For all you may care to know, the 2016 Appro¬priation Bill, like its pre-decessors, has continued to generate heat between the Ex¬ecutive and the Legislature one month into the second quarter of the year. Some analysts have ascribed the feud between the Presidency and the National As¬sembly over the 2016 Budget to the trial of the Senate President Dr. Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal over the al¬leged false declaration of assets by Saraki.
They believe that the Na¬tional Assembly is trying to use the budget as a bargaining chip to cut a deal with the Presidency in order to give the Senate Presi¬dent a soft-landing. And, as they say, when two elephants fight, the grass suffers, Nigerians are facing untold hardship as a result of the protracted delay in the passage of the budget.
Yet, unnecessary Executive/Legislative conflicts have come to characterise the annual budget making process in the country and, to a large ex¬tent, undermine the effectiveness of budgets in delivering to Nige¬rians the so-called dividends of democracy.
These conflicts have arisen in spite of the actual deline¬ation of roles and responsibilities of the Executive vis-a-vis the Leg¬islature particularly the extent of authority regarding variations to key assumptions incorporated in the Appropriation Bill by the Ex¬ecutive that should be allowed the Legislature. In the particular case of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly went too far.
Section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nige¬ria 1999 (as amended) is unam¬biguously clear about the role of the National Assembly and its responsibilities as the Podium of the elected representatives of the people.
Also, Sections 80-83 publish the role of the Legislature with specific respect to the man¬agement of the nation’s finances. Whereas, in exercising its over¬sight functions, the Legislature is empowered by the Constitution to either add to or subtract from the allocation forwarded to it by the Executive, it can always do that in consultation with the lat¬ter.
The Constitution does not empower the National Assembly to create new clauses or remove in its entirety an item already budg¬eted for by the Executive without the consent of the latter. The cur¬rent unbridled legislative rascality being displayed by our lawmak¬ers is nothing but the hangover of irascible corruption which was the stock-in-trade of previous leg¬islatures since 1999.
No doubt, the received wisdom and the practice of the presidential system of de¬mocracy indubitably accords the Legislature unfettered authority to vary any aspect of the budget proposal preferably in consulta¬tion with the Executive, as noted above, as an integral part of the approval process.
To ensure that the decision to alter the content of the Appropriation Bill prior to approval is not whimsical or driven by selfish considerations, it is recommended that exclusive and far-reaching consultations and collaboration between the Executive and Legislature should characterise the budget prepara-tion process.
But in the context of the pre¬vailing situation, the Legislature is yet to establish a full-fledged, appropriately staffed Legislative Research and Budget Office and, to that extent, is handicapped by the lack of a robust basis upon which to perform its approval and oversight functions. In the United States of America from where we borrowed our Executive Presidential system, internation¬ally celebrated economists and reputable experts such as Profes¬sor John Kenneth Galbraith, are constantly hired by the Legislature to think for them and give them direction in the budgetary proce¬dure.
It is therefore suggested that this power to vary budgetary pro¬posals from the Executive should be exercised with a great deal of circumspection as the Execu¬tive could be operating from the standpoint of a relatively superior understanding of the workings of the economy given the institu¬tional capacity of its proposal. For instance, in 2004, while Nigerians were expecting words regarding the approval of the budget which President Olusegun Obasanjo presented to the joint sitting of the National Assembly on October 12, 2004, it filtered out that there was move to increase the bench¬mark price of crude of 27 dollars used for the preparation of the budget and that the Executive had sent in a letter cautioning against such a move.
President Obasanjo warned that an attempt to under¬take such a move would amount to a misreading of the oil situa¬tion. He further buttressed the point regarding the volatility of the oil market by citing a develop¬ment in which there was drop in the price of crude to the tune of about six dollars within 24 hours. President Obasanjo also referred to the improvement in the politi¬cal situation in Iraq with elections scheduled for the end of that year. And that if Iraq was allowed to pump at the level of its OPEC ap¬proved limit of 3 million barrels per day, it could result in the sof¬tening of the oil market.
When you factor uncertainties regarding production activities inRussia and the value of the dollar which might increase the pressure on the membership of OPEC to burst quota allocations, the case to err on the side of caution could not have been better made. Yet, our lawmakers have consistently demonstrated high profile inani¬ties towards the budget process. In 2002, the aggregate expenditure in the Appropriation Bill was unilat¬erally increased from N780.0 Bil-lion to N1.064 Trillion by the Na¬tional Assembly without adequate attention paid to the source of revenue to fund this increased ex¬penditure.
What was also particu¬larly worrisome in that situation as in the present was that the Leg¬islature proceeded to vote huge sums of money for what it tagged “Constituency Projects” with the curious intention that each Sena¬tor would oversee such expendi¬tures. Such a development offends the sensibilities of the generality of the population and one would like to ask the question: who would perform oversight functions in that situation?
When revenue re¬alised falls below projected expen¬ditures, it is almost certain that the implementation of the budget for that particular fiscal year would be thoroughly undermined. But our lawmakers would rather prefer we borrow to fund recurrent ex¬penditures while capital projects languish. This is the more reason why there should always be ad¬equate consultation and interface between the Executive and the Legislature during the preparation of the budget and that, as a result, the approval process would be fast tracked.
While it is a fact that constitu¬tional powers to provide for the funding of the government of the federation is that of the Legisla¬ture, it could be less problematic if the Legislature could go into some consultation with the Executive to ascertain the basis of the content of the budget proposals.
This is the reason why it is recommended that the ideal time-sequencing in the budget process should allow the Executive four months lati¬tude for its preparation and about a similar length of time should be allowed for the Legislature to undertake all due process requi¬site for its approval. The budget process would be considerably fa¬cilitated if we move from single to multiple-year budget preparation in the context of a Medium Term Expenditure Framework to better insulate the budget from exog¬enous shocks such as a drop in the price of oil and accord the desired level of predictability to the budg¬et process.
What is more, there is an urgent need for an Act of the National Assembly delineating the extent of powers to be exer¬cised by parties involved in the process so as to facilitate a hitch-free preparation of the Appropria¬tion Bill. The practice of periodic briefing on the performance of the budget should be encouraged to underwrite transparency and accountability as well as aid the Legislature in its oversight func¬tions. As it stands, the delay in the passage of the budget amounts to economic sabotage. It has brought the country to a standstill with so much motion and no move¬ment.
Industries are grinding to a halt while importers cannot bring in essential goods even as citizens are swimming in excru¬ciating poverty and gnashing of teeth everywhere. Landlords and tenants are at loggerheads with each other amidst the biting cash crunch and crime wave is on the increase. There is disharmony in the land even as our Senators who are holding us to ransom are buy¬ing exotic cars in the face of these national woes. This budget crisis must be resolved without further delay to foster the real change Ni¬gerians voted for.
Dan Amor, an Abuja-based public affairs analyst