New Telegraph

2020 Budget: A lifeline by the Senate

CHUKWU DAVID reports that the National Assembly has extended the implementation of the 2020 Appropriation Act, to March 31, 2021, with caution by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, that the Red Chamber would not approve another extension request from the executive

Prior to the country’s return to democratic governance in 1999, the national budget operated a January to December cycle. However, in the process of time within this period of civil rule, the cycle got distorted following delay in the passage of the Appropriation Bill by subsequent National Assembly.

The delay was usually caused by failure of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government to appear in a good time before the standing committees of the National Assembly to defend their respective budgets.

Some heads of the MDAs usually take for granted, invitations by the National Assembly committees to come and defend the budgets of their organisations. The situation became worse in the Eight Assembly, when the leadership of the apex legislative institution had serious running battles with the executive arm. This made the leadership of the two institutions engaged in an unending supremacy battle.

The frosty relationship was occasioned by the emergence of Bukola Saraki and Yakubu Dogara as the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, contrary to the choices of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and other party stakeholders, especially the Presidency officials.

The obvious irreconcilable conflict in the polity, adversely impacted on the economy, as the budget cycle distortion affected the implementation of the fiscal proposals annually, especially the capital components of the Appropriation Act, which also hampered the pace of the country’s socio-economic development in the last years.

Worried by this scenario, the former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, during the last Assembly, sponsored a bill to alter the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, (Fourth Alteration, No. 28) Bill, to mandate the President and governor of a state to lay annual budget 90 days (3 months) to end of a fiscal year.

The bill which was actually passed by the Eight Assembly but rejected by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018, also sought to mandate the National Assembly to pass the budget before commencement of the next financial year.

President Buhari declined assent to the constitution amendment bill on the grounds that Section 2 (b) and 3 (b) of the proposal appeared not to take full cognisance of the provisions of Section 58 (4) of the 1999 constitution.

However, in the legislative agenda of the Ninth Assembly, under Ahmad Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila as President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, respectively, the lawmakers emphatically resolved to return the Nigerian budget to January to December cycle.

The National Assembly succeeded in actualising this goal in 2019, by passing the 2020 budget in December 2019, so that its implementation period could last between January and December, 2020.

Unfortunately, the 2020 budget could be effectively implemented due to some encumbrances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently ravaging the world. Consequently, the Senate, on December 16, passed a resolution, extending implementation of the 2020 capital budget to March 31, 2021.

The Upper Chamber took this decision, after amending the 2020 Appropriation Act that stipulated that implementation of the budget would last from January 1st 2020 to December 31, 2020. The Senate explained that the extension of the implementation period was to allow for full execution of capital projects captured in the 2020 Appropriation Bill, which could be implemented up till now following the interruption of COVID-19.

Senate Leader, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya Abubakar (APC, Kebbi North) had introduced a Bill for an Act to amend the Appropriation Act 2020 in order to extend the implementation period from the 31, 2020 and led debate for the second reading of the Bill.

However, in order to amend the Appropriation Bill to give legal backing for the extension of implementation of the Act beyond December 2020, the Senate had to set aside certain portions of its rules to fast track its final passage.

Speaking with journalists on the speedy passage of the bill, spokesman of the Senate, Senator Bashiru Ajibola (APC, Osun Central), said that the implementation of the capital budget so far was between 75 to 100 per cent.

He said: “The remaining period of this year will not allow for the full utilization of funds already released. And typically, what is used to be done is that the implementation will stop by December 31 and that will mean that the fund already released will have to be mopped but in order to ensure fuller implementation of the 2020 budget which we believe is very critical to stimulate the economy, the Senate today, made a slight amendment to section 12 of the Appropriation Act to permit the implementation of the capital aspect of 2020 appropriation Act till the end of March 2021. “That does not, and will not affect the passage of 2021 appropriation Act. It does not also affect the implementation of 2021 Act.

What we have done is to ensure that we use the power given us by the section 4 of the 1999 constitution to make law for the country for the good of the people of this country to ensure that the benefits of the implementation of the capital aspect of the 2020 appropriation Act is not loss on Nigeria.

“The effect of COVID 19 that ravage the global economy would have a hard devastating effect on Nigeria had it not been that the National Assembly decided to revise the budget cycle to January- December.

But for the timely intervention of the 2020 budget passage, the bill has passed first, second and third reading and will be awaiting concurrent passage at the House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, cautioned that the National Assembly would not give approval to another request from the executive arm for further extension of implementation of the capital component of the budget.

Lawan gave the caution last week, while making his remarks after the apex legislative chamber passed N13.58 trillion as the total national budget figure for the 2021 fiscal year at Special Plenary Session.

He advised that the National Assembly’s approval for the extension of the implementation of the capital component of the 2020 budget should be fully utilized by the MDAs without failure. He also noted that the extension of capital implementation of the 2020 budget till 31st March, 2021; alongside the implementation of the 2021 budget starting in January 2021, would guarantee sufficient injection of funds into Nigeria’s economy.

His words: “For Nigerians, this budget that has been passed in the National Assembly today to ensure that the economy is supported fully through public expenditure, because the economy of our country depends largely on public expenditure.

“The budget extension period for implementation of the 2020 budget, which we did last year, is to ensure that the funds that are available for 2020 are not lost. “So, there will be two budgets running; funds from 1st January, 2021, up to 31st March, 2021; and then the implementation of the 2021 budget itself to start from January.

That is absolute fight against the recession we are suffering from. “With a projected 3 percent growth in our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the 2021 budget, we believe that the recession which Nigeria is in will be over before the end of the first quarter.”

Lawan further urged the Executive to ensure implementation of the 2020 budget till March 2021 as extended last week by the Legislature, warning that the National Assembly would reject any further extension request on the implementation of capital expenditure contained in the 2020 budget. “I want to urge the executive arm of government, first to ensure that they implement 2020 budget that will last up till 31st March, 2021.

There will be no extension after 31st March. Everyone must be on their toes in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies to ensure they implement the budget 2020. “And for 2021, we have to do everything and anything possible to ensure that we implement the budget like we tried to do in 2020. I believe that the economy of Nigerians will receive the right kind of boost from the implementation of the two budgets,” he said.

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