Budget Padding a Ruse; House Standing Rules Support Actions of Lawmakers

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Olaoluwakitan Babatunde

Since two weeks ago when the news of alleged budget padding first became public knowledge, till date, Nigerians have been treated to different versions of the story. What many did not, however, know is that even the House Standing Rules support the action of lawmakers, especially as relates to introduction of new projects into the budget proposal, as sent by the Executive arm.

The world over, the legislative arm, is primarily set up to carry out three main functions: One, to make laws for the good governance of the country. This includes Appropriation Acts or what is called power of string of the purse. Two, to oversight other arms of government in the spirit of checks and balance. Three, to approve certain appoints, such as Ministers, Ambassadors and oversee and regulate external affairs of the country.

Primarily, it is the sole responsibility of the legislature to appropriate funds for the country. This no doubt explains the shutting down of the US economy, once under Bill Clinton and twice under President Barrack Obama, following the absence of appropriations.

Instructively, in the process of working on the Budget proposal, as presented to the Legislative arm by the Executive arm, the lawmakers reserve the powers to alter such proposals, as they deem fit, as may be guaranteed by the country’s laws.

In Nigeria for instance, apart from Sections 80 and 81 the constitution, which guarantees the lawmakers the Powers to alter the Budget Proposals, Order 12 (6) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives, states clearly that “any Committee to which a Bill is committed shall have power to make such amendments therein as the Committee shall think fit, provided that every amendment shall be relevant to the subject matter of the Bill and to the subject of the Clause to which it relates; but if any such amendments shall not be within the title of the Bill, they shall amend the title accordingly, and shall report the same specially to the House.”

Interestingly, Order 12 (7) [1] of the same Standing Orders, further states that “any amendment proposed to the Bill of which notice has not been given shall be handed over to the Chairman in writing.” This Order, no doubt, supports members’ action on the 2016 Budget, as even the axed Appropriations Chairman, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, himself was emphatic when he said the Constitution allows members to do “insertions” while working on the Appropriations Bill.

The 2016 Budget, it was gathered, was worked on, applying the Rules of the House and in accordance with the Constitution. However, it is the same process, the erstwhile chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House, Jibrin, is now faulting, describing it first, as “Padding,” and later as “Insertions.”

Ironically, in all his allegations, nowhere did he say what the House did was illegal or unconstitutional; the only thing he kept saying in recent times was that the insertions were “senseless.”

Hear him: “There were a lot of insertions in the budget and I raised the issue with the Speaker, but he did nothing. Although the Constitution allows us, it doesn’t say there should be senseless insertions. I don’t believe it was padding, but I believe it was a case of insertions,” Jibrin, had told Channels Television, last Sunday, during an interview.

Responding on the same medium, on the same day, however, the Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, insisted that as far as the budget consideration was concerned, Jibrin failed the House and was only looking for a scapegoat. What he probably did not add was that long before Jibrin’s removal, pressure had mounted on Speaker Dogara to remove him for allocating projects worth about N4 bil­lion to his Bebeji/Kiru Federal Constituency, to the detriment of other members of the House.

As a matter of fact, in an executive session held on Wednesday June 15, the session was said to have turned a rowdy one, with lawmakers openly rejecting the Kano lawmaker’s continued stay as Chairman of Appropriations Committee.

Sources at the session had revealed that lawmakers, who were aggrieved over the lopsided­ness in the spread of constituency projects, even accus­ed some principal officers of being selfish in the spread of projects that should have been spread across other constituencies and states, but which were restricted to the States of these Principal Officers.

Specifically, Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yusuf Lasun and House Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, were singled out in this particular instance.

“Gbajabiamila and Lasun were greedy. While other Principal Officers, tried to assist members, by sharing part of their project envelopes with them, Lasun and Gbajabiamila, cornered all theirs for their Constituencies alone. Go and check the budget, all you see is Surulere, Surulere, Surulere, where the leader comes from, same goes for Lasun, who is from Osun State, whereas, Dogara, even shared part of his, to members who are not from Bauchi State, or even from the north.

“Under Tambuwal, it was the same thing. He used to assist members, outside his constituency, same thing for David Mark, as Senate President. And so when the projects are executed, the members and by extension, the Principal Officers, who made it possible, get the credit. The envelope system is such that you are given limit of amount, within which you cannot exceed in nominating projects. Same thing goes for ministries and MDAs,” one of the Committee Chairmen, who is very close to the Principal Officers, volunteered.

Before 2007, the Nigerian lawmakers, while exercising their powers, influence one or two projects to be done within their immediate localities. But when late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was sworn in, in 2007, he met with lawmakers and proposed the idea of a Zonal Intervention fund, rather than putting micro projects in the Budget proposal. He gave an envelope of N100 billion, out of the year’s over Three Trillion Budget proposal.

According to one of the lawmakers, a Committee Chairman, who incidentally, is close to all the Principal Officers, but who does not want his name in print, the amount is usually shared on 40-60 bases, between the House and the Senate. This intervention funds, he continued, are not money given to the lawmakers to spend, rather it provides an avenue for the lawmakers to impact positively on the lives of their constituents by nominating projects that would benefit them.

He further revealed that the envelopes are shared equally, among the States within the zone, adding that the only zone that slightly has an advantage over other zones is the South-East, which has five States.

It was gathered it was the avenue the Deputy Senate President cashed on to make the award of contract for the upgrading of Enugu into an international airport possible. He was said to have reasoned with the Enugu State Caucus of the National Assembly that it was more beneficial to aggregate all their envelopes and persuade Yar’Adua to make up the sum to award contract for the international airport. Yar’Adua was said to have been moved beyond words at Ekweremadu and South East’s ingenuity and gave a marching order for the project to be included in the budget.

Asked how that of the leadership is shared, the lawmaker further said: “whatever comes to the House, from the Zonal Intervention Fund envelope, the leadership has 20 percent. But they are going to share the 20 percent with members of the Appropriations Committee and the Finance Committee.

“It will also interest you to know that when Jonathan came in, while his Budget figures increased, the Intervention Fund remain the same. Ordinarily, with the increase in Budget figures, it should also increase. But we sacrificed. This is why even though the Buhari’s budget was about N6 trillion, we still sacrificed and allow the Intervention Fund figure, to remain same.

“But that is not the only sacrifice we made, the Senate President and Speaker, sacrificed the money meant for the completion of the official residences, for other projects, for the sake of Nigerians, largely because of the economic situation in the country. Nigerians must also be aware that in the history of our democratic dispensation, from 1999, this is the first time, we will not increase budget figure. Instead, we reduced it by close to 17 billion.

And all these things were checked by the President, pictures of which were celebrated on the Social Media, before he assented to it. Therefore, it will be presumptuous for anyone to say we made outrageous insertions in the budget. Which budget are they talking about?” he asked rhetorically.

The lawmaker is also questioning the inclusion of the Minority House Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor and the House Whip, Hon. Alhassan Doguwa, who were part of the team that harmonised the budget, in the allegation by Hon. Jibrin.

“If you recall, following the failure of Jibrin to carry out his duties responsibly as Committee Chairman of the Appropriations, which led to the President refusing to sign the budget, when it was first passed, this much was revealed by the House’s Spokesman, in his recent response to Jibrin’s outburst, a Special Committee was set up, led by the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Lasun, to rescue the budget.

“This Committee had the House Leader, Hon. Gbajabiamila, his Deputy, representatives from the Senate and representatives from the Executive arm. But Leo Ogor, Doguwa and Barde were not members of the Committee. How come, Jibrin is mentioning their names, and he is leaving out Gbajabiamila? I am not insinuating anything, but you be the judge,” the lawmaker, added.

As at the time of filing this report, Jibrin has filed his petitions with all the anti-graft agencies in the country, including the Police. It is left to be seen, how these agencies, all of which are part and parcel of the Executive arm, will come in, in the light of the clear Principles of Separation of Powers between the two arms, and considering the fact there settled Court Rulings to the effect that except the Parliament invites it to do so, no agents of the Executive arm, including the Police, can interfere in the internal workings of the Legislature.