Unending budget palaver

Last week, the President had expressed disappointment over the late passage of the budget by the federal legislature

Ndubuisi Orji

Who is to be blamed for the late passage of the national budget, and by extension the non implementation of the budget, as well as other controversies that that has trailed the Appropriation Act since the inception of the present administration?

READ ALSO: Buhari signs 2018 Appropriation Bill into law

President Muhammadu Buhari has repeatedly blame the National Assembly for allegedly slowing down the government by either not passing the budget on time or “injecting extraneous items” into the budget.

Last week, the President had, while receiving some guests at the Aso Rock, expressed disappointment over the late passage of the budget by the federal legislature.

According to him “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.”

However, Turaki Hassan, Special Adviser (Media and Public Affairs), to the Speaker House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, apparently responding to the President, said the executive arm of government in responsible for the late passage of annual budgets.

Hassan said “His (President Buhari) 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 he presented budget was on November 7, 2017 which was the 2018 Appropriations Bill. 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 one month to complete.” Blame game unlimited.

I totally agree with President Buhari that it is not in the interest of the country for the budget to spend as much as seven months in the parliament, before it is passed. But then what is responsible for the ugly situation.

Methinks that the President competely got it wrong in attempting to excuse himself from blame on the late passage of the Appropriation Acts since his assumption of office in 2015. The major blame for the late passage of annual budgets in recent times goes to President Buhari as head of the executive arm of government. That is not to say that the National Assembly is completely free from blame.

The President wants the budget passed on time, but does not think it is necessary to send the Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly in good time. President Buhari is in the habit of sending the budget late to the National Assembly.

Like Hassan pointed rightly pointed out, since his assumption of office in 2015, President President has never laid the budget before the National Assembly earlier than November.

It is even doubtful if the 2019 , budget would be laid before the parliament embarks on its Christmas Holidays, this is against the backdrop that the Medium Term Expenditure Framework / Fiscal Strategy Paper, whose passage should ordinarily precede the presentation of the budget was just committed to the relevant committees last Wednesday.

Ironically, the Fiscal Responsibility Act makes it mandatory for the budget to presented to the National Assembly, at least 90 days to end of the financial year.

Besides, the legislature had in recent times enacted two laws that would have possibly set a timeline for the submission and passage of the annual budgets.

These include the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) establishment Bill , which the parliament said would aide it in working on the budget and an amendment to constitution to mandate the President to lay the budget before the National Assembly within a specified period, not exceeding the third quarter of the year.

While President Buhari one hand wants a quick passage of the budget, on the other hand, he refused to give assent to these bills, which the lawmakers said are geared towards ensuring that the appropriation Bill are treated with dispatch.

Consequently, theNationalAssemblyleadershipbelievesthat if these bills were assented, the budgets would likely be passed much earlier. However, the lawmakers cannot be completely free from blame as regard the late passage of the appropriation acts.

If the lawmakers feel so strongly about the veto of those two bills by President Buhari, what stops them from overriding the President’s veto. After all, the constitution gives them the power to over ride the President on any bill by a two-third majority. It is not enough to sit back and watch helplessly, as if there is nothing they could do.

If theparliamentfeelsthePresident’slatesubmissionofthe budget is a violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, what stops the National Assembly from imposing the relevant sanctions as prescribed by the law.

If Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) fail to appear before the relevant Committees for the defence of their budget estimates, nothing stops the parliament from imposing sanctions too.

It is not not enough for the lawmakers to cry every now and then about how President Buhari has failed to sign certain laws that speed up the consideration of the Appropriation Act, or lament that MDAs are not forthcoming to defend their budget estimates .

There are several laws to address these situations. It is high time our lawmakers begin to test these laws. Until the laws are tested, we cannot know how effective they are.

But ultimately the blame over the endless squabbles between the executive and legislature over the national budget should be placed squarely on the door steps of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). It is the duty of the APC, as the party with majority of members in the National Assembly to create a synergy between the two arms of government.

READ ALSO: Executive/Legislature: President, Saraki seek closer partnership

The post Unending budget palaver appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

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