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A govt at war with self

By Josef Omorotoinmwan
SOMETIMES, people want to engage in a war, which they cannot win. It is perhaps the case of sighting an antelope in the bush. You would want to pursue that fast-running animal for, you never can tell whether it has a bad leg. That is what the House of Representatives may be doing with a post-nomination President Jonathan.

The man is not now in a position to bend backwards or kowtow to the lawmakers on things illegal. For two years running, the National Assembly has attempted to alter our fiscal year through the back door. It all started with the implementation of the 2009 Appropriation Act.

We were all busy watching over the health of our late President, apparently oblivious of the fact that time was not waiting for anyone. Before we were fairly aware of what was happening, 2009 had rolled by and we had hardly started implementing the year’s budget.

Like in the tradition of most extensions, it became convenient to announce that the 2009 Appropriations would be implemented up to March 31, 2010. Evidently, one bad turn deserves another. In December 2010, it also became convenient to announce that the 2010 Appropriations would be implemented into March 2011. This was done through the Second Appropriation (Amendment) Bill, 2010. Perhaps unwittingly, the chain reaction here has pushed the nation into a 15-month financial year, no thanks to a tardy administration.

Perhaps our President has now decided that we cannot continue in this illegality. After all, the Financial Year Act of 1980, which changed our financial year from 1st April 1 –March 31 to January 1–  December 31, has not been repealed. It was therefore appropriate to issue circulars to the ministries and extra- ministerial departments, directing them to stop implementation on the 2010 Appropriations. We think it is right to insist that 2010 Appropriations should be executed in 2010 and that 2011 cannot be part of 2010, going by our extant law.

After all, we are not dealing with 2010/2011 Appropriations. In just the same way that you cannot postpone Christmas, you cannot by subsidiary legislation increase the number of days in a year. All we can do at this point is to close our eyes to the normal accounting practice, where even deep into the new financial year, your transactions could be made to bear  December 31 of the preceding year. This is purely a marriage of convenience.

In all of this, the House of Representatives thinks otherwise. On Tuesday, February 8, 2011, the House passed a resolution, directing the President to rescind his order to the ministries and extra-ministerial departments. The entire ground is rife with illegalities. Yes, the House of Representatives is right to think that the President is refusing to implement the Second Appropriation (Amendment) Law 2010, which the President, after all, assented to.

Yes, the President is also right to think that for as long as he continues to obey the subsidiary law, we shall all be dragged into infringing on the provisions of a principal law, the Financial Year Act, 1980. Whichever way we go, head we lose; tail we do not win. Evidently, not everything that counts can be counted. Even in the confused state, we shall only survive the present situation by adopting one of the positions and glossing over the other. But that will be for the current year. What will happen next year and thereafter?

What we have now is a fire-fighting approach to budget preparation and implementation. Under the current system, the President drags his feet till the final days of the year before going to throw the budget proposals to the National Assembly, just to fulfill all righteousness on the provisions of Section 81 (1) of the 1999 Constitution: “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year”.

The National Assembly would only look at the proposals way after yuletide and its consideration would continue far into the financial year, thus leaving virtually no time for proper implementation.

This writer has suggested somewhere else that if things must move properly in this country, there is simply no alternative to the development of a viable budgetary cycle for each tier of government (Daily Times, Thursday, May 29, 1980, page 7).

The budgetary process is the soul of any organisation. It must be properly planned and carefully consummated. During the early days of Gahli Umar Na’Abba as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the idea of developing a budgetary cycle for Nigeria was mooted but like many good ideas in Nigeria, it was soon jettisoned.

Point of information: President Obama submitted his 2012 budget message to the US Congress this past week. This is in compliance with the requirements of that country’s budgetary cycle, which is based on the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Act, 1974: “Within 15 days after Congress convenes in January, the President submits his annual budget message to Congress.

The Congressional Budget office analyses it and suggests alternatives…”.  Can anyone beat that, particularly against the backdrop that our National Assembly has just started looking at our 2011 figures? The saying, early to bed early to rise is probably not as true anywhere else as it is in the budgetary process. We should copy all the good examples we can. Everything reminds us that the National Assembly must wake up to its responsibilities! There is no royal road to geometry.


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