Call for a return to January-December cycle Legislators increase estimates by N90 billion The National Assembly yesterday passed the 2019 budget after jerking it up by N90 billion from N8.83 trillion to N8.91 trillion. The passage of the appropriation bill is coming more than four months after the budget estimate was presented to the joint sitting of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari last December. However, beyond the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill into law by the National Assembly, some economists and operators have called for strict implementation of the budget. The analysts have also stressed the need for the federal government to return to the January- December budget cycle. A former Director General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management (WAIFEM), Prof. Akpan Ekpo, on his part, called for closed monitoring of the budget implementation when signed into law by the president. Ekpo said: \u201cThe problem with Nigeria is that we just allocate money, we don\u2019t monitor the outcome. The main thing is to get the result of what you are putting money into. \u201cSo, the allocation is no longer the issue, but budget implementation. For example, if, last year, money was allocated for security, how was it implemented? What did they buy for security? Was it properly utilised? \u201cAgain, we are in the fifth month, and we are still talking about the 2019 budget. A budget is supposed to be a tool for macro stability. Once it is delayed for five months, it creates a lot of distortions in the economy. So, going forward, we need to return to the December-January budget cycle.\u201d The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mr Muda Yusuf, described the passage of the budget by the lawmakers as a welcome development. He said: \u201cWe only hope that the president can quickly assent to it so that implementation can start in earnest. \u201cWe hope that there is no major discrepancy between what was submitted and what was passed by the lawmakers, because over the years that has always been the bone of contention and has always delayed the signing of the budget. \u201cGoing forward, as we move to the next phase of this administration, we should endeavour to return to the December-January budget cycle.\u201d His counterpart at the Nigeria Employers\u2019 Consultative Assembly, Mr Timothy Olawale, regretted the avoidable delays, which had become traditional with very serious adverse implications for the economy. \u201cWe hope the executive and legislative arms will bury their differences and work together for the good of the nation and the people they have agreed to serve,\u201d he said. An analyst at Ecobank Nigeria, Mr Kunle Ezun, said he anticipated that the lawmakers would have raised the budget to N10 trillion, considering the new minimum wage. He explained: \u201cThe budget, as it is presently, is not enough to stimulate economic growth in Nigeria. An economy of over $500 billion, with a population that has a three per cent growth rate, you can\u2019t be having a budget of this size. \u201cI am sure that in the life of this budget, a supplementary budget would be submitted before the end of the year. We expect the government to increase spending this year if it is to achieve its three per cent GDP projection and to achieve that, they would need to spend more.\u201d National Assembly Increases Budget by N90 billion Meanwhile, the National Assembly yesterday passed the 2019 budget after jerking it up by N90 billion from the N8.83 trillion budget size presented by President Buhari to N8.91 trillion. The breakdown of the N90 billion added to the budget include N23.67 billion earmarked as severance gratuity for outgoing legislators and their aides and induction of new legislators; N10 billion added as federal government intervention for tackling humanitarian crisis in Zamfara State, and additional N66 billion for security agencies including Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Police to tackle insecurity and all forms of crimes in the country. The budget reports were presented at yesterday\u2019s plenary of the two chambers by the Chairman of Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central), and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Mustapha Dawaki, before the two chambers, dissolved into their respective Committees on Supply to consider the clause-by-clause report of the budget. Presenting the budget report earlier, Goje explained that the N23.678 billion severance package for outgoing legislators also included an induction programme and inauguration of the ninth assembly. He added that in implementing the just approved N30,000 minimum wage for public servants, the N160 billion proposed as service-wide votes were appropriated for, under the public service wage adjustment for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). All the parameters upon which the budget estimates were based by the executive were retained by both Senate and House of Representatives. The parameters are $60 per barrel oil price benchmark, 2.3 million barrel per day production level, N350 to one US dollar as an exchange rate. Major highlights of the N8.916 trillion budget passed by the National Assembly are N502.058 billion for Statutory Transfers; N500 billion for Special Intervention and N4.055 trillion for recurrent expenditure. Others are N2.094 trillion for capital expenditure, N1.908 trillion as fiscal deficit within the ambit of 1.37 per cent deficit to GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Within the allocation of the service-wide votes in the approved budget, N5 billion is earmarked for payment of outstanding death benefit to civil servants and police personnel, N15 billion as additional support for universities and N65 billion for Presidential Amnesty Programme on the reintegration of transformed ex-militants. Within the capital expenditure component of the budget, N394.906 billion is earmarked for the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, N107.218 billion for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, N159.125 billion for Ministry of Defence and N92.178 billion for Ministry of Water Resources. Others are N58.689 billion for the Ministry of Education, N179.384 billion for the Ministry of Transportation, N53.678 billion for the Ministry of Interior and others. However, in the recurrent expenditure component of the budget, the Ministry of Interior has the highest appropriated votes of N564.222 billion, followed by the Ministry of Education with N463.395 billion. Others include N502, 058,892,965 set aside for statutory transfers, N2,254,014,113,092 for debt servicing, N4,055,940,383,684 for recurrent (non-debt) expenditure, while N2,094,950,709,632 was earmarked as contribution to the development fund for capital expenditure for the year ending December 31, 2019. Under the statutory transfers, the National Judicial Council (NJC) got N110,000,000,000; Niger Delta Development Commission (N100,188,921,129); Universal Basic Education (N112,471,421,836); National Assembly (N128,000,000,000); Public Complaint Commission (4,398,550,000,000); INEC (N45,500,000,000); National Human Rights Commission (N1,500,000,000); Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences (N5,380,108,639); Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (N2,199,690,571); and Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports Development (N122,668,019,823). Other statutory transfers are: Federal Ministry of Women Affairs (N1,521,618,086); Federal Ministry of Education (N463,395,832,111); Federal Ministry of Health (N315,717,344, 56); Federal Ministry of Environment (N18,774,175,241); and National Population Commission (N6,013,849,931). Speaking after the Appropriation Bill passed the third reading, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, said: \u201cWith the passage of this bill for third reading today, the executive must ensure full implementation of the budget, sector by sector for the benefit and well- being of Nigerians. In a related development, the House of Representatives at plenary also yesterday appropriated N8,916,964,099,373 for the 2019 fiscal year. This followed the consideration of the report of the Hon. Mustapha Bala Dawaki-led Committee on Appropriation Bill for an Act to authorise the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation the total sum of N8.916 trillion Briefing journalists about the processes that led to the conclusion of the budget, Dawaki said: \u201cThe budget has been passed by both chambers. Today, we are happy that the National Assembly has passed the budget at the end of April \u2013 on April 30, 2019. I believe that by Thursday it will be transmitted to the president for assent. \u201cThe proposal that was laid before the National Assembly; there are two components of the budget, the exchange rate and crude oil production. All these items, the way they were presented by the President, the National Assembly sustained them. The crude oil production (output) was 2.3 million barrels per day and the exchange rate was N305 to a dollar. The benchmark was $60 per barrel. The National Assembly sustained all these; we did not change anything in the executive proposal. \u201cThe only area that is affected is the area of deficit; the deficit sent to us was N1.906 trillion. There was an increment of N53 billion. The reason is that there were so many outstanding items that were not captured in the 2019 budget proposal. One, there was a resolution by the Senate that urged the federal government\u2019s intervention in the security situation in Zamfara, to which N10 billion was proposed. We had to make that available in the capital supplementation under the Service Wide Vote. \u201cThere is also a severance benefit of the outgoing legislators and legislative aides, which was not captured in the 2019 proposal. These benefits and expenses always happen in the transition year; that is, the fourth year when legislators are exciting and new ones are coming. We had to make a provision for that, which amounted to N24.6 billion. There are also salary arrears of legislative aides that have not been paid for the period of four years, for which N3 billion was provided. \u201cThere is also an addition to the security agencies generally because of what is happening in Nigeria regarding the security situation. We still believe that providing more fund for them \u2013 it can never be enough \u2013 will make them discharge their constitutional responsibilities diligently, and the various allowances to take care of their personnel. These are the areas where the National Assembly intervened.\u201d Bothered by the quantum of money allocated to the office of the National Security Adviser as against what came to sections of the National Assembly, Kano lawmaker, Hon. Damburam Nuhu, on his part, said it is important for Nigerians to note that one office got as much as N86 billion. \u201cMy worry is, we are passing a budget of N86.8 billion for the office of the National Security Adviser alone and the entire budget of the National Assembly N128 billion. This comprises the recurrent plus the capital and everything, which is not only for legislators; it is also for the commission and all other aides and co. \u201cThe people of the country need to know that if a single agency like the National Security Adviser\u2019s office will be taking N86bn, then there is cause for worry; when people say perhaps we are taking too much in this place; that is why I am raising this observation for everybody to know,\u201d he stated. Other caveats in the budget include: \u201cThe department of government charged with the responsibility of certifying that due process has been complied with in the processing of implementation of projects shall ensure that all processes of approval are completed within the specified period as provided for in the Public Procurement Act. \u201cAll accounting officers of Ministries, Parastatals and Departments of government, who control heads of expenditure, shall upon the coming into effect of this bill, furnish the National Assembly on a quarterly basis, with detailed information on the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the agency in any form whatsoever. \u201cAll accounting officers of ministries, parastatals and departments of government, who control heads of expenditure, shall upon the coming into effect of this bill, furnish the National Assembly on a quarterly basis, with detailed information on all foreign and domestic assistance received from any agency, persons or organisation in any form whatsoever. For the purpose of this bill, the term \u2018schedule\u2019 includes detailed estimates of expenditure.\u201d The House of Representatives also noted: \u201cIn line with the provisions of Section 318 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended, this bill will run for a course of 12 months starting from the date it is asserted into law. President Buhari had on Wednesday, December 19, 2018, unveiled a federal budget proposal of N8.83 trillion for the 2019 fiscal year.