The concept of financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly is an administrative matrix which has become politically charged in that various state governments here tended to view this noble idea as a catalyst for robust political opposition from the legislature when they would have preferred a diffident one that can be easily swayed or bent to the whims or caprices of the Executive Arm. However the state legislatures recently voted overwhelmingly for the alteration of S.121 of the 1999 constitution thereby guaranteeing their financial autonomy and placing them on a first line charge for the release of statutory funds for capital and recurrent expenditure on a quarterly basis.
Being a rather novel concept for the state houses of assembly to decipher or comprehend, it was indeed timely and auspicious for the Clerk to the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa to brainstorm extensively on the financial autonomy maze in an insightful and deeply incisive discourse on the theme ‘Implications of Financial Autonomy for the State Houses of Assembly and Strategies for its Effective Implementation’ at a workshop organised for the Forum of Clerks of the State Houses of Assembly held in Abuja recently.
In his opening remarks, the perceptive Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa noted that the National Assembly has been in the forefront of organizing capacity building programmes for State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria observing that ‘I am proud to note that the National Secretariat of Nigerian Legislatures (NSNL), Policy Analysis and research Project (PARP) and National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) have at various times performed these capacity building responsibility to my satisfaction’. Elaborating further on the hallmarks of financial autonomy, Alh Maikasuwa listed them as including the movement of budgetary provisions from the platform of MDA to statutory transfer-first line charge; the National Assembly now enjoys quarterly releases as against monthly releases to MDAs; allocations are fully cash backed (100%) at the end of the financial year; Internal General Warrants and Authority to Incur Expenditure are prepared and endorsed by the Senate Presidents; funds from the Federal Ministry of Finance are paid to our statutory accounts, allocation (release of funds) is now timely and the National Assembly is now considered first before any MDA.
In order to reap the benefits associated with the status of financial autonomy, the CNA revealed that administrative mechanisms were put in place to effectively manage the funds released like the delineation of budgetary releases with each section having its own approving authority e.g. for the Senate, the Senate President is the approving authority, while the Speaker approves for the House of Representatives, the CNA for the Management and Legislative Aides, the Director General for the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) and the Chairman for the National Assembly Service Commission. Also the Budget Department collates the budgets of the separate sections like Senate, House, NILS, NASC and they are discussed and defended at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriation Committees and the recommendations are then forwarded to the leadership of the National Assembly for approval. The CNA also posited that in order to redress allegations of financial impropriety, each chamber has a template for their running costs, noting that the NASS leadership is strongly guided by financial regulations and accordingly has shown commendable openness and transparency in the financial transactions of the House and Senate.
Some of the challenges faced by the National Assembly in the financial autonomy regime according to the CNA include inadequate funding arising from the budget ceilings of the Federal Ministry of Finance, and the untimely release of NASS budgetary funds. Having taken the forum of Clerks of State Houses of Assembly on a reflective discourse on the dimensions and ramifications of the financial autonomy regime, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa also deemed it fit to offer cautionary words of advice on the way and manner to effectively cope with the challenges posed by the autonomy scenario.
The CNA advised that in order to avoid infighting over funds, the state houses of assembly should ensure that they have a separate budget for the activities of members and staff, they are also encouraged to establish Committees on Services, the House services committees should in turn identify the needs of members and committees and bring them to the attention of the leadership. Further, the SHAs should ensure that adequate provisions are made for the running costs in the budget, the political leadership should be familiar with extant financial regulations and should operate openly and transparently to avoid suspicion of financial misdemeanor or impropriety.
As for the Clerks to the State Assemblies, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa maintained that as the Chief Accounting officers, they should know their statutory functions and operate within their powers and limitations. They should give sound financial advice to the leadership and advise them on the design of a template for the running of the offices of the leadership, members and committees of the House while clearly separating the budgetary estimates for members and staff of the assembly.
Gyakyor writes from Abuja

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