After four months and two weeks of senators advertising their foolishness, the budget was finally passed and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari. The Nigerian budget process mirrors the core of Nigeria's political dysfunction.
The Senate has always display a greater dysfunctionality on the issue of budget. The budget is never timely. The budget is not well scrutinized, analyzed, and debated. The budget is used by the Bukola Abiku Mesujamba Saraki led senate as a bargaining conduit chip to steal billions. The process has been deliberately made chaotic and crisis-ridden. Added to this, is the problem of waste, fraud, and abuse built into the budget. The Nigerian budget process is highly drawn out and open to politicians' manipulation.
Tagged “Budget of Change” the 2016 N6.06trn budget will provide “immediate injection of N350bn into the economy by way of capital projects.” Though we don't know the details of the budget yet, President Buhari promised that “Further details of the approved budget as well as our Strategic Implementation Plan for the 2016 Budget will be provided by the Honourable Minister of Budget and National Planning.” However, some comments will be in order.
A good budget should be written not just for the present but be mindful of the future. The budget is the single most important document that a government produces each year, which receives close public scrutiny. It serves as both a financial plan and a policy document – a description of the policies the government intends to pursue in the future.
It is time to rethink how we implement budget in this part of the world. The ministers responsible for the implementation of the budget should be thinking hard about the future, because their decisions will have very big implications on the country and the citizens many years down the road. They should be asking: In the implementation of previous budgets, where did the money go? What happened to the projects and programs that gulped trillions of Naira? Is Nigeria's future workforce suited for the jobs of tomorrow? Will our infrastructure meet emerging needs? Is our tax system sufficiently up-to-date for the 21st century? How will our budget choices today affect our ability to provide Nigerians with a high quality of life for decades to come? In spite of trillions earmarked for capital projects why has nothing changed for 56 years since independence? What can we do differently to end the insanity of doing the same things over, and over, and over again and getting the same result? How can we use the budget tool to uproot poverty, squalor, disease, unemployment, and associated apocalyptic despair among our people?
To budget wisely for the future, the country needs: (a) A map for the future: The budget and accompanying documents should include a detailed road map of the budget's immediate and future impacts on the country's fiscal health. (b) Professional and credible estimates: Standards and sufficient oversight are needed to guarantee that these analyses of the budget's impacts are professional, credible, and prepared without political influence or interference. (c) Ways to stay on course: Mechanisms should be in place to trigger any needed changes during the budget year, before too much damage is done.
The National Assembly (NASS) and the audit agencies should play a critical and complementary role in the oversight of the implementation of the budget and the enforcement of accountability. It bears repeating that auditing and oversight functions of audit agencies and the NASS of projects, programs, and services budgeted for have been nil. This makes it possible for ministers and other officials responsible for the implementation of the budget to pocket money allocated for programs. The nexus between NASS and audit agencies is one of the weakest links in the accountability chain, generating an accountability gap in the implementation process of the budget. For “Budget of Change” to really make the desired meaningful impact on our people, the old ways of doing things must change. The interactions between the NASS and audit agencies in the oversight finances during the implementation of the the budget must be enforced.
The system of checks and balances in the execution of budget priorities hinges on the effectiveness of accountability. The failure of budget accountability is due to systemic dysfunction in the systems of our accountability. We need agencies that are independent or autonomous with enforcement capabilities. In Nigeria, the audit of internal or external agencies' audit are sparse, incomplete, and ineffective in improving efficient budget implementation or punishing corruption practices. The problem is further exacerbated by lack of legislative action on audit findings. The audit has been highly politicized. They are subject to political interference.
The implementation of “Budget of Change”should be distinct and different from the previous budgets – it must be performance based. In other words, it should provide a fuller picture of how successfully the respective ministries and agencies have used the federal appropriations to provide services and infrastructure from start to completion. For example, we want to see the N99bn earmarked for power to provide 24/7 uninterrupted electricity supply. We want to see the budget for the ministry of water resources to produce running water from our taps instead of bottled water and water from boreholes. We want to see the N66bn voted for housing to translate into housing units for low income earners.
We want to see N200bn budgeted for roads to lead to modern highways in form of interstate road network that will link the 36 states, beltways in our metropolis, etc. We want to see the budget for Police Affairs to lead to the demise of the moribund and ancient Nigerian Police Force (NPF) and the birth of state police and community policing by local government police. We want to see creation of jobs, jobs and jobs for the army of the unemployed. We expect the same outcome from other ministries.
We cannot sleep walk on the implementation of the budget. The ministers in charge of the various ministries must roll up their sleeves and get dirty. Enough of business as usual. We'll hold them accountable for the implementation of “Budget of Change.” It must radically transform the lives of our people!