2020 Budget: Senate works towards early passage

How the 2020 Appropriation Bill, which was laid before the joint session of the National Assembly, last week by President Muhammadu Buhari, was dissected in the Senate, with commendations and criticisms characterizing the debate

The resolution of the current National Assembly to cooperate and collaborate with the executive arm of government with the ultimate goal of delivering good governance and dividends of democracy to the people has so far been demonstrated since the inauguration of the apex Assembly on June 11.

For instance, executive communications from President Muhammadu Buhari have been treated with dispatch, with little or no encumbrances from members of the parliament.

The most recent experience was the parliamentarians’ expeditious treatment of the 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), forwarded to them by President Buhari for approval, preparatory to the laying of the 2020 budget estimates.

The President forwarded the MTEF/FSP on September 25 and one week after, precisely on Thursday October 3, the Senate considered and passed the report of the Joint Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Finance and National Planning on the document.

This kind of expeditious passage is actually rare, as it was not the practice in the immediate past Assembly given its acrimonious relationship with the executive, particularly the presidency.

Considering the report of the joint committee, the Senate made 16 recommendations to the executive, bordering on projections and proposals for the 2020 budget estimates.

For instance, the Senate in its recommendations proposed N10.729 trillion as total estimated Federal Government’s expenditure.

However, on Tuesday October 8, President Buhari, presented a budget of N10.33 trillion estimates for the 2020 fiscal year to the apex Assembly. According to allocations to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), the trio of ministries of Works and Housing Power and Transportation got the lion share.

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With exceptional zeal to pass the 2020 budget with unusual dispatch, the Senate immediately swung into action, by commencing debate on the general principles of the bill barely 24 hours after it was laid by the President.

The Senate debated the bill on Wednesday and Thursday last week, and will conclude the debate today.

Interestingly, the debate elicited vehement criticisms from the senators across party lines. It also attracted commendations from others, mostly those of the APC extraction.

This led to a sharp division among senators over the workability or otherwise of various projections made in the budget.

Senators expressed different views during the debate on the general principles of the bill, with many of them saying that the various indices used in articulating the document were not realistic.

The most striking experience during the debate was that the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, who opened the floor and led the debate, was very critical of the budget proposal, contrary to expectations that he might just shower praises on the document.

He said that the budget, with its proposals and projections, cannot move the country out of the economic quagmire it has found itself in the last 30 years. According to him, the capital budget of N2.14 trillion was too small to carry the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about two per cent.

His words: “The injection of this amount is a mere drop in the ocean and is incapable of stimulating the economy to higher growth, wealth creation and employment generation.

“An economic growth rate of 2.93 per cent for a population of nearly 200 million is only marginally above population growth rate at 2.6 per cent, annually. The country’s dependence on crude oil exports does not present a bright scenario for Nigeria’s healthy growth.”

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After this foundation laid by the majority leader, other senators who spoke, pointed out one inadequacy or the other in the document, warning that the proposals should be thoroughly scrutinised and adjusted to make it implementable and impactful on Nigerians.

Contributing, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said that based on the projections and various indices used in the document, the budget is not sustainable.

His words: “The fact is that this is not a sustainable budget, the fact also tells us that if we need a change, we must be able to look at the critical fundamentals of this budget speech and make adjustments.”

Abaribe expressed serious concern that government had proposed series of taxes in order to raise money to fund the budget. “I want to suggest a name to those who wrote this that this is nothing but a budget of taxation,” he said.

However, in a comic gesticulation, Abaribe said: “Not having any choice, I will second the budget presentation by the Senate Leader, having taken into consideration my own submission of the budget of taxation.”

Also, contributing, Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP-Benue North East), said the budget is very ambitious as it intends to address the infrastructural deficit.

He said that the economy had contracted to a level that the Senate had to critically address some critical issues in the economy, while expressing reservations over the intention of government to use taxation as a major source of revenue.

“Along with the appropriation submitted by the President, was a financial bill and that bill has five thematic areas. I am worried about the area that talks about revenue. I am worried about that because Value Added Tax (VAT) that has been moved from five to 7.5 per cent is one of the sources that we tend to raise revenue from to finance critical areas of education and the health sector.”

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He explained that most small business enterprises would be unable to address the issue of 7.5 per cent VAT as “7.5 per cent VAT is on the high side and has exempted mostly food items.”

However, the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Jibril Barau, said that sectoral allocation of N262 billion to Works and N127 billion to Housing and Power, showed that government was serious in providing the necessary infrastructure to drive and sustain the economy. He added that government is serious to actualise its long term objective of diversifying the economy.

Senator Adamu Aliero, however, explained that VAT was increased to intervene in critical projects and that 85 per cent of funds realised would be shared among the three tiers of government.

He further said that the increment in VAT will not affect the poor, advising that the Social Investment Programme (SIP) should be all inclusive because the poverty level remains high in the country.

Senator Ibrahim Gobir, lamented that funds for debt servicing debt as well as borrowings will deal devastating blow on the budget, advising that the National Assembly must do something to reverse the trend.

Senator Kabiru Gaya, in his contribution, said that oil production projection should be increased from $57 to $60, so that the balance could be channeled into agriculture and the North East Development Commission.

Many other senators, who contributed expressed pessimism over the budget’s ability to achieve the desired results, while others commended President Buhari and his team for doing a good job.

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