Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, has highlighted ways to improve budget process and implementation in Nigeria, lamenting that since 1999 when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, national budgets have failed to yield satisfactory results to the people. Speaking at a colloquium on Budget Matters in Abuja, he stated that the entire budget process must undergo a reform to make it more effective and impactful on the lives of the Nigerian people.
Specifically, Dogara said a critical look should be taken at the operation of Financial Year to ensure that its 12 month period is fully completed before another budget implementation begins. This is just as he added that there must also be a conscious effort to complete ongoing projects before new ones are introduced in order to stop wasteful spending.
Speaking directly to Section 318 of the Constitution, he noted that “a situation where an approved budget is not allowed to operate for 12 months is constitutionally unacceptable. This is the main reason for 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 shortchanged as the money and effort invested 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 on-going projects in the following year’s budget is a huge waste of resources.”
The speaker also stressed that the National Assembly is constitutionally empowered to make final input on the budget in Nigeria, just as is the case in any presidential system, in line with Section 4 which grants general law making powers to the National Assembly; Section 80, particularly 80(2); 80(3) and 80(4) which are unambiguous, Sections 4, 59, 80-82, and others, including Finance (Control and Management) Act, CAP F26, LFN 2004 and the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
“Those who contend that the National Assembly cannot increase the budget but can only reduce it are trying to import the British parliamentary law into a presidential system of government. In the British parliamentary system, the Crown has prerogative over money supply and the legislature is specifically prohibited from increasing the budget. It should be noted that the critical difference is that Parliament under a parliamentary system includes all the Ministers unlike the presidential system where the Ministers are not part of the National Assembly. It is therefore the decision of the Executive that carries the day in Parliament as the Ministers are also leaders of Parliament. This position is therefore justified on the basis of separation of powers which is inherent in a Presidential democracy as practiced in Nigeria. In addition, if the Constitution intended that the National Assembly should not have power to increase a budget item it should have said so,” the speaker said.
He also explained, “Nigeria’s budgeting system is closer to the model practiced in the United States of America, where Congress has authority to alter, increase, reduce or indeed introduce new budget items. Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution provides that: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of Appropriations made by law”. This provision is similar to Section 80 of the Nigerian Constitution. The principles disclosed are that First, All monies are paid into the USA Treasury and in the case of Nigeria, all Funds are paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund or other Public Funds of the Federation. Secondly, No money can be withdrawn from the Treasury of the United States of America except through Appropriation. In Nigeria, any withdrawal from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or other Public Funds of the Federation can only be made in pursuance of authorisation of the National Assembly.”
On the role of budget in accelerated economic development, Dogara that the annual budget is the vehicle provided by law for the acquisition, allocation and distribution of resources for socio-economic development of the nation.
This, he continued, therefore means that the government must ensure that the budget captures national priorities on developmental objectives and priorities of the nation, with respect to poverty reduction, increased employment opportunities, relevant infrastructural development like power supply, mining and solid Mineral development; transportation services such as road construction, provision of rail services, seaports and airports. It provides for social and economic development services such as education, health, food security, housing, security of lives and property, human capital development and social services.
Furthermore, Speaker Dogara said a budget should reflect not just national priorities but also the priorities of the ruling party, noting that “as our democracy matures, elections would be based on contrasting visions of development which are submitted to the electorate to decide. Therefore, when a political party comes to power, it would be ready to govern from day one, based on the programmes and vision placed before the electorate. Of course, the new government must conduct a proper audit of the situation of things in various sectors to understand the system and recalibrate its policies, where necessary. The budget is one of the major means of achieving these.”
Dogara urged President Buhari to make full disclosure on the national budget size to include all sources of revenue and expenditure of all government agencies including NNPC, CBN and others as an integral part. While commending the president for attaching details of NNPC and CBN budgets to the 2016 proposal, he also affirmed the resolve of the House to conduct proper oversight on the implementation of the 2016 budget, which he has directed all committees of the House to begin.
Going further, he disclosed, “It is as a result of all these observed anomalies and need for change and reform that I recently announced that the House will set up a Budget Reform Committee to undertake a thorough and holistic review of all issues relating to the budget to ensure due process, more transparency, better accountability, openness and value for money. This Committee will comprise experts and professional organisations and will work in liaison with the Senate and the Executive branch.”