Namdas: Executive Ignorance Responsible for Budget Disagreement

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Chairman‎, House of Representatives’ Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Alhaji Abdulrazak Namdas, says the dispute over the powers of the National Assembly to alter the budget is fuelled by ignorance of the budgeting process by the executive. He spoke with journalists in Yola. Daji Sani was there and presents the excerpts:

How does the entire budget process run between the legislature and the executive?

The executive is responsible for submitting estimates and proposals that is later known as budget to the National Assembly and that is done by the president?

When that is done, the document submitted by the executive ceases to be the property of the executive, it becomes the property of the legislature. The law makers will then process it into a bill that is deliberated upon in the house as to the general principles of the budget. We then go through the second reading of the budget, after that, it is sent to the Appropriation Committee, it is at this point that we interface with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA). They will meet with various committees of the house to go through the budget, after which the committees submit their reports to the Appropriation Committee. The committee studies it and makes necessary adjustments and thereafter interfaces the work in the house with that of the Senate to be sure we are on the same page because we operate a bicameral legislature, and if there are differences, we set up a conference committee and after the conference committee, we then submit a single document at the plenary, so that every member would see it, a document which is then sent to the president for assent as the country’s budget. Once he signs it, it becomes binding on the president to execute it. In the event the president refuses to sign, if the National Assembly could muster a two-third majority of the house, then we can veto the president and the budget will be passed.

There is a fine line of distinction between our role and theirs.

Why is there always a disagreement between the executive and the legislative over the budget?

Honestly speaking I don’t know what is causing this misunderstanding but sections 4, 59, 80, 81 of the 1999 constitution, as amended are very clear about the roles and powers of the National Assembly. Right now, there is a judgment in favour of the National Assembly, when Femi Falana, SAN challenged whether the National Assembly had the right to reduce or increase the budget, the court ruled in favour of the National Assembly, stating and insisting clearly that we have that power, or else we would be a rubber stamp of executive.

I am not arguing with the minister but he started it first and responded after we have spoken, so I am obliged to make these clarifications. I see the problem emanating from the background of some of the ministers who used to be governors and were accustomed to bye-passing their state legislators and now find it difficult to accept reality. The propaganda churned out by the executive arm of government is partly buoyed by ignorance of the budgeting process by the class of people in the executive arm of government who were former governors and were used to bye-passing their states’ houses of assembly. They are yet to come to terms with the reality of a true democratic process of being vetted by the legislature and largely I think it is an orchestrated mischief rooted in a needless exercise in power play at the expense of the overall interest of serving the Nigerian people.

The entire process of budgeting was never designed to be played out in the executive arm of government without the intervention of the legislative arm of government in the interest of federal character and national harmony. If the ranting of the executive was correct, there would not have been the need for the budget to be submitted to the National Assembly in the first instance.

The executive would have raised the proposals, verified it and passed the budget itself.

The power of the purse rests with the National Assembly and not the executive arm of government. There are 487 elected officials in the National Assembly as against two elected officials in the executive arm, the president and the vice president. The legislature is the true representation of Nigerians and the legislature has the responsibility to ensure that every interest is represented and every cry is at least heard. When we fail to do that, democracy itself fails.

It is unfortunate that after 17 years of democracy, these teething budgeting issues remain highly contentious. Some of us are still grappling with the basics in the process of our democratic learning curve. I believe by now, we should have overcome the question of who does this and who does what. We should be actively collaborating with the executive to foster the interest of Nigerians. It should not be about ego trips or some futile exercise in who is more powerful.

It was clear that the legislature took the liberty to move some funds around, that seems like a clear case of the legislature ‘usurping executive powers’.

No, but one thing I want you to understand is that the legislature does not write budget because we make laws and the appropriation bill is a law, we work on the bill. The executive decides, this is what it wants to do in a particular current year, its expected revenue and this is how much it intends to spend and, if it runs into deficits, it will need to borrow, among other things. In the National Assembly there are about 469 law makers. We represent every interest, culture, every ethnic group and every region in the country. So, if the executive sends its proposals and it does not pass the test of carrying everyone in the country along, it is within our constitutional powers to see to it that every interest is at least addressed and that does not amount to interfering with executive powers. Whenever it happens that we do that, we always do it in good faith, not in any way attempting to run into power politics. Nigerians should ask the most common sense question, that if the National Assembly is not allowed to make any amendments in the budget, why should it be brought to the assembly in the first place? We are operating a democracy and the executive must be accountable to the people and we are the representative of the people, the power of the purse belongs to the representatives of the people.

If the estimate was submitted for example with zero allocation to a particular constituency and an allocation was made to another constituency somewhere else that was apparently needless, would the people of the constituency with zero allocation travel to Abuja to ask why, no, it our duty to do so.This is done in the spirit of nationhood and the sense of national responsibility to ensure a true federal character and representation. Right now, the country is faced with all kinds of agitations, secession calls, restructuring, among other outcries. It is because people, for a very long time, have been feeling marginalized, it is because the National Assembly has not been allowed to do its job properly, and that is the tactics applied here. We have a duty to ensure that there is no nepotism, no marginalization, no tribalism, then all these agitations will naturally go away.

You alleged the executive smuggled in ‘ghost allocation’ and suggested that they even deny some obvious dubious allocations when you raised question without going into specifics, could you explain?

Ok, when the minister was asked about the N20 billion allocations, he did not deny it, he simply explained that it was for the purpose of planning, my quarrel is that even if you have a contingency plan, N20 billion is a huge amount. The Second Niger Bridge alone has a budget estimate of about N12 billion, why would anybody have N20 billion for contingency, if every ministry in the country will have N20 billion for contingency alone, then the budget of the country will be exhausted on contingencies.Then he has the issue of N17 billion for Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) for Mambilla plateau power project, N17 billion not million, it is too bogus. There is nothing personal here; it is just injustice to the budget itself to have those amounts approved. We have made valid observations to Mr Fashola and he agreed to them, he should be humble enough to admit it instead of trying to paint the National Assembly black in the eyes of the public, tomorrow he might find himself in the National Assembly and the negative image he has been trying to create for the assembly might become his. We have introduced for the first time, public hearings in the assembly. People come to give us their opinion about the budget, we deserve some credit.

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If the ranting of the executive was correct, there would not have been the need for the budget to be submitted to the National Assembly in the first instance.