Finally, President Muhammadu Buhari has signed the 2018 Appropriations Law. The signing which happened on June 20 has generated a lot of controversies owing particularly to the observations which the president made at the signing ceremony.
While the President emphasised the fact that the budget was not passed by the National Assembly until after seven months of its presentation to them, it is instructive to also note that the president did not refuse, neglect and or deliberately delayed signing the budget until over one month after it was passed by the National Assembly.
The fact that President Muhammadu Buhari had said in his address at the signing ceremony that he had “hoped that the usual legislative review process would be quick” implying that he knows that the passage of a budget by the National Assembly is not a quick fix thing, but a “review process,” a phrase which implies that there are works to be done to ensure that every I is dotted and every T is crossed.
Part of this “legislative review process” includes the defence of estimates before the various committees of the National Assembly working on the budget by concerned MDAs. But unfortunately, we are in a period when the executive arm of government has unnecessarily pitched itself against the legislature to the extent that appointees of the president flagrantly ridicule the institution of the National Assembly.
Despite this blatant undermining of the legislative arm by the executive, particularly the MDAs, in this case, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and his House of Representatives counterpart, Yakubu Dogara, still bent backwards and led a delegation of National Assembly members to Aso Villa to appeal to the president to order concerned ministers and MDAs to defend their budgets as part of standard “legislative review process” world over. This was as late as March, this year, four months after the president laid the budget before theNASS.
The implication of this fact is that effective work of the legislature on the budget did not take place until after the president gave the marching orders to his ministers and MDAs to go to the National Assembly and do the needful. According to the National Assembly, members of the executive were still bringing in new items for the budget even as late as April.
What the Constitution has in mind in this case on the part of both the executive and the legislature is that while the executive proposes the budget, it is expected that in performing its own role of checks and balances, the legislature would be carried along by the executive in its policies and projects so as to help the lawmakers make informed decisions on the budget or any other issue per time. But when we have an executive that thinks the legislature is a toothless bulldog that exists only as a rubber stamp, the spirit of the constitution that expects the executive and the legislature to exist as independent but cooperative entities in their dealings is killed thereby throwing up avoidable frictions.
While it has been overemphasised that the National Assembly increased its budget from N125 billion to N139.5 billion, such critics have remained quiet over a similar increase in the overhead budget of the executive which has increased over time from N163.3 billion in 2016 to N219.8 billion in 2017 and now N246 billion in the 2018 budget.
While critics see nothing wrong in the significant increases over two years in the overhead budget of the executive, they see everything wrong in that of the legislature as if the legislature has no responsibilities requiring financial commitments. More so, when one considers the fact of inflation and exchange rates between 2016 and now, the purported increase in the National Assembly budget is as good as zero.
Let us also not forget that no matter the name it is called, the executive still reserves the right and power to execute projects even if such projects are labelled constituency projects, so that the hullaballoo about legislators “inserting projects of their own” in order to corruptly enrich themselves does not even arise.
Ndukwe writes from Abuja