The 2017 Federal Budget Controversy225 views
The National Assembly (NASS) has allegedly distorted the 2017 Budget. The Honourable Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has cried out that he could hardly recognize his Ministry’s own final budget as the NASS allegedly removed from it critical infrastructure such as the 2nd Niger Bridge and the Lagos Ibadan Expressway, and added to it even projects which ordinarily should fall within the purview of States and Local Governments. E.g. Boreholes and Health Centres.
Fashola says that the alterations were made after he had defended his Ministry’s budget before the NASS. He also said it was unconstitutional and an encroachment on the powers of States and Local Governments for the NASS to re-write the budget and add projects that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.
The Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, had also earlier criticized the National Assembly for much the same “offense” of altering the 2017 Federal Budget presented to it for consideration. The Acting President opined that it was not the business of the NASS to increase the burden of the Government by increasing the budget figure from N7.2 trillion to N7.441 trillion. He said doing so makes the budget to difficult to implement especially given volatile global crude oil price.
From all indications, it seems we have now moved from budget-padding to budget-altering. Not to mention the fact that the 2016 Budget is still largely unachieved.
There have been arguments for and against the power of the National Assembly to alter the Federal Budget. Those in support argue that the government only has power to prepare estimates of its revenue and expenditure and submit to the National Assembly for consideration. They cite Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution to support their argument in this regard. They also readily quote Section 80 of the Constitution with regards to control of government finances.
My take is that somebody has got to sue the National Assembly to the Supreme Court. There has to be a judicial determination of the extent of the powers of the National Assembly in Budget making, especially taking cognizance of Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution. Does the National Assembly have power to remove from, and add to, the Federal Budget? Does it have power to encroach on States and Local Government’s sphere of authority as Fashola has highlighted?
If the Legislature (in this case the National Assembly) has the authority to re-write a Budget, why then does the act of drawing up a Budget constitutionally fall on the Executive (in this case FGN)?
Can a non-revenue generating arm of government be re-writing the government Budget when it does not get involved in the actual generation of money to fund it? If the Legislature can re-write Budget, thus redirecting the government’s focus, what then happens to the government’s own economic agenda, fulfillment of campaign promises and party manifesto? Never mind that these have always remained unfulfilled, but should the situation continue?
Indeed, is the National Assembly not laying a dangerous precedent that may not only render the Federal Government irrelevant in budget making, but also may be abused and replicated in States?