Senate Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, has advised the Presidency to desist from playing politics with sensitive issues like the budgeting process.
Senator Olujinmi noted that a recent statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari, blaming the National Assembly for the annual delay in the passage of the Appropriation Act was not only unfortunate but only shows that the Executive arm is not saying the truth.
“The President himself in June this year expressed surprise during a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly when he was confronted with the fact that ministers and heads of other agencies have refused to defend the budget proposals of their ministries and agencies before legislative committees.
“On that occasion, the President stated that the information was contrary to what he was fed by his aides before coming for the meeting. He then ordered the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), to compel all heads of MDAs to immediately appear before the respective committees so that the budget can be passed.
“It is a well known fact that some ministers had in the past appeared before the National Assembly committees and denied certain provisions in the budget of their Ministries. In one instance, Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, denied the provision made for the purchase of computers in his ministry as stated in the budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly. This kind of disconnect between budget proposals and the position of the heads of MDAs made the National Assembly to insist on budget defence by heads of MDAs. This has helped to curb the menace of what is known as budget padding.
“The executive arm needs to further interrogate the efficiency of those involved in budget preparation so that it can realize that one of the causes of delays in budget passage is how the budget estimates submitted to the Legislature come without the necessary details and accompanying documents. What was usually laid before the parliament was mere window dressing documents for the purpose of the presentation ceremony and the photo opportunities.
“There were also past instances like in the case of the 2016 budget when after the budget proposal was submitted with fanfare, the executive attempted to surreptitiously change what was submitted, thereby leading to allegation of ‘missing budget’ in the media. Later, there were two formal applications for substitution of the budget proposals.
“All these developments will necessarily lead to delay in the passage of the budget. The National Assembly, in the spirit of co-operation, decided to keep quiet and demonstrated understanding with the executive. Yet, in order to undermine the legislature and incite the people against the institution, the executive will often go to the public to talk ill of the legislature and blame us for its own failure
“When the President of the Senate told Senate Correspondents at their annual retreat in Jos that there was need for more engagement, dialogue and discussion between the executive and the legislature for the smooth running of governance, key members of the executive publicly condemned the call. We are surprised that the Presidency has now realized the need for constant meetings with legislators when the wave of defection begins to blow around.
“It should be noted that just as the Presidency needs to engage legislators for partisan issues, the same approach is more needed on the issues of governance, smooth operation of the principle of separation of powers and checks and balances. When the executive runs down the legislature, it does nobody any good,” Olujimi stated.