The budget reading for 2021 is rearing to suffer some hiccups in terms of time constraints and pressure on the House and its Committees to work with conventional due diligence.
The Budget process involves discussions, debates and approving government economic policies and approval of appropriations for the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) after it is read or presented to Parliament on the speculated date of 12th March 2021.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with the former Finance Minister Mr. Seth Emmanuel Terkper (now a lecturer), to elicit his view on the delay in vetting the Finance Minister designate and the repercussions thereof in the build-up to the presentation of the budget, the former finance minister stated that as it stands now “this will be the first time perhaps since independence when the budget is likely to be presented by another official other than the substantive Finance Minister”.
He noted that though he appreciates the issue of the designee’s ill-health, but the situation now has everything to do with the nature and complexity of the work around the budget preparation, presentation and approval and that is the reason why it has almost become a convention that the Finance Minister is always the first to be vetted so that the budget can be presented even while other nominees are still being vetted.
The former Finance Minister (FM) explained that granted the speculated date of 12th March 2021 for the presentation of the budget by the Finance Minister under the authority of the President is correct, it means that after the presentation, Parliament will have just about two weeks to debate the budget, something they have always done in six to eight weeks.
He said, it is critical because the cover for the first quarter of 2021 which is the expenditure in advance of appropriation which was approved in December last year expires at the end of March this year.
Therefore, it’s very crucial for parliament to put in extraordinary efforts which may culminate in extended sittings deep into the nights and inevitably weekends too in order that government may not run out of money by end of March 2021. Without Parliament’s approval of the Appropriation Act for assent by the President, Government’s hands are tied and can’t even spend a pesewa.
Mr. Terkper indicated that the task ahead is going to be difficult in the face of time because when the budget is presented and tabled, it is then referred to the various Committees for example Education budget will go to Education Committee, Health will go to Health Committee as with all other Committees.
Then the Committees will meet with the various Ministers to justify their policies vis-à-vis their estimated allocation before a report from the various Committee are sent back to the floor of parliament for approval.
He noted that it’s only when all of these are finished that the appropriation and all the estimates and statements will be referred again to the Finance Committee and they will in turn now prepare the Appropriation Bill for Parliament to pass into an Act of the House.
“So, we are looking at all of these estimates, resolutions, reports, approvals and the rest of them all in just two weeks before government runs out of money, during which time the Finance Minister-designate may have still not been vetted to participate fully in the process” he noted.