By Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria
Whilst we continue to argue about the type of budgetting successive Nigeria governments practice, whether operating or capital budgeting, it is important to define the target of the budgets and fine its appropriate delivery vehicles. For us the people of Nigeria are supposed to be the main target of the annual ritual Nigeria governments at all levels called budget. Meanwhile, on December 14, 2016 President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria presented the 2017 appropriation bill to the joint National Assembly. A proposed budget of N7.298 trillion was presented to the joint Assembly for their approval by the Nigeria president. The N7.298tn proposed in the budget is a 20.4% increase over the 2016 estimate. Hence a nominal analysis would suggest an increase in the budget. However our concerns include not just the target of the budget but also what percentage of 2016 was implemented and what will happen to a budget built entirely on assumptions that are more likely to fail.
The immediate visible weaknesses in the 2017 Nigeria budget are very many and some very obvious. The first is the size of the budget which we may classify as “too little to late” in the life of a government that promised the citizens so many things including “change”, fighting corruption, fighting insurgency by building on defense significantly, building improved infrastructure, provide “a meal a day” for school pupils and N5000 monthly allowance for each unemployed youth, amongst others. The budget is too little in the sense that it is insufficient and inadequate to solve even a single segment of the budget, such as, the defense, the already dilapidated nationwide infrastructure, sufficiently buffing up on the agriculture, or industry alone. It is too late because the government is entering its third year of 4-year tenure. Apart from relying continuously on projections and weak assumptions the Nigeria public needs to henceforth be carried along if the budget is actually designed for them. It is their budget rather than for the about 10% government working officials and civil servants alone.
Secondly and because no critical analysis was presented on the 2016 by the president, stating its performance, percentage of implementation, its drawbacks, etc, presenting the 2017 budget becomes a matter of assigning numbers to line items on a spreadsheet and presenting it to government officials and politicians. Instead we recommend that budgeting should be an ongoing activity engaging the Nigeria community, with many parts and many people involved. It should be a process of listening to the community, major stakeholders, working with decision-makers, presenting the analysis about a past budget and hence bringing all these elements together in the new budget presentation. The purpose is to make the budget presentation more compelling, more people orientated, and providing the target population the needed economic road maps for the coming fiscal year. Public participation in the economy has been the very reason for any significant economic growth in this country rather than a robust government fiscal policy that has been rarher nonexistent.
As politics and democracy gain more ground here in Nigeria the politicians should also grow with the civil society campaigners and the social media which constitute the court of public opinion. This group over the years has moved their campaigns and has combined budget analysis with other advocacy tools to improve how public money should be managed and how public services are delivered. The group has enough formal and nonformal information to carryout any strategic litigation against the Federal, State or Local governments here in Nigeria on government’s failures to implement past budgets. They are only waiting for when the risk of taking the government to court can be less risky and when the resource to doing so will be affordable. Litigation is now an option in Nigeria to win an election, to seek social change and to drive government on a number of other fronts and making it more accountable. Each successive government needs to convince the public on how the last appropriation was implemented before introducing a new bill; especially a government campaigning on change mantras and a government categorizing the society of whether they belong to the kitchen or to the other room.
In general what each budget presentation focuses on are its recurrent component and the capital budget component. But debt servicing is becoming a big burden for every country. Yet budget is a central policy document of government, showing how it will prioritize and achieve its annual and multi-annual objectives. Apart from financing new and existing programmes, the budget is the primary instrument for implementing fiscal policy, and thereby influencing the economy as a whole. The budget aims to turn plans and aspirations into reality. More than this, the budget is a contract between citizens and state, showing how resources are raised and allocated for the delivery of public services. Such a document must be clear, transparent and credible if it is to command trust, and to serve as a basis of accountability. It must also be a joint effort of all stakeholders, especially to implement. In particular our emphasis is that budgeting is not simply the preserve of the Federal, State or Local governments alone.
Meanwhile it seems that government is already giving the impression that she is confused on how to grow the economy by mixing slogans and practice or misusing terms. For example, many states in the Federation, unable to pay monthly salaries of its hired workers, have raised taxes significantly at the same time expecting economic growth. Whereas the public actually needs tax rebates in order to grow the economy. Part of the confusion is the inability to define whether Nigeria is running a “buy abroad and sell at home”, or “produce at home sell abroad”, or a mixed strategy economy. Government has the instrument to drive the economy one way or the other and not leave itself and the public confused. A major economic will and risk is lacking in the 2017 if it was meant to take us out of recession. Rather it seems that the designers of the budget had only the national assembly people in mind by drawing up what can be politically friendly to them and not what can realistically improve the quantum of the economy.
We recall the days of drawing up the first, second and even the third national economic development plans for Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s. The road maps for economic planning and developments were clearly drawn and implementations achieved over 60% in those days. However in today’s setting and despite the availability of more economic experts and very intelligent and brave politicians we find the present group of leaders uninterested or unable to lead the country out of the wood. This will explain why their budget is presented annually just because each year a budget of a higher figure must be presented.
Prof R. A. Ipinyomi