The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; and other civil society organisations has faulted the country’s current budgeting process, stating that it did not support inclusiveness.
They made their position known in Abuja at a colloquium on budget as a critical tool for effective executive-legislative relations, organised by OrderPaper.ng.
They faulted the provisions of Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution, which allows the President to submit the budget estimates to the National Assembly at any time of the financial year.
They also faulted Section 82 of the Constitution and called for its amendment to reduce the time the previous year’s budget would continue to run in the event that the Appropriation Act was not passed at the beginning of the financial year from six months to three months.
This, according to them, distorts the budget process.
For instance, Dogara said a critical look should be taken at the operation of the financial year as defined in Section 318 of the Constitution.
He argued that a situation where an approved budget was not allowed to operate for 12 months was constitutionally unacceptable, noting that this was the main reason for the failure in implementing the fiscal document.
The Speaker said, “A critical look should be taken at the operation of the financial year as defined in Section 318 of the Constitution. A situation where an approved budget is not allowed to operate for 12 months is constitutionally unacceptable.
“This is the main reason for the failure of budget implementation every year and the cause of abandoned projects that litter the Nigerian landscape. When projects are not completed, the nation is terribly short-changed as the money and efforts invested in them are lost.
“In this regard, we must institute a compulsory mechanism that rolls over major projects that are not completed in one budget year into the following year’s budget. The current practice of not including ongoing projects in the following year’s budget is a huge waste of resources.”
Dogara also said the lack of full disclosure of the appropriation size of the national budget, and the actual revenue and expenditure of the government was affecting the budgeting process.
He recommended that the executive should look into the possibility of having just one national budget that would capture the revenue and expenditure of all agencies of government.
The Speaker said recent happenings in the polity had brought to the fore the extent of the powers of the National Assembly with respect to the budgeting process.
He also pointed out that it was wrong for the Executive to choose what aspect of the Appropriation Act to implement, adding that such action was undermining the foundation of the constitution.
Dogara added, “When the Appropriation Bill is signed into law by Mr. President, it becomes an Act of the National Assembly. The Executive is enjoined to execute all laws made by the National Assembly. The Appropriation Act is the major instrument for the delivery of services to the nation. It is akin to a social contract between the people and its government.
“If for any reason, such as revenue shortfall, it becomes impracticable to execute aspects of the Appropriation Act, the Appropriation Act has provided a mechanism for a resolution through consultation.
“A situation where the Executive branch picks and chooses which aspects of the Act to execute without consultation with the legislature is untidy and undermines the foundation of the constitutional order.”
On what the country can do to reform the budgeting process, Dogara said there was a need to review the legal framework to ensure that the budget was submitted and passed on time.
Tambuwal, who was the chairman at the event, supported the call for constitutional amendment to compel the President to submit his budget proposals to the legislature at least three months before the end of the preceding year.
This, according to him, will provide the legislature with the needed timeframe to perform its duties effectively in scrutinising the budget estimates submitted by the Executive.
He said, “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 1.
“Indeed, it will be helpful if the National Assembly gets some kind of timeframe within which it is expected to finish deliberations and return the budget to the President for assent.
“For the process of passing our national budget to become harmonious, less turbulent and implementable, the stakeholders must develop the principles of collaboration, consensus and compromise.
“Most significantly, the Executive must plan way ahead, submit the proposals early, and make wide consultations to encourage inputs from a variety of stakeholders.”
The governor also said another major problem with the budget process was the near absence of planning.
This, he noted, had made it difficult for the people to feel the impact of budgets.
He added, “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, and through to Medium Term Expenditure Framework 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.”
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, who delivered the keynote address at the event, said the Executive and the legislature must work together in the national interest to ensure that Nigerians enjoyed the benefit of budgeting.
He said, “Success in producing a good 2017 budget will require strong collaboration between the Executive and the National Assembly. In processing and considering the budget estimate, the National Assembly should see themselves as working as partners with the President to achieve the national aspirations set out by the President.
“In doing so, the question of which arm of government is superior in budget formulation should not arise as everyone’s objective must be the success of the government in bringing the dividends of democracy to the people.”