The 2015 budget proposal as presented to National Assembly by the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in mid-december last year has not been made public, and this raises question about the fiscal state of government, warns BudgIT.
Where is the Official 2015 Proposed Federal Government Budget?
In mid-December last year, the Honorable Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala presented the 2015 Budget Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly. Along with the proposed estimates to the legislature, the minister gave a stirring speech outlining the country’s precarious fiscal position and how the government plans to respond with fiscal and cost-cutting measures. The speech – the Transition Budget – has been published online on the Ministry of Finance’s website. However, the Bill itself, which contains the details and the specific line items that make up the budget proposal, has not been published on the Budget Office of the Federation (BOF) website. This is an unusual move considering the haste which previous bills have been placed online for further review.
Not only does Nigeria regularly publish such information, but it is standard practice across the world to do so. The Open Budget Tracker (www.obstracker.org) – an online tool that monitors the budget information governments are making public – shows that, among the 30 countries covered, Nigeria is one of the few that has failed to release an “Executive’s Budget Proposal.” One has to look beyond the region to countries such as Vietnam and Iraq to find places that do not make theirs publically available.
The reason it is so important to release these details to the public is that they are crucial in understanding how the government plans to steer the economy and invest in the country’s future. Under normal circumstances, academics, civil society groups, the media, and the private sector all pore over the numbers, raising questions on several line items that need intense scrutiny. Interested stakeholders then turn to legislators and the media to voice concerns and champion their causes before the official budget is voted into law. At a time when falling oil prices have left many deeply concerned about the state of the nation’s finances, understanding in full, how the government plans to respond is more than crucial.
Indeed, despite the Finance Ministry’s attempt to keep it under wraps, much of the information contained in the 2015 budget proposal has already found its way into the public domain. Many government institutions were provided with copies of the proposal, including the legislature. With all those copies floating around, it is hardly surprising that some were ‘leaked’ beyond the government.
So what does the proposal contain? If you listened to the speech, you would expect that the high ratio of recurrent to capital spending will be reversed to aim for a more sustainable budget ofaround 60:40 recurrent to capital spending ratio In fact, analysis has revealed the opposite is being proposed. Capital expenditure – spending on items such as new roads, schools and hospitals – is being slashed while recurrent expenditure, which covers items such as government wages, is proposed to be slightly increased. Such discrepancies underline why the budget proposal in full, rather than the speech, should be made public.
In trying to understand why the Ministry of Finance has attempted to withhold the numbers from the general public, it is hard to look past the coming national election. Could it be that they are concerned about criticism right before Nigerians go to the polls? Are they afraid that the budget will sway voters in a tight race? Whatever the reason is, it is important that Nigeria build strong and independent public finance institutions that are not interested in political posturing in order to deepen trust within key domestic and international stakeholders who rely on the presented numbers to assess the financial position of the country.
Thanks to our partner organizations such as the National Assembly Budget and Research Office, and Center for Social Justice, Nigerians are talking about the 2015 budget and publishing their analysis for all to see. The Citizens Wealth Platform, a coalition of non-governmental organizations led by Center for Social Justice, has decried the huge waste and frivolous spending in the 2015 budget which was hinged on austerity. A sum of N304.5bn has been identified as potential savings from the 2015 federal budget proposal. The group has proposed that National Assembly consider this austere time to fully review all the proposals by Ministries and identify more funds that can be saved and spent on capital expenditure.
The general public has been made aware – not only by the Minister’s speech, but by the numbers themselves – of what the 2015 budget proposes. Now that the election has been delayed until March, and budget proposal is no longer secret, isn’t it time to publish the official version? Thanks for the speech Honourable Minister, but can we please have the official budget numbers now?