The approval of the budget sets the stage for implementation by various ministries, departments and agencies, including the National Assembly and the judiciary. At the implementation stage, the Minister of Finance releases the funds appropriated for each MDA, and collects regular reports from them on the management of such funds.
The MDAs and parastatals of government implement the budget, particularly the overhead expenditure and capital projects, through the procurement goods and services from the private sector. The quality of goods and services procured depends significantly on how the procurement process is managed. Unfortunately, the management of public procurement in Nigeria has been poor. This has accounted for widespread corruption and reduction in the effectiveness of budgeting as a tool for achieving rapid economic transformation and social progress.
Therefore, the National Assembly in exercising its power to make laws for good governance has passed both the Public Procurement Act and Fiscal Responsibility Act. The rationale being to ensure efficient procurement and financial management processes in order to enhance effective budget implementation. Prior to the enactment of the Public Procurement Act 2007, there was no specific law on public expenditure or procurement in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Finance, from time to time, issued â€œFinancial Regulationsâ€, which regulated and delegated the responsibilities of public procurement and financial management at the federal level. The Financial Regulations are essentially an internal set of rules for financial/economic control of the federal administration. It contains regulations concerning composition of Tender Boards, the limits of their jurisdiction, and procurement process.
The process, however, had several flaws, which made a World Bank team visiting Nigeria in 2000 to observe that the procurement process was the bane of budget implementation because it created room for widespread corruption and worsening living condition for Nigerians even as government expenditure increased geometrically.
The oversight functions enable the elected representatives of the people to ensure that the executive implements laws made by it and utilises moneys appropriated efficiently for the purposes intended.
As regards the Appropriation Act, it is important to ensure that competent men and women are appointed by the executive arm as managers of public funds. Also, it is pertinent to spend public funds on projects that are relevant to the needs of society, and monitoring to ensure compliance with laid down procedures is pursued.
The oversight function of the National Assembly is carried out through its standing committees. The standing committees serve as the engine of the legislature. It is in the committees that legislative expertise resides, legislative policies incubate, proposals are written or refined, and most importantly, members of the public make direct input into the legislative process. Besides, the committees hold public hearings, conduct investigations and oversee government programmes and activities. The standing rules of the two chambers of the National Assembly confer on the committees various powers, including the power to handle budget estimates and review government programmes and agenciesâ€™ spending to ensure strict adherence to the laws. Each committee performs oversight function on the ministry or agency it is assigned to oversee.
The standing committees of the National Assembly, firstly, carry out detailed consideration of legislative measures and financial proposals in more thorough and detailed manner than is possible on the floor of the chamber. Secondly, the committees scrutinise government administration and oversee the exercise of executive power. Thirdly, on ad-hoc basis, the committees investigate matters of public concern.
The most important instrument of the National Assembly under the constitution is committee hearings and investigation of activities of the executive branch. Committees hearing offer legislators opportunity to appraise and acquaint themselves with the administrationâ€™s plan of action and probe the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged or intended to be charged with the responsibility for executing or administering laws enacted by the legislature, or administering moneys appropriated.
The legislative role in the management of public funds does not end with the passage of the Appropriation Bill and oversight function of the committees. It has the onerous responsibility of examining and scrutinising states and federal annual accounts through the Public Accounts Committee arising from the report laid by the Auditor General of the Federation as stipulated under Section 85(2) as follows:
â€œThe public accounts of the federation and of all offices and courts of the federation shall be audited and reported on by the Auditor-General who shall submit his/her report to the National Assembly; and for that purpose, the Auditor-General or any person authorised by him in that behalf shall have access to all the books, records returns and other documents relating to those accounts.â€
The committees also have the power to invite persons, call for papers and records with regards to the appropriation of the sums approved by the House to meet public expenditure. It has the duty to report its findings from time to time to the House and to sit during any adjournment of the house.
The committee has the power to examine any accounts or reports of statutory corporations and boards after they might have been laid on the table of the House, and also report progress regularly to the House.
The unique role of the Public Accounts Committee demands the representation of all political parties on its membership. It is equally important that experienced accountants and seasoned public and private technocrats serving as legislators are assigned to this committee.
The National Assembly has a pivotal role to play in translating budget to projects. As the eyes and ears of the people, it has responsibility through the legislative process to ensure that the Budget reflects the wishes and aspirations of the people. Unlike technocrats, the National Assembly derives legitimacy from the people and as such needs to deliver democracy dividends to justify the trust of the people. It is therefore pertinent for this Arm of Government to be adequately supported, equipped and motivated to perform its constitutional assigned responsibilities.
When this is done, the Nigerian Budget would translate to projects that would enhance the living standard of the people.
–Omisore was senator for Osun East senatorial district between 2003 and 2009.