NASS will pass budget on resumption April 2, Dogara assures
NEWS DIGEST–Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, on Wednesday, assured Nigerians that the house would pass the 2019 budget upon resumption of plenary by Tuesday, April 2.
He also said the National Assembly would not rubber stamp the N8.83trn 2019 budget saying, “We hope to pass the appropriation bill as soon as we reconvene plenary.”
The Speaker who blamed the delay in passing the budget to late submission of the money bill by the executive arm of government, expressed regret that previous budgets had not scored up to 45 per cent performance.
Dogara stated this in Abuja at the third public hearing on the National Budget.
He commended Ministries, Departments and Agencies that had so far showed up for their budget defence, even as he urged those yet to do so, “to hasten up to ensure expeditious approval of the budget upon resumption by next week.”
Dogara said that by constitutional design, the president’s role in drafting the budget estimates could not be assailed but the “power of the purse” was the function of the legislature.
He said, “That includes the fact that expenditure can only be made in consequence of express legislative authorisation and the authority to create and collect taxes, borrow or raise money through loans when the need arises.”
Dogara also stated that Nigeria’s budgets over the years did not get the nation’s priorities right.
He said, “Over the years, the main problem with our budget as submitted by the executive is that it does not reflect national values and priorities.
“The budget, more often than not, only reflects the values and priorities of those who help the President in drafting it. The integrity of the project selection process has always been the bane of our national budgets.
“I regret to say that until we eliminate these problems, we will always have non implementable national budgets which cannot be relied upon by policy makers in establishing spending priorities.
“It is very painful that for some years now, our budget process has been an exercise in either or a combination of audacious optimism and/or hypocrisy involving key actors, putting together a budget that they fully know will at best be implemented up to 45 per cent.
“This by all standards is below average. How many of us will be proud of a child who consistently performs below average in his exams? How many of us here are proud of our below average budget performance all these years?
“Our below average budget performance is the main reason why Nigeria has remained a major promise as our national potential cannot be released without effective budget planning and execution.”
The Speaker noted that the budget remained the most important law passed yearly and that no parliament anywhere in the world rushes it.
He said, “Let me re-emphasise that this parliament can never be a rubber stamp and neither are we prepared to surrender our constitutionally assigned rights of checks on the executive.
“It is unfortunate, however, that many commentators always ignorantly accuse the National Assembly of delaying the Appropriation Bills as if we are meant to urgently rubber stamp whatever budget estimate that is submitted to us by the executive.
“If we fail to scrutinise the budget proposals, it will not only amount to abdication of our constitutional responsibilities as legislators but a betrayal of the mandate of our constituents.”
Dogara added that it was very unfair for the executive to “consistently and repeatedly” blame the National Assembly of delaying passage of the budget while failing to address the issue of late budget submission on its part.
He cited the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, as providing that the Appropriation Bill be submitted not later than September of the preceding year, which will give the parliament ample time to process the document and pass it in good time.
“Unfortunately, the 2019 Appropriation Bill was submitted on December 19, 2018, just 12 days to the end of the year and the earliest time an Appropriation Bill has ever been presented to the National Assembly in this dispensation was on November 7, 2017,” he stated.
The Speaker said the lawmakers took the bold step of addressing the challenge by passing a constitutional amendment bill which sought to compel the executive to submit the budget proposals to the National Assembly not later than 90 days to the end of the fiscal year.
He added that in another effort to improve institutional capacity of the parliament to process and pass budget expeditiously, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office Establishment Bill was passed, which was closely modelled after the American Congressional Budget Office.
Dogara said, “Unfortunately, I regret to inform this gathering that these laudable efforts and initiatives were thwarted when the President withheld his assent to these two important bills.”