A couple of weeks ago, we published a mini-editorial on the madness and endless controversies around the 2017 budget that was recently passed by the National Assembly. Although the budget is far from perfect and the issues we raised around it still remain valid, we were at least happy that it had been passed and the government will not be starved of funds since the previous budget had expired in early May.
However, this does not seem to be the case as the 2017 Appropriation Bill is yet to be signed into law so that the budget can begin to take effect.
First was the confusion from officials of the Presidency on who will sign the budget: while the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Ita Enang said that the President, who has been on sick leave for weeks in the United Kingdom will sign the budget, the spokesman of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo countered by saying that the Acting President will sign the bill if and when he expresses satisfaction with the bill.
While that seems to have been sorted out, the bill is still yet to be assented to because ministers are studying the version of the bill passed by the National Assembly to ensure that there are no discrepancies in it.
This is a very logical thing to do lest the government is bound to execute projects it never intended to but was included by the National Assembly, or they are given too little a sum for a project.
However, what is not acceptable is the lack of urgency with which this scrutiny is going on. It is now three weeks since the bill has been passed and there is no indication as to when the bill will finally passed.
In the meantime, government projects suffer from lack of funding, and where funding is provided, they suffer from the lack of legality of the funding. As Appropriation Acts are the legal instruments that are used to provide funding for all government spending, any spending without this law puts the legality of it in question.
As it stands currently, the government is setting itself up to have any funding being given for projects, even for salaries, challenged legally; at the same time, the continued delay in the signing of the budget will have dire impacts on the ability of the government to make positive change through its projects and programmes.
It is a shame that the lethargy that has been a signature of this administration from inception still extends to what should be emergency situations such as this – when the budget is long overdue for signing.
The Acting President needs to demand that the ministries speed up their scrutiny of the budget so that the Appropriation Bill can be signed into law as quickly as possible.
There is no more time to waste.