Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, on Monday said 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.”
Saraki, according to a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sanni Onogu, in Abuja, stated this while declaring open a three-day public hearing on the 2017 national budget.
It must be noted that the ongoing public hearing on the 2017 budget is in fulfillment of Saraki’s pledge as Chairman of the National Assembly, to make the nation’s annual appropriation process open for public participation.
Saraki in his address at the event organized by the Joint Appropriation Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, noted that the event “is the first public hearing on the Budget that brings together all stakeholders involved in the budget process.”
He 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 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 needing of, 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. It is, therefore, in line with this belief that the 8th National Assembly deemed it necessary to bring Government, Civil Society Organisations, 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,” he said.
According to the Senate President, 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 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 detail provided in the budget that will aid proper oversight of budget implementation; and, ultimately, iiii. the realization of projected revenues and borrowings,” he said.
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.
“What we want to build is a better Nigeria, and we all have a part to play,” he said.