21 October 2012

Nigeria: Suspicion, Diatribe Over 2013 Budget


Since the presentation of 2013 budget proposal by President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the embers of secretive sour relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government has refused tomellow down.

The strong messages sent by both Senate President David Mark and the Federal House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal on that day were enough pointer to the fact that the budget may go through a thorough scrutiny before it will be passed by the National Assembly.

Mark, in his opening remarks at the presentation of the 2013 budget estimates by Jonathan to a joint session of the National Assembly, cautioned against any attempt to view the National Assembly as "a mere mechanical rubber-stamp that must robotically pass budget estimates as presented."

"As to whether the National Assembly has the power to make inputs to Appropriation Bills laid before it, our stand is that the parliament is constitutionally empowered to make inputs. What the constitution enjoins Mr President to present to the National Assembly are mere estimates, not immutable figures.

"And once the estimates are so laid, their consideration becomes subject to the constitutionally prescribed modes of exercising legislative power. Therefore, we do not think that the Constitution intended to turn the National Assembly into a mere mechanical rubber-stamp that must robotically pass budget estimates as presented," Senate President affirmed.

Tambuwal, in his vote of thanks after the presentation of the 2013 budget proposal, also used the opportunity to draw the attention of President to grey areas in the relationship between the executive and the legislature.

The Speaker decried the implementation of the capital component of the 2012 budget, the seeming contempt for resolutions of the parliament by the executive, lack of transparency in the management of the excess crude revenue, the absence of information on revenue accruing from the sale of Gas, and the rising profile of the domestic borrowing.

"I would have been done with my votes of thanks at this point except that the mention of certain salient points of critical importance to our collective resolve for good governance, is compelling. Mr President Sir, given that the 469 elected members of the National Assembly have closer interaction with the nooks and crannies of the nation we are privileged to feel the peoples pulse more intensely and we feel same on behalf and for the benefit and guidance of all the arms of government. Surely Mr President and your vice, being the elected officials on the other side cannot be expected to be in 109 Senatorial Districts worse still 360 Federal Constituencies. Therefore when we feel this pulse we are duty bound to communicate it to you.

"As I speak, interim field oversight reports from House Committees on the 2012 budget implementation are clearly unimpressive in terms of both releases and utilization and this is a great challenge to all of us. It is important to state at this point the clear provisions of Section 8 of the Appropriation Act to the effect that approved budgeted funds shall be released to MDAs 'as at when due'. This is sadly observed more in breach.

"The Composition of the Public Procurement Council provided under the Public Procurement Act is very critical to budget implementation. The sanctity of extant legislations and respect for the rule of law are critical hallmarks of true democracy, we therefore once more call on Mr President to expeditiously constitute this council so as to free the Federal Executive Council from the burden of contract administration, so they can concentrate on the more sublime issues of their constitutional roles and responsibilities.

"....Mr President, on our part we wish to promise early passage and diligent monitoring. It is important to remind ourselves that Nigerians would want to see proof of that as quickly as possible. They no longer care for words, they insist on action. It is necessary that ministries, Departments, Agencies and all public functionaries concerned in the governance process are properly instructed on this fact so that they cease from considering beautiful excuses and explanations as achievements.

"It remains for me to state once again that the pace of governance must take cognizance of the fact that the nation is grossly in arrears of its developmental potentials and expectations and accordingly a 'business as usual' approach is totally unhelpful and unacceptable," Tambuwal pointed out.

Apparently not satisfied with the oil benchmark, the Speaker told President Jonathan in particular and Nigerians in general that the House 'resolved to raise the oil price benchmark from 75 dollars per barrel to 80 dollars per barrel with the objective that the difference of 5 dollars per barrel be channelled exclusively towards reducing the deficit in the budget and consequently reducing domestic borrowing for same purpose by 66%'.

This measure, Tambuwal stated, will make available the loanable funds to private sector which will stimulate the economy and jobs creation for unemployed youths, adding that the House observed two 'critical omissions on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) namely: (i) That the Revenue from gas, running into billions of dollars, is not reflected, and (ii) External borrowing is similarly not reflected'.

Irked by assertions from the two leading officers in the National Assembly during the budget presentation, Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs Dr Doyin Okupe and Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs Alhaji Ahmed Ali Gulak challenged Mark and Tambuwal.

While Okupe said the leadership of the National Assembly was unfair to the president in their comments, Gulak , who was quoted to have called lawmakers 'illiterates', also asked Nigerians to blame the federal legislators for the poor implementation of the 2012 budget.

Media aides to Mark and Tambuwal as well as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, however, berated the reactions emanating from Okupe and Gulak.

Consequently, last Wednesday, the Senate urged President Jonathan to caution his ministers, special advisers and other aides not to destroy the warm relationship existing between the legislature and executive.

The Senate's resolution followed a motion on "inflammatory statements against the National Assembly by Ministers and Aides of the President" sponsored by Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central).

"The Senate notes with dismay, the regular attacks on the legislature by ministers and aides of the president. It is scandalised by the most recent one in which the Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, threw all caution to the wind by remarking that members of the National Assembly were 'talking like illiterates' by saying that the president had failed to give assent to bills passed," the motion stated.

Though the exchange of banters may cease, at least for now, after this motion by the Senate, one issue that may create controversy and delay of the passage of 2013 budget is the disparity in the oil benchmark which the Senate pegged at $78 per barrel of crude oil last Tuesday, a figure that is $3 above the projection from the executive and $2 less than that of the House of Representatives.

Pundits, however, say both Senate and the House will surely harmonise and arrive at a benchmark that is not in tandem with the one suggested by the executive arm of government.

Whether the benchmark's controversy will be avoided, the way and manner by which the executive handles the resolution of the National Assembly will reveal sooner or later.

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