sense, a half-truth and a swindle.

Second, the 2016 Budget was signed earlier than the current one. Obviously, the delays which vitiated the intentions of the 2016 have become much worse and the implementation process will consequently suffer as well. This is becoming some sort of national official insanity – defined by the Chinese as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. Nobody claims responsibility.

Seventeen straight budgets have failed since 1999, fifteen under the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and one under the APC. Another one is going through the same rigmarole that produced failure seventeen times. Does anybody in his right senses expect a different result?

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