Nigeria: Budget - No, Mr. President, Blame Yourself Not National Assembly

(file photo).
7 November 2018

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, in his usual buck-passing and self-righteousness, blamed tardiness in the passage of budgets by the National Assembly for the delay in the completion of projects across the country by his government.

He spoke when he received a delegation of Eminent and Respected citizens of Niger State led by Lt. Gen. Garba Duba (Rtd) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

To be precise, the president said, "If the National Assembly takes seven months to pass a budget, then we should be commended for the much that we have achieved, and can still achieve. I personally feel very disappointed. I spoke with the leaders of the National Assembly on the issue that seven months is a long time to work on a budget."

Even though buck passing and blame game is not new to Buhari as it is now his stock in trade as there is no day that passes without the President blaming others in a desperate move to exonerate himself from any blame or failure of the Executive under his leadership to execute projects across the country.

In fact, very recently, Buhari blamed all his predecessors for failing to build infrastructure. And I wonder why? It was the general consensus that the former employees didn't perform as expected and that was why Nigerians hired him for a job he has sought for four conservative times but here he is blaming the same people he replaced.

It is disingenuous for President Muhammad Buhari to blame the National Assembly for his government's failure to implement budget and execute projects that affect the lives of Nigerians in the last three years.

To set the record straight, this is a President who, from inception of his government didn't show any sign that he was well prepared and ready for the job.

For instance, it took him six months to form his cabinet. It also took him two years to appoint board chairmen for most government agencies. This was his greatest undoing and was principally responsible for plunging Nigeria into recession because activities in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government were brought to a halt for the period since civil servants could not take decisions due to absence of political heads in a country where public sector spending drives the economy. At a point, he even said he was happy working with civil servants because ministers or politicians were noise makers.

Now, after three years, with election in three months, the President is at it again, exonerating himself and throwing the blame right at the doorstep of the legislature. But facts don't lie:

Since his assuming office, the president has been unable to present budget on time. His first budget was the 2016 budget which was submitted on December 22, 2015, exactly nine days to the end of the fiscal year.

The minimum the National Assembly requires to pass budget is three months. But he presented it just nine days to 2016. Again, the 2017 budget was presented on December 14, 2016, just 17 days to the end of 2016. The earliest budget presentation was on November 7, 2017. It was less than two months to the end of the year.

However, his ministers refused to appear before National Assembly committees to defend the budget for five months thereby delaying the passage.

It was after the leadership of the National Assembly sought the President's intervention on March 16, 2018 that the ministers reluctantly appeared before the committees, an exercise that takes at least a month to complete. In fact, some of them who felt they were super ministers sent in their permanent secretaries.

What Nigerians didn't know and the President won't say is that the Executive through the various ministries continued to propose additional projects to be included in the 2018 budget even as at April and May which further delayed the passage of the 2018 budget. These were communicated officially and if anyone is in doubt the letters are there with the dates they were written and received.

Since the inception of the Buhari administration, it has been in constant violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act which stipulates that budgets should be presented in early September. The wisdom or import of the FRA is that the National Assembly will have at least three full months to work on the budget bill.

In a bid to address the issue of late budget presentation and passage, the National Assembly passed a constitutional amendment bill that require the President to submit the Appropriation Bill not later than 90 days to the end of the financial year but unfortunately the president has vetoed the bill.

In an effort to improve institutional capacity of the Parliament to process and pass budget expeditiously, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) establishment Bill was passed into law. It was loosely modelled after the American Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Again, President Buhari has also vetoed the Bill.

Under a Presidential System which we operate, the doctrine of separation of powers and principles of checks and balances are well enshrined in our constitution. Wisdom presupposes that the Executive at all times engages the legislature on all issues that requires legislation in order to have their buy in even before it is presented to the parliament formally.

The three presidents before Buhari, from 1999 -2015, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar'adua and Goodkuck Jonathan despite their failings sustained this tradition which is necessary for harmonious relations between the Executive and the Legislature and smooth running of government. Under this, it is expected that the President meet with the leadership of the two chambers (Principal Officers including members of the opposition) and brief them on the details of the budget and key projects he would want to execute. They, in turn, would brief their colleagues while the MDAs will then engage the committees over sighting them in pre-budget session. President Shehu Shagari used to hold such meetings monthly.

Doing this, would have helped in reducing the time it takes to pass the budget because even before it is presented, the MPs would have been well informed about it and their inputs taken into consideration at the preparation stage by the various MDAs. Unfortunately, this too has not been done in the last three years.

The National Assembly has repeatedly challenged the Executive to approach the Supreme Court to seek interpretation on the constitutional powers of the legislature over budget but up to now, they have failed to do so. Until then, the judgement of the Federal High Court FHC/ABJ/CS/259/2014 delivered on March 9, 2016 which was not appealed by either parties stands.

Hassan is the Media Aide to Speaker of House of Representatives

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