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The Jinx Is Back: Late Budget Presentation and Passage

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budgetA national budget is an accounting tool to reflect a national vision or a grand agenda. It is a tool needed to plan for job creation, social services, infrastructure and development and used in critically analysing the most important sectors of an economy such as health, education and environment.

The delay in the presentation of the 2014 budget had raised serious concerns amongst well meaning Nigerians having suffered several adjournments at the instance of the Executive before its eventual presentation only a day ago. 

Earlier, the Presidency had tactically attributed the delay to the difference in the oil benchmark agreed upon by both Chambers of the National Assembly citing the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, which makes it mandatory for both chambers to agree on a figure before the estimates of a new budget is presented by the President. While the House of Representatives had earlier pegged the benchmark on $79 as used in the 2013 budget, the Senate approved $76.50 both of which, ran contrary to the $64 per barrel proposed by the Federal government.

Political observers and critics blamed the delay on the internal factions within the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) in addition to the unhealthy debate between the House of Representatives and the Minister of Finance over the level of implementation of the 2013 budget which the former claimed was grossly below 40 percent but the latter claims is above 70 percent.

This debate raises the question of the yardstick used in measuring budget implementation and whether the key indices of such measurement lie merely in the disbursement of budgetary allocations and cash based accounting system. There are divergent views on the debate. Some analysts have identified late disbursement of funds to relevant agencies and parastatals, poor oversight of implementation, and corruption as factors responsible for poor budget implementation in Nigeria. The Senate on its part has admitted that Nigeria still practiced the defunct system of heavy recurrent and light capital projections which has contributed to the poor implementation of the budget. Others have faulted the provisions of section 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which by implication prohibits roll-over of unspent funds from one fiscal year to another. To those in this school of thought, the consequence of this prohibition is reflected in the countless number of unfinished projects that are seen across the country.

Now that both Chambers of the National Assembly have reached consensus on an oil benchmark of $77.50 per barrel and the budget has been laid, a further hurdle which is now to be crossed is its passage. Given the recent twist of events coming from the mass defection by some members of the PDP in the House of Representatives to the APC, the hope that the 2014 budget will be swiftly passed remains bleak thus, rekindling the fear of Nigerians that the jinx of late budget presentation/passage thought to have been broken by the 2013 budget is back.