2024 Budget: Between Politics And Governance

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By Mon-Charles Egbo

Beyond the conventional conversations about budgets, there are clear-cut messages that the 2024 budget holds for Nigerians.

Firstly, the stage is now set for an honest assessment of President Tinubu vis-à-vis his electoral promises as well as the relative competencies of his appointees. If he delivers on the revenue and expenditure projections, then there is capacity and expertise.

Secondly, the 10th National Assembly is corporately seeking to earn public confidence through a deliberate commitment to citizens’ well-being and transparency in legislative business.

Thirdly, collaboration in democratic governance is profoundly a viable option, especially in developing nations where the legislature and the executive take joint ownership of budgets for credibility.

Fourthly, a budget is productive only when it is robustly implemented through adequate funding, monitoring and evaluation. Again, a meaningful development is achieved only when the capital expenditure is higher than the recurrent as well as when revenue leakages are substantially plugged and or, budget padding is eliminated.

Then fifthly, the performance of a budget can be predicted only when the budget is consistent with a manifesto or rooted in a functional strategic framework, and above all, under a president who is purposeful about the budget and also firmly in charge of his government.

But please, the veracity of these assertions is established as we read on.

Whether for politics or governance, President Bola Tinubu, while signing the budget into law did not leave anyone in doubt as to his determination to pursue a diligent performance of the budget.

And thankfully, the national assembly is on hand to play complementary roles within the ambit of the law. It has since activated relevant internal mechanisms for relative thoroughness and efficiency. For example, as against the old order, it adopted a joint-committee approach to the sectoral reviews of the budget proposal. There was ample time for the respective committees on Appropriation to take common stands on every allocation, unlike in the past when there had to be a special committee to harmonize the reports of both chambers thereby expending extra time and resources, including sundry distractions.

Again, the executive, through the ministries and agencies, was exceptionally open-minded and enthusiastic in addition to displaying an uncommon commitment to a shared vision. In the end, there was an unprecedented demonstration of interdependence and mutual respect among the two arms culminating in a hitch-free and timely passage of the budget.

Hence, Tinubu, with a sense of fulfilment, acknowledged that “I presented N27.5tn and left the room and I called for expeditious treatment of the budget, the review, the passing, the debate and all that. Today we have a budget of N28.7tn with an increase of N1.2tn over the proposal that I submitted. I thank the National Assembly for this prompt review, adjustment and auditing necessary. This is evidence and a great testament to the excellent relationship between the executive and the legislature. We should keep it up”.

Equally, he was emphatic that the budget was “anchored on reducing the deficit and increasing capital expenditure, particularly in our priority areas. The approved 2024 Budget that we just approved, achieves both objectives. It contains a very good increase in the capital side, a reduction in recurrent expenditure and it brought down the deficit from 6.11% to 3.88%. That, to me, is an achievement”. So, the 3rd and 4th messages above have been underscored!

Instructively, this is not the first time that the legislature is altering presidential budget estimates. It has always been largely motivated by political expediency and primordial sentiments. But today, there are logical justifications for the jerking up of the figures.

According to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, “We expect the budget to deliver because there’s no sector that we did not cross-check, scrutinize and make enquiries as to what is required to make the desired impact to the economy and the people”. He further declared that “this is a budget that is going to define the Tinubu administration’s commitment to the people of this country”. Again, this echoes the first message!

Then by way of elaborate insight, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Solomon Adeola, hinted that “the government has just removed the fuel subsidy, the government has also just intensified effort to unify the exchange rate differences that we usually have and that comes with a lot of price and Nigerians are paying dearly for it in terms of price of fuel and dollar rate. When we got the budget document, the president implored us to interrogate and investigate it and make sure we came up with a document that was all-encompassing and could suit the needs and yearning of Nigerians. Again, we did some external consultations, most especially in the area of oil benchmark and petroleum resources, if we had gone in that line, we’d have pegged it at N850/N900 to a dollar but we agreed that we wanted to be conservative in our approach so that nobody will think that we want to increase the budget for any ulterior motive, that was why we left it at N490bn out of which N44bn is for statutory transfer, so effectively, the increment is about N446bn that is going into the Federal Government pocket as consolidated revenue”.

Corroborating Senator Adeola, the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abubakar Bichi, stressed that “we have inflation and exchange rate for the dollar, the executive proposed N750 to the dollar, but after we studied carefully, we look at it and we know it is unrealistic. So we increased it to N800”. Adding that “we had a meeting with Government-Owned Enterprises and we believe that their submissions are not enough. They have agreed to increase their revenue to N700bn. That was how we were able to get that N1.2 trillion, which we applied to capital. This is the first time the capital is bigger than recurrent. I believe this budget is brilliant and Nigerians will see a lot of impacts”.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Budget Planning, Abubakar Bagudu, lamented that “revenue generation remains the major fiscal constraint to Nigeria’s fiscal viability. However, the government is reviewing current tax and fiscal policies with a view to improving revenue generation.”

Elsewhere, he also emphasized that “this is a budget that has been developed, that came out of recognition of all the planning tools that are available and are our priorities, the Renewed Hope Agenda, the eight priority areas of Mr President, and the clarity by Mr President, that budgeting should reflect our priorities and should be implemented and Mr. President captured it today in his speech, this budget is not only what it is, in terms of ambition, and in terms of reducing deficit, increasing capital expenditure and reducing recurrent deficit, it’s going to be implemented”. Certainly from all these, there is no better way to rephrase the 4th message!

Still speaking, convinced that the buck stops with him, Tinubu remarked that “a budget is only as good as its implementation. We will implement this. I want to assure Nigerians that all the MDAs and our teams have been warned, that’s why we even take our time to separate Economic Planning from Finance. MDAs must have regular reports of the budgetary performance in the areas that we put in place to help ordinary Nigerians. The goal is to promote efficiency, dedication, and accountability. If you cannot do that, you may have to leave us to do the job on your behalf. All MDAs have been directed to take responsibility and provide monthly Budget Performance Reports to the Ministry of Budget and Economic Planning, which in turn shall ensure the veracity of such. The Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy shall hold regular reviews with the Economic Management Team and, in addition, I shall Chair periodic Economic Coordination Council meetings”.

Politics aside, this is a true mark of leadership. It is not about rhetoric or grandstanding. It is about leading from the front with eyes on the projected results. So once again, the 5th message is echoed!

Then on the strategies for full implementation, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mr Wale Edun, confidently disclosed that because “the budget deficit is down from 6.1% to 3.8%” among other variables, “we’re relying less on borrowing and more on revenue and I think you have to take the two together. I think we’re very optimistic about the improvements in revenue that will take place. We are all ready, even from tomorrow, to apply technology and digitalization to ensure that the revenue that should come to the government from all sources, including from government-owned enterprises, comes into the consolidated revenue fund and on the other side, we are bringing order to government borrowing, so Ways and Means is being eliminated by taking the funding that is required from the market, as opposed to from printing of money by Central Bank. That, in a nutshell, is what is happening on the financing side. We are very optimistic that not only will this budget be funded adequately, but it will be funded on a timely basis as well”.

Walking the talk, President Tinubu has since ordered the closure of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, with a directive for all revenues to be remitted into the newly-created Sub-Recurrent Account, which is an organ of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Objectively, this is a direct and pragmatic measure to curb economic wastage.

Then, of course, it requires a responsive parliament for these set goals to be realized. As such, the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, has consistently acknowledged that the national assembly under his leadership already has its jobs cut out for them. Hear him: “Ours is to monitor what goes on to ensure that, indeed, it is one thing to do a budget; it is another thing for the budget to be fully implemented. We will make sure that if there is a need we also undertake joint monitoring of the implementation of the budget to ensure that yes, nobody can tell us one thing in the green chambers or nothing in the red chambers. We will make sure that we monitor very well”.

Meanwhile, Akpabio’s legislative agenda has scaled through the major integrity test as Nigerians at last have a comprehensive breakdown of the national assembly’s budget.

The details are in this order: National Assembly Office (N36.73bn), Senate (N49.15bn), House of Representatives (N78.63bn), National Assembly Service Commission (N12.33bn), Legislatives Aides (N20.39bn), Public Account Committee (PAC) – Senate (N130m), (PAC) – House of Representatives (N150m), General Services (N30.81bn), National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (N9.01bn), Service-Wide-Vote (N15.19bn), Office of Retired Clerks and Permanent Secretaries (N1.23bn), Appropriation Committee Department – Senate (N200m), Appropriation Committee Department – House (N200m), NASS Library Complex (Take-Off Grant) (N12.12bn), Procurement of Books for the NASS Library (N3bn), NASS Liabilities (N9.90bn), Constitution Review (N1bn), Completion of NILDS HQ (N4.5bn), Construction of NASC building (Ongoing) (N10bn), Alternative Power Supply (Solar Power System) (N4bn), NASS Zonal Liaison Offices (N3bn), NASS Pension Board (Take-Off Grant) (N2.5bn), NASS Car Park Project – Senate (N3bn), NASS Car Park Project – House of Representatives (N3bn), NASS Hospital Project (N15bn), NASS Recreation Centre (N4bn), Furnishing of Committee Meeting Rooms & other Offices within the Senate Building (N2.7bn), Furnishing of Committee Meeting Rooms for House of Representatives Building Part I & II (N3bn), Upgrade of NASS Key Infrastructures (N3bn) Design, Construction, Furnishing and Equipping of NASS Ultramodern Printing Press (N3bn), Design, Construction, Furnishing and Equipping of the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) (N4bn). This settles the 2nd message!

Therefore, if good governance is the motivation, Nigerians should be vigilant and dutifully carry out citizens’ oversight functions on the government.

Empirically, Tinubu and his teams have a common direction. The 10th National Assembly is driven by unity of purpose and ambitiously empathetic with the people. Thus at the fullness of time, Nigerians are the ultimate beneficiaries.

Egbo is a parliamentary affairs analyst.

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