Dogara, Ekweremadu, Tambuwal, Others Advocate Reforms in Budgetary Process

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Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara; his immediate predecessor and current Governor of Sokoto State, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, and the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, among others, have called for reforms in the nation’s budgetary process.

The reforms, they contended, were not only necessary to check the annual friction between the executive and legislative arms of government, but to ensure that the nation’s budgets are result-oriented.

They made the submission in separate remarks at the maiden “The Gallery Colloquium on Reforming the Budgetary Process”. in Abuja, where the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma also sought for a departure from the debate as to who has what power between both arms, but to develop a practice and convention that works for the country.

Udoma added that what was, in his view, best for the nation was for all parties to work together in the national interest to ensure that Nigerians get the best possible budget.

Tambuwal, who was the chairman of the occasion, in his address, argued that it was clear that with the uncalled-for altercations on budgets between the two arms of government over the years required reforms in federal budgetary process to make it more lucid, inclusive and implementable.
“Part of the reasons why we have had problems with the budget over the years is the paucity of knowledge about the whole budget process. This type of conversation is therefore critical to the effort we must make to ensure that the budgetary process is accessible to all and encourages more participation in this crucial national issue.

“It is our firm belief that if more stakeholders, especially the major players in the process, can gain greater insight into the whole system of budgeting, and if the National Assembly as an arm of government can attain the dexterity demanded to examine the budgetary estimates submitted annually by the President, there will be less attrition and mistrust between the two arms of government.

“One of the problems we have in this country is the near absence of planning in our budgetary process. If at all we are interested in making progress in our efforts to reform our budgetary process, we have to begin to get our planning and budgeting right. Can you imagine from Rolling Plans and Annual Budgets through to Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Annual Budgets, it has always been a routine?

“Our planning and budget design is executed without zeal and passion and it is similarly implemented without much national commitment. Perhaps that was why appropriations in this democratic dispensation have had a chequered history which is a common knowledge.
“This idea of inclusiveness should not only pertain to members of the National Assembly who are constitutionally mandated to perform oversights on the federal budget, but should include other arms of government, civil society groups, leaders of the private sector and private citizens. Everyone, in fact, must be allowed to contribute at every stage from the budget preparation, passage, implementation, supplementary or amendment stages.

Citing Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution,Tambuwal said: “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the next following financial year.”This implies that a President is expected, at the very least, to present his budget before January 1 of the new year.

“There is a need to amend the constitution to make the president submit his proposals at least three months before the end of the preceding financial year so that the legislature can perform its vetting duties in time for the Budget to be operational by January 1st. Indeed, it will be helpful if the National Assembly gets some kind of time frame within which it is expected to finish deliberations and return the budget to the President for assent.

Also in his remarks at the event organised by OrderPaper.ng. Ekweremadu, disagreed with the earlier submission of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Eta Enag, that the practice in the parliament had been to delegate powers to the Appropriation Committee to oversee the Appropriation Bills to the final stage, adding that having spent 13 years in the National Assembly, such had never been the practice.

He argued that no responsible parliament would delegate such powers to a committee on an issue as critical as a national budget.

The Deputy Senate President, while supporting calls for reforms, said the process of putting a sound budget had been observed in the breach, adding that a situation where budgets are passed without holding public hearings was an aberration, and must be reversed.

According to him, summoning heads of ministries, departments and agencies of the government to defend their budget proposals was not tantamount to public hearing.

He also said it was necessary for the executive arm of government to submit budget proposals early to enable the parliament have enough time to interrogate the provisions contained in the document.

Ekweremadu said the constitutional provision, which allows the executive arm of the government to spend up to six months into a new year while awaiting the passage of a new appropriation was unhealthy, stressing that that was why the National Assembly felt there was the need to reduce the period by at least three months, to hasten the budget process.

This, he said, would make the executive arm to work towards early submission of annual appropriations to ensure early passage.

On the issue of whether on not the National Assembly should not introduce anything to budget proposals submitted by the executive, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said it was not the design of the Nigerian Constitution to give the lawmakers powers to only reduce without the powers to increase.

He argued that those from the school of thought that the parliament should only reduce what is submitted but should not add were trying to copy the British parliamentary system, which Nigeria is not practicing.

According to him, the US Constitution, which Nigeria is copying allows for reduction, increase and alteration of budgetary proposals by the parliament.

Dogara said there was an urgent need for the review of the legal framework to ensure that annual budgets are submitted in time.

He also called for a broad development plan with clear objectives for the country with budgets patterned after the plan.

The Speaker also recommended that projects introduced into annual budgets should be thoroughly thought-through, while whimsical selection of projects should be jettisoned.
Dogara called for the amendment of Section 82 of the Constitution to reduce the time the budget of a preceding year is allowed to run.

The Speaker also called for full disclosure of the actual size of appropriation and revenue by the executive while advocating that the budgets of revenue generating agencies should cease to be attachments but part of the full budget.

He also disclosed that the House would set up a committee to to look into the reform of the budgetary process.

In his keynote address on “Budget as a Critical Tool for Effective Executive-Legislative Relations,” Udoma, who was represented by the Director, Economic Growth,Kayode Obasa, said he served in the Senate for two terms, from 1999-2007 in various positions, including Chairman
of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee at one time, and then Chairman of the National Planning, Revenue Mobilization and Poverty Alleviation Committee of the Senate at another time.

“Now I am serving as the Minister of Budget and National Planning. I can therefore speak with some experience on the subject of “The Budget as a critical tool for effective Executive-Legislative relations”.

“As you all know, after the Constitution the next most important legal document in a democracy is the annual Appropriations Act which contains the budget for that fiscal year. The budget is a key fiscal policy tool for bolstering economic development in a country. It reflects the culmination of government’s strategic economic and fiscal policy plans and priorities for actualizing its development agenda in a fiscal year.

“It is a roadmap to implementing the social contract between the government and the governed: national and private resources in exchange for the public goods and services that fulfill national priorities and objectives.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there are two main reasons why the Budget process stands out in the Executive-Legislative relationship. One, it concerns the use of public funds which has far reaching impact on the lives of citizens, and two, it is the most frequent exercise that
brings the two arms of government to a decision table.

“It is therefore not surprising that right from the inception of this Republic in 1999 the processes of producing the annual budgets have been extremely contentious.

“I am sure they were also contentious in our previous democratic experience but I will restrict myself, for the purpose of this conversation, to the period from 1999. Every year, since 1999, the budget process has witnessed tensions between the Executive and the Legislature, and even within the Legislature itself, as recent experience has shown.

“The main issue of contention has been the respective powers of the Executive and the Legislature in producing the budget. By virtue of Section 81 of the Constitution the President has the prerogative of formulating the budget and drafting the Appropriation Bill and presenting the estimates.

“The President “shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditures of the Federation for the next following financial year” The role of the National Assembly is to consider these and, thereafter, pass the Appropriation Bill into law.

“However, there have been contentions as to how far the National Assembly can go in considering these estimates. Some learned writers and professors, such as Prof Ben Nwabueze, argue that the National Assembly in reviewing the estimates presented by the Executive can reduce, or indeed, completely remove heads of expenditure but that the National Assembly cannot increase or introduce completely new projects.

“Some other commentators have rejected that view and have contended that, as is the practice in the United States of America, there are no limits whatsoever to what the National Assembly can do in processing the budget and that the National Assembly can increase, or reduce and
can even introduce completely new projects not envisaged by the President.

“I am aware that, on a number of occasions, one side or the other, have even contemplated going to court to seek a judicial interpretation so as to have this issue resolved.

“In seeking to resolve this issue many commentators have sought to refer to the practice in other countries. In Germany, for instance, even though parliament has unrestricted powers to amend the draft budget, the majority of amendments tend to be fairly small and mostly
involve reallocation of funds.

“And in Germany, where the budget committee, which is regarded as the Bundestag’s most powerful and prestigious committee, decides to significantly increase spending in one sector, they normally engage the Ministry of Finance for advice on other sectors with savings
potential,” Udoma said.

According to him, success in producing a good 2017 Budget will require strong collaboration between the executive and the National Assembly, adding that in order to achieve this, there must be mutual understanding and ownership of national objectives and priorities.
“For instance, we should all agree that at this time of recession we need to ensure prudent allocation of resources to key capital projects that will help to lift the economy out of recession and onto the path of sustainable growth.

“All the key stakeholders must understand and appreciate the overall budgetary constraints as well as implications of some fiscal trade-offs.

“The executive and the legislature have different roles in the budget production process but these roles must be seen as complementary. The National Assembly must not see itself as in competition with the executive,” he said.

In his address , the Publisher/Editor-In-Chief, OrderPaper.ng, Mr. Oke Epia organisers of the colloquium, which is conceived as an annual event was deigned is to deepen democracy in Nigeria