2016 BUDGET AND THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY By Hon. Kayode Omotose
These are interesting times as Nigerians are coming home with democracy and deepening their interest, understanding and knowledge of the government of the people by the people and for the people. The key issue on the burner herein is budget 2016; its presentation by the executive arm of government and consideration and passage by the legislature.
Different views have been expressed concerning the inclusion or exclusion of some items, ranging from mundane to pure expression of angst and even abuse, from the well informed to the shallow, from the academic to the street walk talk. The most absurd being that the President of the Senate Dr Bukola Saraki was playing games with it. It’s unfair and uncouth. We shall come to that later.
One thing that is clear in this circumstance however is that this discourse would deepen our knowledge of how the arms of government work and relate among themselves. More significantly it shall beam illumination to understanding the legislature; its workings, it’s traits and peculiar characteristics. The debate has surely exposed one thing in clear perspective, the legislature in our country is the least understood arm of government.
The brouhaha is a consequence of the fact that in the budget presented by Mr President the Calabar-Lagos rail and some items were not captured according to the Chairman Senate Committee on Transportation Senator Gbenga Ashafa. He also said that the minister Hon. Rotimi Amaechi however sought for its inclusion when he appeared before the committee. By the procedure of legislature it is within its jurisdiction to admit it or not to admit what Amaechi said,depending on their pendulum of consideration. First in democratic practice it is only the heads of the three arms that can address themselves. That is why the President presents but the ministers go to defend. The words ( present and defend) are effective. While the legislature can bend to allow defence turn to presentation it should be seen as an act of generosity which has to be taken for that.
The biggest function and power of the legislature especially in a presidential system is appropriation. In the executive arm it is only the President and VP that has direct mandate of the people. The others are beneficiaries of them. Every legislator has a direct mandate. Just as the President campaigned and made promises so did each legislator.
It is preposterous of anyone to believe that the legislature MUST approve the budget as it comes. NO it never operates in that fashion. Otherwise the first arm of government which is the legislature is, because you have to make the law before you execute the law, would have been dead on arrival.
If the constitution envisaged a GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) relationship between the executive and the legislature, it would not have been necessary to have separate arms of government and hold separate elections for each of them.
Even in the US which is the citadel of presidentialism, the President’s wish does and must pass the acid test of the legislature. This explains why between 1976 and today the US federal government has been shut down 18 times because the legislature was not convinced enough to approve the request of the President. At such occasions a good chunk of federal workers were out of job and remained unpaid during the period. The highest on record was about 800,000 workers unpaid during the era of President Bill Clinton. It happened during the time of Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan,George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama when the congress rejected his Obamacare programme.
It is sad that some people can exert mischief into their comments to assert that Dr Saraki is orchestrating it because of the asset declaration issue at the CCT. Even if the Senate has even offered to approve whatever item is missing in a subsequent supplementary budget.
Shortly after receiving the budget Dr Saraki gave a promise to turn it out in a jiffy, it was done. How many of the antagonists applauded him. When the budget was padded, he called attention of the President to the ugly situation. Thank God President Buhari saw through the fraud and demoted, transferred or disciplined 140 civil servants for the infraction. Did his opponents clap for him for saving the country of the embarrassment.
Regrettably they deliberately choosed to ignore that Dr Saraki is not the numero uno in the national Assembly. It has 109 Senators and 360 member in the House of Representatives. He is purely primus inter pares. He has only exploited his popularity among them to do good in the interest of the country.
GIVEN the scenario on ground what is needed is meeting of minds and dialogue to iron out the issues and reach a compromise on the mode of inclusion. Budget is not an all exclusive document. It was written by people and it would be implemented by people. In our quest to cover lost grounds as Nigerians we must not denigrate any arm of government.
Let’s all remember the legendary word of President Barack Obama “Africa must learn to build institutions”. It is the only way to build an enduring society.