Why Nigerians worry over budget padding

Posted by Asoro Abubakri Olatunji | 9 October 2019 | 1,251 times

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•Asoro Abubakri Olatunji

As the year hastily folds up, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday submitted the 2020 budget to the Senate. As much as this ceremonious occasion is always anticipated, it ends with an atmosphere of controversy called “budget padding.”

The need to find the legal ground for this lexicon, since its inception in 2016, has been the basis for a research which concluding part shall be adopted in this article.

The limited resources, vis-à-vis the competing needs of individuals and groups, make government budget to take place on a highly-charged political atmosphere. Every ministry, department and agency (MDA) is preoccupied with adopting strategies to give, it at least, a fair share or at best a lion’s share of the overall budget. The chief executive ensures that agency requests must key into his/her policy objectives, while legislators have their constituents as their primary concerns. In the process, both ethical and unethical strategies are brought to bear on the budgetary process. These are common features of government budgeting in Nigeria, and very much account for the delays in both the submission and passage of the annual budget.

Government budgets transcend the mere statistical figures presented, but are also embodiment of the main desires, hopes and aspirations of the citizens. The central thesis of this work is that under the Nigerian problematic system, effective linkage between politics and budgeting is closely tied to the environment where it operates.

As far as the discharge of the powers of the National Assembly concerning budget goes – budget padding which has been established to mean increase or decrease of budgetary provisions – Is it their sole and lawful responsibility? Section 58 (1) was explicit in giving the National Assembly this constitutional footing, and sub-section (1) (a) was more emphatical, including section 81(1), which empowers the President to lay the budget before the legislature for consideration.

In the words of Justice Gabriel O. Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, in Falana V President FRN, the learned judge established that: “The National Assembly was not created by drafters of the Constitution and imbued with the powers to receive ‘budget estimates’, which the first defendant (FGN) is constitutionally empowered to prepare and lay before it, as a rubber stamp parliament. The whole essence of the budget estimates being required to be laid before parliament is to enable it, being the Assembly of the representatives of the people, to debate the said budget proposals and to make its own well-informed legislative inputs into it.”

Furthermore, Section 3 of the Powers and Privileges Act 1953, protects the legislators from criminal and civil liabilities for words spoken before that House or Committee or in respect of words in a report to that House or Committee in any petition, bill, resolution, motion or question brought or introduced by him, there.

The power of the National Assembly on budget is nearly absolute, if not completely absolute, and has continued to be a ground to hold the executive to ransom. Admittedly, there must be emphasis on #openNASS: the power of the National Assembly on its own budget is unquestionably absolute and contrary to the principle of separation of power.

Constituency project is another area that should be looked into. Although the practice, aside from having human compassion, has gained international acceptability. In the US, it is known as “Pork barrel” and has been part of the nation’s budgetary system since 1800s. This also includes nations like India and so on. In all these climes, however, it is not the absence of criticism and questioning of the legislature’s business in what should be strictly executive responsibility. In Nigeria, especially, it has been another hiding place for looting: most legislators either personalise these projects or refuse to implement them.

The misuse of that power by the National Assembly is alarming. And that was what triggered the padding saga in 2016.

Illegality of budget padding will be determined by the place and timing of the alleged alterations. The extension of this argument would seem to infer that if the alterations were effected after passage or outside its legitimate plenary session, then the matter is a clear case of conspiracy, fraud or corruption. And the onus of proof lies on he who alleges.

•Olatunji writes from Lagos, and can be reached on: 08163863811; asorocac@gmail.com

Source: News Express

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