Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, has explained that the House is focused on using its oversight functions over the executive as a cooperative tool to bring development and better the lives of Nigerians, rather than as a tool of adversary.
Speaker Dogara says: ..National Assembly has powers to alter, amend, review budget bills
He made this statement while delivering a keynote address at a 2-day summit on Intergovernmental/Party Relations and the Budget Reform Process for sustainable development in Nigeria in Abuja on Tuesday.
“Over the years, legislative oversight has been seen as more adversarial than cooperative. However, in conducting oversight, the principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations must be taken into consideration, including the separation of powers and the need for all spheres of government and all organs of State to exercise their powers and perform their functions in a manner that does not encroach on the functions of other arms. Seen in this light, the oversight function of the Legislature complements rather than hampers the effective delivery of services with which the executive is entrusted.”
He, therefore, called for a more cooperative goverment where the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, in their collective struggle to develop Nigeria and ensure better life for her citizens, will always adhere to a common loyalty to the Federal Republic of Nigeria by committing to securing the well-being of all the Nigerians and provide effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government for the country as a whole.
Dogara said the outcomes and recommendations of oversight undertaken by the legislature should be eagerly received, studied and implemented by the executive as a measure of accountability, citing an instance where the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua requested for the report of the probe carried out by the House Adhoc Committee on Customs and Excise in the 6th Assembly under his leadership and started implementing the recommendations even before the report was adopted.
“I can give personal testimony that as chairman, House Ad-Hoc Committee on Customs, the report of the House investigation we conducted was requested for by him personally and he started to implement the recommendations…” he recalled.
Going further, the Speaker added that for intergovernmental cooperation to function effectively to yield the desired outcomes, the distinctiveness of each arm must be safeguarded in that its constitutional status, institutions, powers and functions of each arm must be respected; each arm of government must remain within its constitutional powers; and when exercising those powers, it must not do so in a manner that encroaches on the institutional integrity of another. This means that checks and balances should be in place with mutual respect for the authority and powers of the other arms so as to achieve better cooperation.
“Each arm of government,” he continued, “must take concrete steps to realize cooperative government by fostering friendly relations, assisting and supporting one another, informing one another of, and consulting one another on, matters of common interest, co-ordinating their actions and legislation with one another; and adhering to agreed procedures.
“The various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are constitutionally required to account to the legislature, and they should always avail parliament of the complete picture on performance of the functions assigned to them as the consideration of the annual report of the MDAs alone may not give the complete picture of the performance of the relevant functions.”
Going futher, he said failure by these MDAs to adhere to resolutions of the legislature in accordance with constitutionally assigned powers, will lead to a high risk of zero budget allocation to them since appropriation is one of the tools it can use to enforce compliance.
He said, “on the issue of legislative resolutions, one of the tools available to parliament in enforcing its Resolutions is the power of the purse as provided for by the 1999 Constitution as amended.”
“Any MDA that persistently disrespects a well-informed Resolution of Parliament may confront the power of parliament over its budget. Over the years, legislative resolutions have been taken as merely advisory and hence enjoy a low level of compliance by the executive branch. I wish to strongly make the point that whereas some resolutions of the legislature are expressions of the will and views of the legislature, they most often do have practical, political and legal consequences. Resolution is also a mechanism through which the executive obtain expressions of opinion of important stakeholders to assist it in framing its policies. In jurisdictions like the USA, UK and India, parliamentary resolutions are taken seriously and level of implementation reported back to parliament. We should consider adopting these models in Nigeria.”
He restated that the power of appropriation is vested in the legislature which means it can alter proposals by the executive in any manner it feels will be more beneficial to Nigerians, and shed light on reforms the House has done on the budget process, including a bill he sponsored on Budget Reforms.
“The budget is also a legitimate opportunity for the government to set its policy agenda and priorities. Thus, in almost all political systems, it is generally accepted that the Executive has the primary role in developing an annual budget and presenting it to the Legislature. However, the Legislature plays a more active role in shaping the outlines of the budget submitted to it by the Executive. In most presidential democracies, such as ours, the Legislature has the right to review, in some cases, amend, alter, approve or reject the spending plan proposed by the Executive.
“Suffice it to say that even in developed democracies, the Executive and legislative branches have traditionally struggled to find an equitable balance of power over financial matters.
“Over the years, the National Assembly and the Executive have often disagreed over basic and more fundamental issues ranging from the petroleum price benchmark for the budget and role of the National Assembly in amending or modifying budget proposals submitted by the Executive to reflect diverse national development requirements. Other subjects of contention include details of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), timeline for budget presentation, implementation status and legislative oversight of budgets. While some see Legislature-Executive conflict as a necessary and beneficial precondition to limiting and controlling government, others view it as contributing to gridlock over major public policy decisions, thus making government ineffective. I see it however as a healthy constitutional exercise, for public good. However, cooperation between the Executive and the National Assembly is not only necessary but unavoidable.
“These conflicts often stem from weaknesses inherent in the different stages of our budget process. At the formulation stage, there is no adequate provision for a fixed and realistic budget calendar as well as public participation in the budget process. Also, the budgeting system is characterised by a weak link between development plans and annual budgets, resulting in poor development outcomes. Fundamentally too, there is neither a reliable and comprehensive database on the socio-economic conditions of the country nor a rigorous analytical framework for determining policy objectives.
“Happily, in the last Constitution Alteration exercise, the National Assembly passed an amendment to S.81(1) of the Constitution which if ratified, will now require the President to prepare and lay the budget proposal before the National Assembly not later than 90 days before the end of each financial year rather than the current provision of laying it “at any time” in the financial year.
“Secondly, at the enactment stage, the process still appears haphazard with no definite timeline for the enactment of the Appropriation Bill.
Finally, at the implementation stage, some of the weaknesses include the relatively low budgeted capital expenditure compared to recurrent expenditure. Capital budget implementation is still constrained by weak revenue base; untimely and irregular release of funds; preponderance of unplanned projects; weak implementation capacity on the part of MDAs; and weak budget monitoring by the Executive and sometimes weak legislative oversight.
“In the House of Representatives, we have shown our commitment to ensuring that the procedure and process of consideration and passage of the 2017 Budget was transparent, inclusive and professional. The details of the Budget was debated and passed in plenary to avoid unnecessary drawbacks that normally characterise the budget process, in Nigeria. That is why I personally sponsored a Budget Process Bill, to set out mandatory time-lines for all stakeholders in the budgetary process.”
He also called for the inclusion of the ruling party in the budget preparation process in order for it to align with its agenda.