Falana: Court Never Ruled N’Assembly Had Power to Increase Budget

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Gboyega Akinsanmi

A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, Tuesday said a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole never granted the National Assembly the power to review upward the budget proposal laid before it by the executive arm of government.

Under the 2007 Fiscal Responsibility Act, however, Falana noted that the members of National Assembly “may influence the introduction of new items or inclusion of projects to be executed in their constituencies” only at the stage of preparing the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).

He made this clarification in a statement he issued yesterday, faulting a position espoused by the Senate through its spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, last week that the National Assembly had power to insert or include new projects into the budget proposal.

The Senate had in a statement by its spokesperson defended its decision to include over 4,000 new projects into the 2017 budget, noting that the federal high court had ruled that the National Assembly had the power to increase the budget estimates laid before it by the executive arm of government.

In a statement he personally signed yesterday, Falana faulted the position of the National Assembly, saying the interpretation of the court decision by the legislative arm “is grossly misleading.”
He admitted that Kolawole, the trial judge, stated that the legislative arm “is not a rubber stamp parliament on the grounds that it is empowered by the 1999 Constitution to debate and make its informed inputs into the budget proposals submitted to it by the president.”

He, however, said nowhere in the judgment did the court say that the National Assembly “has the power to increase or insert new items like constituency projects into the budget estimates contained in any Appropriation Bill or Supplementary Bill prepared and submitted to it by the President.”
Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), therefore cited the court decision in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/295/2014 in which the trial judge ruled against the power of the legislative arm to increase or review upward the budget estimate laid before it.

As indicated in Falana’s statement, the trial judge ruled that the National Assembly was created by the 1999 Constitution and imbued with the powers “to receive budget estimates which the president is constitutionally empowered to prepare and lay before it as a rubber stamp parliament.

“The whole essence of the budget estimates being required to be laid before the National Assembly, is to enable it as the assembly of the representatives of the people, to debate the said ‘budget proposals’ and to make its own well informed legislative inputs into it.

“What the National Assembly cannot do is to prepare ‘budget estimates’ for the president or to disregard the proposals laid before it and substitute it with its own estimates.
“The rationale for this is simple: It is the executive arm under the leadership of the president that controls and superintends all agencies, corporations and commissions that generate the revenue for the running of the government…”

However, the human rights lawyer pointed out that the seeming lacuna in section 81 of the 1999 Constitution has been sufficiently addressed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act No 31 of 2007.
He noted that section 13 of the Act “has imposed a mandatory duty on the Minister of Finance to seek inputs from the National Assembly and other relevant statutory bodies in the preparation of the MTEF which shall be approved by the Federal Executive Council.”

In line with the section 18 of the Act, Falana argued that the MTEF “shall be the basis for the preparation of the estimates of revenue and expenditure to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly under section 81 of the Constitution.”

According to him, it is at the stage of preparing the MTEF that the members National Assembly may influence the introduction of new items or inclusion of projects to be executed in their constituencies.
He, therefore, noted that the National Assembly “cannot prepare any aspect of the budget estimates, lay it before itself, pass same and then request the president to sign it into law.”