Debate on the 2018 budget which commenced Tuesday in the House of Representatives failed to galvanize any significant support across the two major parties as it was characterized by complaints over non-implementation of 2017 appropriation act and concerns of violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) staged a subtle protest by vacating the minority seats at the front roll. Most members of the party also refused to make contributions on the budget except Dennis Agbo (PDP, Enugu).
While presenting the budget for consideration, the Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) appealed to the members to overlook the ‘minor’ issues and focus on the bigger issues of economic diversification and reflating of the economy.
Noting that he has some reservations about the budget estimates submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7, Gbajabiamila however urged his colleagues to consider the bill and make relevant suggestions.
He said: “The revenue projection is audacious but lofty. The budget as it stands is in our lap; I expect some criticism, but no budget anywhere in the world is perfect same with this one.
“I have one or two reservations about the budget, such as the dedication of about 22% of our budget to debt servicing; however as we look at some of the negative aspect of the budget, let us not lose sight of the many positives and the bigger picture of this 2018 budget. The bigger picture of infrastructure development, job creation, succor to the less privileged, and the long term sustainability of our economy.”
In his submission, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), raised the issue of violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, on the ground that the House is yet to approve the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).
Mr. Chinda stressed that having not passed the MTEF, it was wrong for the debate on the budget to occur, a point countered by the presiding officer and deputy speaker, Lasun Yusuf who appealed to members that since the question on the budget shall not be put until Thursday and by which time the MTEF would have been passed, the debate on the budget was not wrong.
Speaking on the budget, Muhammed Monguno (APC, Borno) lamented the low implementation of the 2017 budget against the claims that the government has generated 18% above the oil benchmark.
According to Monguno, “it’s easy to pass the budget, but when it comes to implementation, there is problem, there is a need for the National Assembly to take the bull by the horn.
“According to a publication by Daily trust, it was reported that the country has generated 18% above the 2017 oil benchmark; by this report, implementation should have exceeded 60%, this means there is a problem somewhere. There is a need for legislative intervention in budget implementation.
Also speaking, Isiaka Ibrahim (APC, Ogun) condemned the composition of the budget, noting that as far as he was concerned, there is nothing significant in the budget while criticizing the low implementation of the 2017 budget and abandonment of projects across the country.
He said: “With the little I have seen, there is nothing tangible to write about, Ogun/Osun RDBA is in the 2017 budget, but nothing has been done there but I can’t find it in 2018 budget, people are still sleeping on Ifo/Sango/Abeokuta road despite the fact that it was in 2017 budget and I can’t see it in 2018 budget.We currently have abandoned projects across the country.”
Mr. Ibrahim also queried the need assessment contained in the MTEF, saying “who conducted the need assessment of our various constituencies?”