From BillyGraham Abel, Yola
Abdulrazaq Namdas is the spokesperson of the House of Representatives. He speaks on the ongoing crisis between the executive and the legislature over the 2017 budget and sheds more light on the reasons for the lawmakers’ action.
What is the procedure for the budget process from when it is submitted to the National Assembly and when it is approved?
The executive is responsible for submitting estimates and proposals that is later known as budget to the National Assembly and that is done by the President of the country.
When that is done, the document submitted by the executive ceases to be the property of the executive, it becomes the property of the legislature, which we then processed into a bill that is deliberated upon in the House as to the general principles of the budget.
We then go through the second reading of the budget, after that, it is then sent to the Appropriation Committee, it is at this point that we interface with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA`s), sitting with various of committees of the House to go through the budget, after which the committees submit their report to the Appropriation Committee.
The committee studies it and makes necessary adjustments by ensuring that the version of the Senate tallies with that of the House to be sure we are on the same page because we operate a bicameral legislature, and if there are differences, we set up a conference Committee and after the conference committee, we then submit a single document at the plenary, so that every member would see it, a document which is then sent to the President for assent as the country’s budget.
Once it is signed, it becomes binding on the President of the country to operate the budget. In an event where a sitting President refuses to sign, if the National Assembly musters a two-third majority, then we can veto the President and the budget will be passed.
Why does it always appear as if the final content of the budget is a mystery to the executive and what is responsible for the confusion?
I don’t know what is causing this misunderstanding but Sections 4, 59, 80, 81 of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria as amended is very clear about the roles and powers of the National Assembly. Right now, there is a judgment in favour of the National Assembly. When Femi Falana challenged the National Assembly’s right to reduce or increase the budget, the court ruled in favour of the National Assembly, stating and insisting clearly that we do have that power, or else we would be a rubber stamp of the executive.
I see the problem emanating from the background of some of the ministers who used to be governors and were accustomed to by-passing their state legislators and now find it difficult to be challenged. The story of the ‘tinkering’ of the budget being churned out by the executive is partly because of ignorance of the budgeting process by some people in the executive who were former governors and were used to by-passing their state Houses of Assembly. They are yet to come to terms with the reality of a true democratic process of being vetted by the legislature and largely I think it is an orchestrated mischief rooted in a needless exercise of power play at the expense of the overall interest of the Nigerian people.
The entire process of national budgeting was never designed to be played out in the executive arm of government without the interventions of the legislative arm of government in the interest of federal character and national harmony. If the ranting of the executive was correct, there would not have been the need for the budget to be submitted at all to the National Assembly. The executive would have raised the proposals, verified it and passed the budget themselves.
The power of the purse rests with the National Assembly not the executive arm of government. There are 476 elected officials in National Assembly as against two elected officials in the executive arm, the President and the Vice President.
The legislature is the true representatives of Nigerians and the legislature has the responsibility to ensure that every interest is represented and every cry is at least heard. When we fail to do that, democracy itself fails. It is unfortunate that after 17 years of democracy, these budgeting issues are still contentious matters. Some of us are still grappling with the basics in the process of our democratic learning curve.
I believe by now, we should have overcome the question of who does this and who does what. We should be actively collaborating with the executive to foster the interest of Nigerians. It should not be about ego trips or some futile exercise in who is more powerful.
The legislature took the liberty to move some funds around and that seemed like a case of the legislature ‘usurping executive powers,’ were you not supposed to return the proposal raising your concerns and stressing where funds should have been allocated and other concerns, and not doing it yourself?
The legislature makes laws and the Appropriation Bill is a proposed law.
The executive decides what it wants to do in the current year, their expected revenue and intended expenditure and if they run into deficits they will need to borrow among other things.
In the National Assembly there are about 476 lawmakers. We represent every interest, culture, every ethnic group and every region in the country. So, if the executive sends its proposals and it does not pass the test of carrying everyone in the country along, it is within our constitutional powers to see to it that every interest is at least addressed and that does not amount to interfering with executive powers.
And whenever it happens that we do that, we always do it in good faith, not in any way attempting to run into power politics. Nigerians should ask the most common sense question, that if the National Assembly was not supposed to make any amendments in the budget, why should it is be brought to it in the first place?
We are operating a democracy and the executive must be accountable to the people and we are the representatives of the people, the power of the purse belongs to the representatives of the people. If the estimate was submitted for example with zero allocation to a particular constituency and an allocation was made to another constituency somewhere else that was apparently needless, would the people of the constituency with zero allocation travel to Abuja to ask why? It is therefore our duty to so do. This is done in the spirit of nationhood and the sense of national responsibility to ensure a true federal character and representation. Right now, the country is faced with all kinds of agitations, cessation calls, restructuring, among other cries. It is because people for a very long time have been feeling marginalised, it is because the National Assembly has not been allowed to do its job properly, and that is the tactics applied here. We have a duty to ensure that there is no nepotism, no marginalisation, no tribalism, and once all these are absent, then all these agitations will naturally go away.
You alleged that the executive smuggled in ‘ghost allocations’ in their submissions as in the case of Fashola’s N20 billion phantom allocations and you suggested that they even denied some obvious dubious allocations when you raised the questions. Can you shed more light on these allegations?
When the minister was asked about the N20 billion allocations, he did not deny it. He simply explained that it was for the purpose of planning. My quarrel is that even if you have a contingency plan, N20 billion is a huge amount. The Second Niger Bridge alone has a budget estimate of about N12 billion, why would anybody have N20 billion for contingency? If every ministry in the country will have N20 billion for contingency alone, then the budget of the country will be exhausted on contingencies.
Then he has the issue of N17 billion for Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) for Mambilla plateau power project. N17 billion not million, it is too much. There is nothing personal here; it is just injustice to the budget itself to have those amounts approved.We have made valid observations to Fashola’s presentation and he agreed to them.
He should be humble enough to admit it instead of trying to paint the National Assembly black in the eyes of the public. Tomorrow, he might find himself in the National Assembly and the negative image he has been trying to create for the lawmakers might become his. We have introduced for the first time, public hearings for the purpose of allowing members of the public to have inputs into the budget. People come to give us their opinion about the budget, we deserve some credit.