As a transition year dispensation, Nigeria's national budget for 2015 is ordinarily expected to straddle two administrations. With its statutory life span running from January 1st to December 31st 2015, it is intended to service the outgoing Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) administration from the beginning of the year to May 29th, and the incoming General Muhamadu Buhari (GMB) government from that day till the end of the year.
Incidentally the circumstances of transition year budgets have not been as acute as this year. For instance, the exercise had only featured a handing over from the military to civilian in 1999, continuation of the old order in 2003, and handing over to a new administration within the same ruling political party in 2007 and 2011; in this case the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
As events have turned out the present transition dispensation in which Budget 2015 features, is not a case of continuation of any sorts, but a clear regime change and the handing over of the reins of government to an opposition party - the All Progressives Congress (APC). Hence the budget is like a child with two fathers - one dying biological father being the GEJ administration, and an adopted father as the incoming GMB government.
Its fortunes have been further complicated by the lateness of its passage by the National Assembly, largely due to its equally belated presentation by the Executive, clearly three months out of time, last year. The House of Representatives passed it the other week while the Senate followed up only last week.
With less than four weeks left in the life of the Jonathan administration and barely two weeks of legislative enterprise available to the federal law makers, the prospects of President Goodluck Jonathan assenting to Budget 2015 bill, blows in the wind. Hopefully the presently PDP led National Assembly will do the needful to avail him the honour of drawing the curtain on his tenure, by assenting to the 2015 budget bill.
In the context of 'dual paternity' of the budget there is on one hand the temptation of expecting it to capture the mainstream of public expectations for both administrations, on the premise that government is continuous and only the actors as well as operators change. In Nigerian parlance it is 'soldier come soldier go, barracks remain'.
On the other hand the euphoria of taking over government often induces in fresh incumbents the urge to discredit the legacies of a predecessor. In which case the2015 budget may have several of its provisions subjected to muted or patent aversion; especially those which on the surface may seem incompatible with the values of the incoming administration, but on closer look may be more useful that earlier thought. That is why the incoming Buhari administration needs to be discretional with the 2015 budget, especially given the depressed economic circumstances of the country it is inheriting. While the budget may easily be seen as a Jonathan initiated affair, the Buhari team may have little choice over discarding some of its principal features. Infact it may prove to also be Buhari's budget as well.
Not a few observers lament the fact that the budget is ostensibly forming part of the transition committee's brief in its incomplete form. The same school wishes that the GEJ administration had completed its enactment and commenced actual execution, which would have placed itself in a better position to hand over a richer complement of tangibles to the GMB team. That would have entailed presenting the budget even before the last quarter of the preceding year, to enable the due legislative process take place. From past experience it takes an average of four months for any national budget to complete the passage rites in the National Assembly. Beyond the passage through the National Assembly, from the date of assent by the President to actual impact of the budget on the economy takes six to ten weeks.
This means that the latest time to submit a budget estimate of any year to the National Assembly is August of the preceding year. Yet that is what no civilian administration from that of Olusegun Obasanjo to Goodluck Jonathan has been able to achieve. And the attendant lateness of the succeeding budgets has accounted for the perennially low level of implementation (typically 30%) of the country's budget year after year, as well as much of the endemic corruption in the system.
With the promise of effecting a change in the processes of governance in the country, it is difficult to see any other area that offers a greater leverage for affirmative action by the Buhari administration than the review of the budget culture. Indeed, until governments at all tiers adopt and play by the rule of operating within the very laws they make for budgets, so long shall the nation's aspirations towards curbing corruption remain in limbo.
It is easy to imagine a situation where the Federal government, along with the 36 states and 774 Local governments operate a regime of January 1st to December 31st run of their operational budgets, even as the very fiscal enactments which they make, prescribe. The advantages to the country are limitless. Firstly government business becomes more predictable and remains less vulnerable to the whims and caprices of scheming and thieving officials who usually exploit the loopholes in budgetary weaknesses to milk the system dry.
In fact it is incumbent on the incoming administration to address the reform of the budget culture in the country in order to facilitate optimal dividends from the country's recent adoption of the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and International Public Sector Accounting Standards (IPSAS) regime for private and public sector accounting practice respectively. The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had at its meeting of July 28 2010, approved that Nigeria should adopt the IFRS and IPSAS. To facilitate the process of actualization of the adoption of these global accounting standards, the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) at its meeting of June 13, 2011, set up a technical committee to provide a road map for the implementation of IPSAS for the three tiers of government.
Meanwhile the Federal government has adopted January 1st 2016 as the take-off date for the implementation of IPSAS at all tiers of government. With this development the incoming Buhari administration has been offered a viable take-off platform to launch its avowed commitment to take public service in Nigeria to the next level, in terms of accountability, transparency and probity. Yet the starting point remains the reform of budget culture in Nigeria.