For Nigerians who like this author had waited in spirited anticipation for the coming of the 2016 budget, the seeming near silence on the issue, by the present administration almost at the tail end of 2015, and almost four months after it came on board on May 29 2015, had been disturbing. Even with the groundswell of great expectations that heralded and actually ushered in the administration, some compatriots who are ordinarily better endowed have surprisingly been belly-aching over why the characteristic decisiveness which the government has come to be identified with, is yet to manifest with respect to the matter of the budgets for 2015 and 2016 in tow. The general concern is over the fact that without the resolution of the budget question, governance even by the promising President Muhamadu Buhari, would be a grand exercise in sophistry.
That is why the recent clarification on the thrust of the forthcoming 2016 budget, which was credited to the Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbanjo is of prime significance. Speaking during the past week to the Nigerian Economic Study Group (NESG), Osinbanjo hinted that the 2016 budget will be based on a Zero Base Budgeting (ZBB) principle.
Economists refers to such a dispensation as when every expense item in a budget will earn attention and allocation of resources based on a value for money criterion. It entails a change from the present system whereby budget managers simply look at the current fiscal provisions, and project without as much as bothering over the critical path for maximum utility and value of the exercise. A primary focus of the ZBB is to facilitate the attainment of budget goals, if possible below a current projected funding. Doing the job at a cheaper rate is the ultimate message!
Beyond any other consideration the adoption of ZBB for 2016 budget by the government qualifies to be taken as a sign post for the shape of things to come. Its poignancy is accentuated by the promise of ‘change’ in the conduct of public business, around which the Buhari administration has built its operational philosophy. After all, the budget for 2016 – being Buhari’s first deal with Nigerians, represents the platform on which whatever measure – reform or otherwise – which his government intends to execute shall be launched. And against the backdrop of the mountain of expectations on him, along with his uncommon commitment to deliver on his mandate, the administration’s budget at any point in time commands prime attention.
Proponents of the ZBB cite its numerous advantages as reliable if executed effectively. The most significant of these include a regime of more efficient allocation of resources in the budget on the basis of needs and benefits rather than history, driving budget managers to find more cost effective ways for doing government business as well as detecting inflated budgets. Others are the enhancement of motivation for staff by availing them increased initiative and responsibility in decision making, increasing communication as well as co-operation within the various ministries, departments and agencies of government. Also included among the advantages are the prospects of identifying and eliminating wasteful and obsolete operations as well as promoting opportunities for outsourcing of so disposed traditional functions of government.
The disadvantages the ZBB naturally has, border on factors such as the extra time it will take to articulate and execute, the wider information base needed to drive its processes and the re-training of key operatives to implement it. This is especially so if the Buhari administration extends its gaze to cover governance at the other tiers of states and local governments.
It is significant that the ZBB is coming at a time when two other revolutionary reform measures namely the International Public Sector Accounting System (IPAS) and the Treasury Single Account (TSA) are being introduced into the nation’s public finance sector. The expected interplay of these measures; each with its own complement of far reaching implications for the Nigerian economy, offers a challenging and interesting scenario. While the IPAS is expected to foster a harmonisation of the accounting processes in the public sector nationwide, the TSA will converge all government revenue under on unified control and the ZBB will aim at trimming off leakages of public resources in the day to day running of government business.
Without equivocation, the target of these measures remains among other ends the elimination of areas of graft and recovery of illicitly acquired money (which in Nigerian parlance enjoys several sobriquets including chua chua), that would have been diverted into private pockets.
It must be admitted that the change from the old system to the ZBB will not be painless as such will demand drastic adjustments in virtually all spheres of the nation’s public life. For instance it will be interesting to see how unscrupulous occupants of public offices will respond to a situation where there will no more be chua chua for escapades in beer parlours, secret local as well as foreign love nests and bloating of clandestinely serviced bank accounts.
In fact, the mere mention of these changes has (as been mentioned earlier) defined the shape of things to come in the context of the tenure of the Buhari administration. But who will blame the President for launching the country on a journey which only a higher vision of, and Spartan commitment to public service can contemplate? What with the fact that budget implementation in the country has been more of a mission impossible, and in 2015 no capital project was even implemented!
Nigerians have known Buhari over the years for his unwavering concern and aspiration for a new dispensation and voted him into power for such. Yet how many of these same Nigerians will be ready to follow him through now he is President, without ‘upsetting the apple cart’ when the going gets tough and even tougher?
This consideration draws from a sense of sympathy for the nation and the President himself, which is informed by the circumstances of his first missionary journey between 1983-1985 as Nigeria’s Head of State. This author recalls how along with other young Nigerian youth who had left university some years earlier, and were contemplating the hard choices of ‘making it’ in the country, danced in the streets of Port Harcourt on December 31 1983, over the coup that ushered then General Muhamadu Buhari into power and office.
His inspiring first national broadcast provided the basis for dreams that this country had a future. However the reminiscences of that period are however sullied by the sad exit of that same Buhari out of office and into incarceration; not for any publicly known crime in and out of office, but simply for stepping on big toes. The number of Nigerians who rose in his defence at that time can counted on the fingers of the hand.
Thirty years after, he returns to office, this time as a self-confessed democrat and elected leader of the country. However while he may be inclined to see the challenges facing the country as the same and the seat of power unchanged, the processes of governance offer a new challenge. This time he has the other arms of government especially the legislature which is the National Assembly to work with. Given the challenges associated with the new fiscal regime of the government it would have served a better purpose for the National Assembly to be saddled with its constitutional responsibility of streamlining the issues associated with the initiative. And until such takes place the prospects of Buhari successfully implementing the reforms may remain in the realm of conjecture.