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Is the National Assembly a budget rubber-stamping body?

by Business News Report

In a Presidential system of government, political theorists have long propounded that separation of power is the chess game at the political arena. It is a known fact that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary act as checks and balances on each other in the system. In budgeting, while the executive proposes the budget, the National Assembly has the responsibility to debate and pass the budget into law for the executive to implement.

It is a fact that in several instances, budgets are held up because of disagreement either on provisions or in the principles and policies enunciated in the budget proposal. In the case of Nigeria’s 2016 budget, the National Assembly was accused of padding the federal budget by N500 billion above the revenue projection and the built-in deficit, thus making it impossible for the President to implement going by the current fiscal situation in the country, if signed into law. All along, the House of Representatives was ready to reconsider the budget when the Executive cried foul when the details were submitted, it was the Senate that insisted that the President must first assent to the Bill as passed and thereafter bring forward areas of concern in a Supplementary Bill. This position was said to have put the President off, prompting his insistence that he would not sign a budget he was not likely going to implement.

President Buhari had insisted he made a pledge to Nigerians and would not go against that pledge no matter the pressure. He said he could not honestly implement the budget as presented, and signing it will amount to not only deceiving himself but Nigerians because the budget is not implementable.” The President’s position was based on his earlier experience with some officers of the National Assembly who would agree with him on some issues and later renege just to blackmail him. He cited two earlier issues on the same budget: “There was an agreement that since there are errors and omissions in the budget because of the shortness of time during which it was prepared, that it should be taken back and corrected.

The next thing that was heard was that the budget was missing. That development thoroughly embarrassed the President. It happened again when the corrected version was presented and they now claimed they had two budgets.” The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, on his Facebook wall had posted that the President would not be rushed into signing the budget unless it was delivered in a format that could be successfully implemented in line with the administration’s strategic agenda. What Nigerians have not heard is whether the so called padding was altruistic or selfish in nature because the National Assembly has been traumatized with corruption allegations and in actual fact, many have seen the action of the lawmakers as self-centered. Looking at the accusation, it seems the executive wanted its budget returned to it the way it was presented to the National Assembly.

In the last few weeks that the issue has generated reactions and heated debate, the blame has been heaped on the lawmakers. It would appear that no one is asking the question; has the National Assembly the right to alter the budget and make additional input in the interest of the nation and the people they represent? The constitution empowers them to make some adjustments where necessary. But because Nigerians have been through military regimes where budgetary processes are dictated, no one wants to reason and look beyond the ordinary to urge both the executive and the legislature to take the path of honour and dialogue over the issue and sort out the grey areas in the budget. The lawmakers were elected by their people to represent their interest just as the President was elected to represent the interest of all Nigerians. Besides the raising of the budget figures, the National Assembly members were said to have included projects such as provisions of boreholes, town halls, football pitches as constituency projects to be funded by the Federal Government.

This, angered the Presidency as these are projects in their opinions that states and local governments should be funding. Here is the real issue. Constituency projects are permitted in the budgeting process. The fundamental thing here is that Nigerians know too well that states cannot meet their salary obligations to their civil servants. Upward of eight months arrears are outstanding in almost all the local government councils in the country. 24, out of the 36 states are owing theirs workers three to five months salaries. The Federal Government has decided to be the financial godfather or rather the bread winner of the other two tiers of government in the country by collecting the lion’s share of the federation account. Since it has decided to be the financial father of all, it should bear the burden of all.

The legislators know this and have decided to ask the Federal Government to fund water supply to some sections of the Nigerian community which at the moment have no access to clean and potable water. The federal legislators are well aware that in some parts of the country, water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery and river blindness are taking a huge toll on the populace. Arguably, in recent times, Lassa fever has taken a heavy toll on several communities across the country. This arose because of filthy and dirty environment which many Nigerian rural dwellers live in. Providing clean water could be a way to solve some of these health problems. It is, therefore, not an offence to ask the Federal Government to make provisions for water for the citizens in a political milieu where there is understanding among political actors who takes the welfare of the populace above party politics and selfish interest. I cannot make excuses for town hall request as Nigerians are well aware of the shenanigans at the National Assembly. For football pitches, the only thing unifying Nigerians as a people, is the game of football. If this government of change can invest in Nigerian football, it could bring about a positive change of attitude towards one another as Nigerians do not care who plays so long as the their team is winning.

It certainly would be a right investment in the youth which APC has said it will develop. Nigerians must wean themselves from emotional outburst and look beyond the current face off between the executive and the legislature and blame game tactics. Good enough, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yussuf Lasun, has been saddled with the responsibility to lead the 10-man National Assembly Committee to interface with another five-man committee from the executive to harmonise all the grey areas pointed out by the Presidency in the 2016 budget. The 15-man committee which has five members of the House of Representatives and five members from the Senate as well as the five members from the executive is expected to finish its assignment on or before today for the presidential assent expected to take place between tomorrow and Wednesday. This is the sensible thing to do; all parties to the reconciliation of the budget figures should approach the issue with an open mind. It must not be a blame game session but a session of give and take and concessions. It must be a thorough negotiation process that will resolve all the grey areas and make the budget implementable. That is what Nigerians voted for, not which arm of government is superior to the other.

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