The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has said that the National Assembly introduced public hearings on the budget in order to increase citizen and stakeholder participation, and to entrench transparency and accountability in the budget process.
He made the statement on Monday during the opening session of the public hearing on the 2017 Appropriation Bill, the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999.
Addressing the gathering which comprised representatives of MDAs, ministries, and civil society organisations, among others, the Speaker also stated that the public hearing was being held in fulfilment of the Eighth Assembly’s commitment to reforming the budget process, given the experiences with the processing and implementation of the 2016 Budget and the fact that the 2017 Appropriation Bill is currently before the National Assembly. He also cited the legislative agenda of the Eighth House of Representatives concerning budget reforms, which states that: “The House shall examine the efficacy of conducting public hearings on the Budget before legislative approval as this exposes the National Budget to increased citizen and stakeholder participation”.
The Speaker commended civil society organisations for their efforts towards scrutinising past budgets and highlighting duplication and wastage, and stated that a similar mechanism will be adopted by the House.
“Subjecting the annual budget to public scrutiny at National Assembly will give stakeholders opportunity to make their inputs and challenge incorrect assumptions in the Budget. This process will involve the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other professional bodies. The National Assembly will benefit from the research skills of various CSOs and the technical expertise of professional bodies at the enactment stage of the Appropriations Bill. I am aware that many CSOs scrutinise the Budget yearly and usually point out areas of duplications and wastage. We need to institutionalise this mechanism.”
Speaking on the debate surrounding powers of appropriation, Dogara said; “that legislative control over public funds is at the foundation of our constitutional democracy has never been in doubt.”
“Section 80(1) of the Constitution lays down the principle of the Public Fisc, asserting that all monies received from whatever source by any part of the government are public funds, and S.80(2)-(4) lays down the principle of Appropriations Control, prohibiting expenditure of any public money without legislative authorization. The two principles are complementary: The Public Fisc principle defines all federal receipts, while the Appropriations Control principle defines all lawful federal expenditures.”
“The Principles of the Public Fisc and of Appropriations Control also impose an obligation on the National Assembly itself. National Assembly has not only the power but also the duty to exercise legislative control over federal expenditures. As a necessary corollary, the National Assembly is the repository of the obverse power, the power to prevent public expenditure except as authorized by it.”
In reference to pundits who call into question the powers of the National Assembly concerning appropriation, Dogara said; “it’s always baffling to listen to some self-acclaimed pundits who are apparently ignorant about the workings of our constitutional order, argue that the legislature cannot touch the estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year which the President lays before National Assembly each year. These pundits may be ignorant about the very nature and exercise of “executive power” which by our Constitution must be deliberate and limited. Except where the Constitution grants powers or duties to the President, executive governing authority must be created by legislation. Therefore, the exercise of any executive power by the President, or any member of the executive not expressly conferred on him or them by the Constitution or Act of Parliament is ultra vires his powers. There is nothing known as executive appropriations of public funds under our Constitution or laws.”
“As a consequence, no Legislature worth its salt, such as ours, will ever abdicate this onerous constitutional responsibility no matter the degree of intimidation and blackmail the Legislature is subjected to by persons who want to cow the Legislature and brazenly put our democracy in a recession. The Legislature, which is the most immediate representative of our people, must and will always exercise its powers for the general good.”
In his concluding statement, Dogara stated that reforms being introduced into the budgeting process will result in amendment of existing laws.
“We have keyed into the need to enact a Budget Process Law that will set time frames and activity schedules for all participants in the budgeting process. This will require the active cooperation and collaboration of not only both Chambers of the National Assembly but the Executive branch as well.”
He then called on Nigerians to make use of the opportunity offered by the public hearing to interrogate the budget document in order to ensure that the needs and priorities of the people hold sway eventually.
“Stakeholders in their various fields of expertise and active players in all aspects of the economy are invited to make their inputs and assist the National Assembly in passing a truly peoples’ budget that will set us on the path to sustainable economic recovery”, the Speaker said.