With few weeks already gone in the second quarter, many Nigerians are wondering why the 2016 budget is yet to be passed. The worries over the prolonged delay in the passage of the budget is more than justified given the fact that the economy has literally been in slumber these past months.
The genesis of the crisis began when the issue of the ‘missing budget’ made headlines in December. That led to hoopla with the issue of budget padding, when it was discovered that some persons had sexed up the figures in the budget for their selfish aggrandisement.
As to be expected, the Buhari government whose image was sullied and badly bruised over the budget padding fiasco vowed to get to the root of the matter. The controversial budget was withdrawn for resubmission to the NASS.
That process was concluded and the NASS sealed, signed and delivered what in their reckoning was a foolproof document for the assent of Mr. President.
That, however was not the end of the matter. Learning from experience, President Muhammadu Buhari didn’t want to be caught napping this time around hence he decided to look at the document submitted by the NASS with a fine-tooth comb and his worse fears were confirmed. Again there were a lot of discrepancies with the document.
This time a crisis of confidence erupted in the Senate and House of Representatives as some members alleged that the budget details were not made available to them before submission to President Buhari.
But some Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) had on Monday submitted evidence of how some projects were omitted in the budget details including the Calabar-Lagos rail line, which now took a focal point in the crisis between both arms of government.
The Ministry of Transportation insisted that the rail line was actually in the budget and defended by its minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi. But the Senate maintains that it was not, and even called for the resignation of Amaechi over the issue.
The legislature however gave the executive what they felt was a breather by asking it to submit the estimates for the Calabar-Lagos rail line project in a supplementary budget, an offer the executive is yet to accept.
While the ding dong affair continues with the 2016 budget, it is clear that the economy which is already badly bruised will literally remain the weeping child as is self-evident in the way businesses across the sectors are groaning.
One man who should know better is Muda Yusuf, Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
Yusuf is really sad that the 2016 budget has been delayed for this long.
“It’s anybody’s guess what the economy stands to lose or has already lost due to the delay in passing the budget. Truth be told, it’s already second quarter of 2016 and we still don’t know when the budget will be passed. In terms of quantifying the loss, it’s enormous. We hope and pray the NASS and the executive gather their acts together and fast too so the budget can be passed. The delay doesn’t bode well for the economy certainly.”
Dr. Austin Nweze, a political economist of the Lagos Business School, Pan Atlantic University is also on the same page with Yusuf.
“I don’t know how long the economy can withstand the shocks we’ve experienced thus far. It’s really a serious cause for worry.”
Pray, are the authorities really concerned that the undue delay in the passage of the budget is hurting the economy?
Meanwhile, there are several indicators that the delayed budget is already taking its toll on economic activities. One of such is the plan to release the much anticipated N350b bailout to jumpstart the economy, which is still hanging because of the ego game of the actors.
Another initiative of the government, the social welfare package, is also on the sidelines awaiting the passage of the budget. A source revealed that the Federal Government has started compiling list of N5,000 monthly beneficiaries. One million poor Nigerians are expected to benefit from the programme comprising of indigent elderly citizens and those without skills under the conditional cash transfer.
But meanwhile, the executive and legislative arms of government are more interested in a power show, delaying the passage of the appropriation bill that will give legitimacy to government spending, and jumpstart economic activities.
As Nigerians, and businesses groan, with President Buhari on another of his many trips outside the country, no one is sure yet when the impasse would be resolved, and when the Buhari administration would be able to finally deliver on its promises to Nigerians.