In fulfillment of the pledge made by the National Assembly Leadership to make the nation’s annual appropriation process open for public participation, the National Assembly has commenced Public Hearing on the 2017 Budget with the Appropriation Committees of both chambers deliberating on the budget.
The Joint Committee on Appropriation of the Senate and House of Representatives, began deliberation on Monday, February 13, 2017 in a demonstration of transparency and its resolve to ensure accountability in governance.
The Public Hearing, which witnessed remarkable attendance at the National Assembly complex in Abuja had also, the President of the Senate and his counterpart Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara.
The Senate President it would be recalled had earlier declared that the best way to deliver on socio-economic benefits in an all-inclusive manner, is ensuring that all stakeholders are made a part of the decision-making process, he said.
Participants believe that this feat of promoting more public participation in the budget process could not have come at a better time than now, especially now that the demand for financial accountability by the citizenry has become more intense.
Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, at the event emphasized that the purpose of a public hearing on the 2017 budget put together by the National Assembly is to "increase the efficiency of government and its responsiveness to citizens needs as well as improve overall transparency and accountability in governance."
Recall that the ongoing public hearing on the 2017 budget is to make the nation's annual appropriation process open for public participation. It is also the first public hearing on the Budget that brings together all stakeholders involved in the budget process. Saraki noted that budgets, "if well-crafted and implemented, remains the most potent fiscal policy instrument of government in delivering socio-economic benefits in an all-inclusive manner.
"The best way to achieve this is to ensure that all stakeholders are made a part of the decision-making process especially as it relates to the provision of public services and distribution of social benefits," he said. The Senate President further observed that the fact that the country is currently at a crucial stage of its development cannot be overstated. He said by engaging critical stakeholders and members of the general public to make input into the 2017 budget, the National Assembly hopes to increase the efficiency of government and its responsiveness to citizens needs as well as improve overall transparency and accountability in governance.
He added: "You will agree with me that the current state of the economy is requires, among others, a credible budget that will stimulate real economic activities, fix our critical infrastructure and provide cushion for the poor and vulnerable. The challenge, however, is how best to ensure that the Budget is utilized as an effective policy in achieving these. He noted.
It is, therefore, in line with this belief that the 8th National Assembly deemed it necessary to bring Government, Civil Society Organizations, Private Sector, and other key actors in the economy to deliberate on the Budget proposal. Through this engagement, and others to come, we hope to increase the efficiency of government and its responsiveness to citizens needs as well as improve overall transparency and accountability in governance”.
According to the Senate President in the statement, the issues challenging the nation's economy range from low government revenues, shortages in foreign exchange supply, slowdown in economic activities, rising unemployment and cost of living. He said: "We are all affected in one way or another. With key economic indicators heading south, there is no better opportunity to reset the fundamentals of our economy. What we have before our consideration is the 2017 Budget proposal of N7.298 trillion, which we believe has been designed based on a medium-term recovery and growth plan. At the various sub-Committees, we are objectively reviewing the planned expenditures especially as it relates to its feasibility and relevance in delivering the broad objectives of the Budget which are to: i. Pull the economy out of recession; ii. Invest in the people of Nigeria; and, iii. Lay the foundations for a diversified, sustainable and inclusive growth”.
"On a more specific note, the 2017 capital budget proposal is intended to support activities that will help to speed up the diversification of the economy and the promotion of the non-oil sector, as well as create jobs for our youth. Accordingly, it is expected that “Made-in-Nigeria” (that is, domestic production of food, materials and other commodities) will be encouraged. In addition, 2017 capital budget proposal is intended to engender private sector partnership in infrastructure as well as other critical sectors of the economy such as agriculture, manufacturing and services. However, the extent to which the budget proposal will succeed in achieving its overall objective of pulling the economy out of recession depends on a number of imperatives”.
These according to him include:
i. “How well the capital spending targets critical sectors of the economy;
ii. How much of the capital allocation is devoted to real developmental projects as against administrative capital project;
iii. The level of details provided in the budget that will aid proper oversight of budget implementation; and, ultimately,
iv. The realization of projected revenues and borrowings.
He stated that while the government has made efforts to ensure that provisions in the Budget proposal align with the over-arching goal of pulling the economy out of recession and laying the foundations for diversified growth, "certain provisions are clearly off the path. The Budget must address the critical issues setting back our national growth and development."
He added: "In this regard, the 8th National Assembly will continue to support government’s economic recovery and growth effort. To this end, we will ensure that proposed projects and programmes, and their estimated expenditure are in sync with Government’s priorities. Beyond that, we will also ensure that, in line with the Amended Procurement Act, a sizable part of the capital expenditure is retained within the country as Government patronizes “Made-in-Nigeria. In addition, the National Assembly will continue to focus on priority Bills that will loosen the structural bottlenecks that are impeding the ease-of-doing business in the country.
These priority Bills, among which, include: National Transport Commission bill; National Road Fund Bill; National Road Authority Bill; National Inland Waterways Bill; Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill; Infrastructure Development Commission Bill, Petroleum Institution and Governance Bill; Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill will unstiffen the investment climate in critical sectors of the economy. The statement ended by quoting Saraki as saying “What we want to build is a better Nigeria, and we all have a part to play,"