Ben Akabueze, Director General, Budget Office said at the weekend that the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are ready to begin implementation of the 2018 budget when finally approved by the National Assembly.
“The MDAs, learning from the experience of the past are gearing up for the budget to be passed and taking preliminary steps in their procurement and waiting for the budget,” Akabueze told reporters on the sideline of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.
President Buhari had presented the N8.612 trillion record 2018 appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly on November 7, 2017 and urged a speedy enactment to enable the commencement of a January-December budget cycle that could help strengthen the current weak economic growth.
But both legislative chambers have blamed the heads of ministries, departments and agencies refusal to defend their respective budgets for the late approval of the budget with which the Buhari administration hopes to consolidate economic recovery.
The legislative body had insisted that the heads of MDAs were yet to conclude their 2018 budget defences before the various standing committees.
Akabueze raised the concerns that the delayed budget was dragging government’s development plans, hoping that the budget could still record appreciable implementation “as was the case for the 2017 budget, which was though was not passed until June, we still managed to attain a nominal level of capital expenditure, the highest in the nation’s history.”
He also confirmed that the MDAs have submitted all that the National Assembly required to enable them to pass the budget.
“To the best of my knowledge, yes,” he responded to a question in that regard.
He urged the parliamentarians to get quickly get the budget passed on time so that the implementation can commence.
Akabueze reconfirmed that about N1.3 trillion has been released for the 2017 capital budget expenditure.
Speaking to reasons why Nigeria still runs a high recurrent budget even when more money is needed for capital spending that should drive development, the DG explained, “When you look at the high non-debt recurrent component of the budget – 70 per cent of that is personnel cost.
“Therefore, the only realistic way you can drastically reduce recurrent expenditure now is to cut personnel.
“At this time, that is not an option that the government is looking at. Therefore, the focus now is on containing other aspects of recurrent expenditure and shoring up revenue.
He also allayed wide-held fears that the budget implementation will suffer as politicians get on with preparations for the 2019 elections.
According to him, “People have to run election on something. People have to go back to their constituencies and say what they have done. Therefore, I don’t think pursuing electoral objectives is inconsistent with the objective of implementing the budget because at the end of the day, you have to show what you have done.
“Instead, the election should provide strong impetus for people to make an effort to implement the 2018 budget.”
In a separate interview, the minister of budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma raised the hope that the budget will be passed, soon following the feedback he said they are getting from the National Assembly.
”Well, the signals that we are getting from the National Assembly is that they are now working hard to get this budget out in the next few weeks. That is very positive signals and we are encouraged by that.
Speaking to BusinessDay on how much concerned the government is over the delayed budget, Udoma stated, “We are always concerned. Naturally, the president submitted the budget beginning of November, so we were hopeful for an earlier passage, but the National Assembly has indicated that they are focused on it and they promised to pass it within the next few weeks.”
Onyinye Nwachukwu, Washington DC