The Senate has reopened its battle with the Presidency over planning and implementation of national budgets.
Speaking yesterday during the debate of a motion sponsored by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi (ACN, Ekiti North) and 46 others calling for a review of the national planning and budgeting process, Senate President David Mark said the executive had failed to use national budgets to impact positively on Nigerians.
Mark specifically criticised the Federal Government for abandoning projects and maintaining inconsistent economic policies, which he said are not in the best interest of the nation.
He said: "Over the years, our budgets have not brought growth, have not improved the employment rate and have not brought dividends of democracy to Nigerians, as fast as expected. There is basically a problem with the envelope system, and that must change.
"Our committees would take full responsibility if they're unable to effect changes in the next budget because if things are alright on paper and practically on ground things are not alright, we need to review the way we go about things.
"Some people have failed in their responsibilities; while others who have become powerful have hijacked other people's work. If you go through the National Planning Commission Act, the objectives and functions of the commission, the system has not worked because those operating it are simply resistant to changes. They don't want to change the system because changing it means they'll lose the authority they've arrogated to themselves."
Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba slammed the executive for allegedly side-lining the legislature in budget planning and process. He said this has made it possible for the government to grossly under-develop the country.
"Those who see the budget proposal presented to the National Assembly as a scripture, to which no amendment can be allowed, should now know that they're in error. If the ultimate responsibility for budget planning and the appropriation power resides with the National Assembly, it is only logical that the legislature should be part of the process that leads to that annual budgetary process," the Senate leader said.
"But now, there is a disconnect between the body that has the ultimate responsibility for appropriation and the body that does the planning. That is why we're in a situation where national plans that should deliver development, employment are rather delivering uncompleted projects, unemployment and poverty," he added.
Ndoma-Egba, who condemned the envelope system of budgeting, said: "I've tried to rationalise the logic behind the envelope system and I must confess that the more I think about it, the more confused I get. It's like building a house and putting the rafters around April and you're hurrying to roof before the rain sets in.
"The Ministry of Finance brings an envelope that tells you that out of the four rooms in the house, the envelope can only deliver the roofing of one room so that if you roof one roof, the rain comes to destroy the other three rooms. The next year, you're back to square one where you've a house without the roof. The envelope system has no meaning and we must take a second look at it."
"This is an opportunity for us to look at the ratio between recurrent and capital expenditures. It's the capital expenditure that delivers development. In a situation where over 70 percent of our national budget is dedicated to the recurrent expenditure, we can only deliver poverty, not development. The time has come for us to take a surgical view of our planning and budgeting process".
Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central) described the powers given to the finance minister over budget as too excessive, saying "we've never had the opportunity to listen to ministers of National Planning on budget matters. We've always been overwhelmed by the powers of finance ministers over the years. The finance minister cannot continue to plan and execute budget. The planning should be done by the National Planning Minister. We need to have a budget office of the National Assembly to analyse national budgets."
While the chairman of the Senate Committee on National Planning, Senator Bernabas Gemade (PDP, Benue) bemoaned what he called lack of national infrastructural plan, Senator Adamu Gumba (PDP, Bauchi) suggested that the budget office of the federation be moved to the National Planning Commission to ensure budget discipline. He said arbitrary budget process must stop.
Leading the debate earlier, Senator Adetunmbi said under the current national budgeting process, there is absence of a coherent and systematic means of exerting legislative control over the fiscal priorities of the Federal Government.
"The current annual incremental envelope-based budgeting being used by the Federal Ministry of Finance is arbitrary and not pro-growth and is one of the factors responsible for the slow shift from recurrent to capital-led annual budget in Nigeria. Under the current arrangement, national planning processes and budget prioritisation processes are led by separate groups of civil servants with little cabinet ownership until the finished products are ready for approval and passed to the National Assembly for concurrence and passage", he said.
Adetunmbi advocated an open and inclusive national planning process that would strengthen the power of the parliament over public expenditures.
After the debate, the Senate mandated its committees on National Planning and Finance to review the current national planning and budgeting linkage and recommend amendments to relevant laws.