The hope for an improvement in economic activities across the country dimmed yesterday as the Federal Government openly admitted that it might not be able to implement the N8.612 trillion 2018 budget because of the 2019 electioneering pressure.The hint was dropped by the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, at the National Assembly when he met the Senate Committee on Federal Character to defend the budget proposal for his office.
Mustapha bluntly stated that because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had directed that preparations for the 2019 general elections should commence in February, politicians particularly in the executive arm of government, would be politically engaged to the detriment of the implementation of budget.He was also emphatic that serious government business would end later in the year when political parties would hold primaries and begin campaigns for the general elections.
Mustapha asked the National Assembly to pass the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law as soon as possible to forestall hiccups in the implementation of the budget.President Muhammadu Buhari had while presenting the budget proposal to the joint session of the National Assembly last November charged the legislature to pass it in good time to reverse the budget cycle to January-December.
But the leadership of the National Assembly rejected the plea because of the shoddy preparation of the 2018 budget estimates.At the Senate budget defence session yesterday, Mustapha said:”I will make an appeal that the 2018 budget be passed on time. We do not have time. If you consider the time left for us as politicians and in line with the timetable released by INEC, you will realise that we have till November 2018 to do what we have to do.”
He continued: “By then, politicians will be engaged in political activities. There will be no time. I am appealing that we pass this budget on time. This is the last budget we will have to deliver on the dividends of democracy. For those of you coming back, promises will not work. What will work will be the scorecard.
“I am begging that it should be passed as quickly as possible. I am also appealing to the executive arm to appear for budget defence. Intense political activities will begin in this February and as public officials, we have to quickly deliver.” The SGF also told lawmakers that Buhari had approved the setting up of a monitoring unit in his office, to track budget implementation by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Mustapha said ministers had been given a template to collate projects executed since 2015, when Buhari came into office. He added that the outcome of the exercise would assist Nigerians in assessing the Buhari government at the end of his administration.He also explained why his office opted for the monetisation of vehicles for former presidents and former vice presidents, pointing out that though the Appropriation Act clearly stipulates that vehicles should be bought for them, his office opted for the second option since it was a better choice.
He said: “A decision was taken that instead of buying them vehicles, the money should be given to them so that they can buy themselves. The purchase of these vehicles is tenured. It is done after every four years.
“The issue of the purchase of vehicles, I agree is an Appropriation Act. The issue of monetisation is done in the MDAs. It is also done in the National Assembly. Some of these former leaders may not even want to buy Prado which the law says. But many of them may not like it. They may prefer Saloon cars which maybe more comfortable for them. That was why we released a memo for them to do that.”
Explaining the performance of the 2017 budget of his office, he said: “The office of SGF is the think tank of the government. We coordinate activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Approved for capital was N2 billion. For personal cost, N2 billion. Overhead cost is N3 billion. Total is N9.5 billion.
“Performance for capital is N1.2 billion released as at end of December, 2017. It represents 50 per cent. We are hoping that the National Assembly will extend the lifespan of the budget so that we can handle other procurement processes.
“My office had issues with poor releases when I came in. We are hoping that as we move forward, we will be properly and adequately funded so that we can carry out our duties effectively.” Responding, the chairman of the committee, Senator Tijjani Kaura, promised that the leadership of the National Assembly would pass the budget as soon as possible.
He told the SGF that lawmakers had to cut short their holidays so as to consider the 2018 budget. Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi from Kaduna State, complained about underfunding of the office of the SGF. He said as a critical unit of the Federal Government, the office should get more funds to run its operations.