DOZIE EMMANUEL looks at how poor oversight functions by the National Assembly hamper the overall implementation of budget

 

No doubt, the legislature is the bastion of any democracy. This is because it has the constitutional powers of over-sighting the executive arm of government to ensure that its operations are within the ambit of the law. It also has the responsibility of making the laws of the land.
However, these enormous responsibilities have been under-performed in most developing democracies where many legislators have neglected their official duties for personal and selfish interests. It has become a common sight, in most parliaments, to see lawmakers exchanging blows because of mere argument or disagreement. Even the issue of legislative oversight has become a mere ritual embarked upon with the aim of enriching themselves.
Perhaps, this seeming legislative lacuna has further encouraged the various ministries, departments and agencies of government to do what they like with their capital votes. A good chunk of these funds often find their way into private pockets.
Little wonder that over the years, the Nigeria’s annual budget, especially the capital component of it, keeps suffering from poor budget implementation. It is not only sad, but unfortunate that since the return of democracy in 1999, there was never a time the budget has exceeded 50 percent implementation at the end of any fiscal year. It mainly fluctuates between 20 and 30 percent.
Of course, the attendant result of this yearly stagnation has been infrastructural deficit, massive unemployment, under-development, poor social service delivery and abject poverty.
The 2015 Appropriation Act is a budget of N4.4 trillion with a capital provision of the sum of N556.995 billion representing about 10% of the total budge. Three months to the end of 2015, there is nothing to show that the capital component of the 2015 budget is being implemented by the executive.
Piqued by this ugly development, the House of Representatives recently summoned the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Mrs. Anastacia Daniel-Nwaobia; Director-General, Budget Office, Mr. Aliyu Yahaya-Gusau and chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Engr. Elais Mbam to explain the ‘Non Implementation of the 2015 Capital Budget’.
The ad hoc committee was set up sequel to a resolution passed on the floor of the House on August 13, 2015, mandating it to look into the non-implementation of the capital provisions contained in the 2015 Appropriation Act.
In his opening remarks at the public hearing, chairman of the committee, Hon. Aliyu Pategi, expressed disappointment that over the years, the capital component of the budget had been suffering poor implementation. He explained that the House had taken cognizance of Sections 80-83 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on how funds belonging to the Federal Republic of Nigeria could be kept and spent.
Pategi said in view of this, it had become imperative for the House to ask questions on the implementation of the 2015 Appropriation Act, particularly the capital component of the budget. He lamented that over the years, budget implementation had fallen to very low levels leading to unemployment, rising crime rate, breath taking poverty, collapsed infrastructure, poor social service delivery, poor industrial base and nation littered with abandoned projects.
According to him, “As you are all aware, the House of Representatives on Thursday 13th August, 2015, passed a resolution setting up this ad-hoc committee with the mandate to look into the non-implementation of the capital provisions contained in the 2015 Appropriation Act.
“The House has taken cognizance of Sections 80-83 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) on how funds belonging to the Federal Republic of Nigeria can be kept and spent, and also Section 30(1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which clearly mandates the Hon. Minister of Finance through the Budget Office, to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the annual budget and assess the attainment of fiscal targets.
“Against this background, it has become imperative for the House, as a chamber in the parliament of the Nigerian people, to ask questions on the implementation of the 2015 Appropriation Act, particularly the capital component of the budget. The FRC is to review the quarterly submission of the budget performance and forward same to the legislators.
“The budget and the entire process of budget implementation, as we all know, is a critical tool put in place to drive the achievement of the mission of government. It is also the means by which the country’s limited resources are managed and appropriately apportioned to optimally serve the critical needs of the Nigerian people.
“I am sure you will agree with me that when policies are well thought out, allocation of scarce budget resources can easily be prioritized to achieve quick wins, short and long term projects, while promoting general infrastructural development. Budgets the world over, are put in place as a means of improving the lives of citizens, which in turn enables them fulfill their aspirations, first as individuals and collectively as communities.
“Therefore, if we intend to expand, grow and develop the Nigerian economy along with its infrastructure, we must come to the realisation that budget implementation is also a human right, which every citizen of Nigeria is entitled to.
“Over the years, however, budget implementation has fallen to very low levels, the consequences of which we are all witnesses to today. Spiralling unemployment, rising crime rate, breath taking poverty, collapsed infrastructure, poor social service delivery, poor industrial base and nation littered with abandoned projects.
“In 2011, the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee estimated that over 11,886 projects valued at N7.7 trillion were abandoned after government had spent N2.2 trillion on them. The situation has remained the same ever since and is perhaps worse. We need to figure out ways of stopping such wastages in future by advocating for performance budgeting.
“We all know that we in the parliament represent the aspirations and wishes of the people at the grass roots; it is therefore incumbent on us all to ensure synergy between all the necessary organs engaged in the budgeting process and the executive arm empowered by the constitution to execute the budget.
“To facilitate our assignment, it is important for us to trace the sources of the problems from policy planning through the proposal, appropriation and implementation stages. Certain issues have been apparent to us in the parliament as contributory factors towards non-implementation of national budgets.
“The attempt by the executive to pick and choose which portions of the budget are implemented, especially with regards to the capital portion of the budget, has proved detrimental to the whole process. Section 14.3 of the Federal Character Commission Act is also very clear about the spread of development projects with the clear intent of ensuring that no section of the nation dominates another.
“The envelope system of budgeting has proved to be very restrictive to the achievement of the overall goals and policies of government. Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are compelled, in the face of meagre resources, to apply such envelope system to fund much desired capital projects.
“The ratio of recurrent/capital expenditure is unacceptably skewed in favour of running costs, overheads and salaries. In the 2015 Appropriation, for instance, 88% of the N4.49 trillion budget was allocated to recurrent expenditure, leaving just 12% for capital projects. This no doubt is unsustainable as it will cause a drain of our resources in the extreme and will not lead to growth of the economy.”
In view of this recurrent meltdown associated with the capital component, it has become imperative to re-examine the role of the legislature in relation to the budget implementation. Under Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the legislators are vested with the powers to oversight government agencies so as to ascertain the level of budget implementation.
During budget oversight, the lawmakers focus on the areas of implementation of laws; application of budgets; strict observance of laws of parliament, the constitution and effective management of government departments; detect and prevent abuse, prevent illegal and unconstitutional conduct on the part of the government, protect the rights and liberties of citizens; hold the government accountable for how taxpayers’ money is spent; make government operations more transparent and increase public trust in the government.
Ideally, as a constitutional responsibility, budget oversight should be a regular exercise whereby the legislators and government agencies interface periodically.
Ironically, the reverse is the case in Nigeria where a good number of the lawmakers see budget oversight as an opportunity to amass wealth rather than a call to service. It is unfortunate that our lawmakers have turned law breakers when it comes to effective budget oversight. Money often exchanges hands and the end result is poor budget implementation.

Therefore, it about time the legislators turned a new leaf and do what is expected of them as regards proper budget oversight. They should imbibe the change philosophy of doing things differently in this dispensation. This is the only way the country’s annual budget, especially the capital component, can be better implemented.


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