Politics

Budget: Sustaining the January-December cycle

CHUKWU DAVID reports on strategies put in place by the Senate to ensure passage of the 2021 Appropriation Bill in the month of December in order to sustain the January to December budget circle

The Senate has indicated that it would expedite action on the consideration and passage of the 2021 Appropriation Bill, and therefore, resolved to put up strategies towards achieving this goal.

The leadership of the National Assembly had consistently said that the two chambers would ensure early passage of the money bill, so as to maintain the January to December budget circle, which was achieved in the 2020 budget.

One of the strategies adopted by the Red Chamber to ensure prompt passage of the budget is to get the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government to come on time and defend their respective budgetary allocations before its standing committees.

In previous sessions, budget defence had dragged in the National Assembly because heads of these agencies used to disregard invitations by the standing committees to come and defend their budgets. Consequently, the Senate, on Thursday October 15, during its plenary session, threatened to sanction MDAs, which failed to comply with the 2021 budget defence timetable. The threat was given by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in his remark at the end of the debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill.

He said that ministers are expected to appear in person for the budget defence, warning that any minister who failed to appear within the stipulated time frame would not be given another opportunity to come for the defence. The implication of this is that such erring ministry will lose opportunity to get any favourable adjustments in its budgetary allocations where necessary.

Lawan recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari, while presenting the Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly on October 8, directed that ministers should come in person for the budget defence, urging for strict adherence He also said that the early consideration and passage of the 2020 budget, which returned the country’s budget cycle to January – December, had significantly improved the implementation of this year’s budget. According to him, the low implementation which characterised previous budgets has been significantly improved upon as evident in the 2020 budget, saying that ministries have recorded between 50 and 75 per cent implementation rates on capital projects across the country. His words: “We’ve witnessed submissions raising issues about the budget estimates presented to us by Mr. President.

This is in continuation of our efforts to ensure the desirable cycle that we have taken the annual budget to (January – December) will be a legacy. This will be our legacy as the 9th National Assembly.

On monies generated by agencies of government, Lawan blamed the country’s low revenue earnings on the failure of revenue agencies to remit all sums to the Federation Account after collection. He, therefore, advocated for improved revenue generation, collection and remittance methods as a way of shoring up the nation’s revenue figures. “Like all of us, I also have some observations.

Firstly, I think our revenue generation, collection and remittances need to be better. There are many agencies of government that are supposed to be generating revenues and they do so, but they don’t remit all that they are supposed to,” he said.

Lawan announced that the relevant committees of the Senate will interface on a monthly basis with revenue generating agencies to evaluate their performance and devise ways on how the agencies could be improved where they failed to meet revenue targets.

While underscoring the importance of oversight by the National Assembly, the Senate President harped on the need for the Federal Government to cut down on cost of governance by merging some of its agencies.

His words: “The responsibility of the National Assembly or parliament is that whatever we appropriate is properly, economically and efficiently applied. This is an oversight function that we must continue to do. “Before we pass the 2021 budget, we should be able to know how much of the 2020 budget has been implemented.

This is because some projects need to be rolled over to 2021, and we need to know the extent to which they have been funded in the 2020 financial year.” After senators made their contributions on the general principles of the budget estimates, the Chamber approved it and it was read the second time as well as committed to the Committee on Appropriations for further legislative input.

The committee was directed to submit its report within four weeks. Meanwhile, the Senate has disclosed that it would pass the 2021 Appropriation Bill by December 3. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Barau Jibrin, made the disclosure at a press briefing with the chairmen of the various Senate committees. He noted that there would be a joint public hearing on the bill, to be conducted by both the Senate and the House of Representatives on November 9 and 10. According to him, the various committees are expected to harmonize their reports from November 11 to 18.

Jibrin said that, after harmonization, the Senate Committee on Appropriations would then compile all the reports from the committees from 19th November to December 2, leading to the consideration and passage of the bill on December 3.

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