By Josef Omorotionmwan
IN local parlance, they say, “Monkey no fine, him mama like am”. I get along with my Director of Transportation; the one other people call their driver. This is a man who refused to go beyond Primary Three of his days. He is full of wisdom, though. When we are alone, particularly on a long journey, I ignore his grammar and accept his perfect sense. We discuss everything, from politics to religion; and, indeed, from agriculture to zoning.
At a point, he took off, “Oga, how can one man beat 469 man?” He appreciated my sharp response, “Well, it is possible. Presido don catch dem mugu”. We were reviewing last week’s piece, where we considered the concept of a Financial Year vis-à-vis the current imbroglio between the National Assembly and the President over the embargo placed on the implementation of the Second Appropriation (Amendment) Act 2010.
Today, we shall be discussing matters arising from the House Debates of February 9, 2011, on the same issue.
The concept of the Financial Year is largely misunderstood. It is necessary to re-iterate that the governments of Nigeria have only one Financial Year: January 1 – December 31 each year. The 1999 Constitution recognises this when it provides in Section 318: “Financial Year means any period of twelve months beginning on the first day of January in any year…”.
The Constitution goes further to provide a window of opportunity for the National Assembly to alter the date of the Financial Year, when it says: “… Or such other date as the National Assembly may prescribe”. The Financial Year is 12 months.
The National Assembly can redefine the current 12-month period to begin on any date instead of the current January 1. As an instance, the National Assembly can make a law that our Financial Year shall be from June 1 of one year to May 31 the following year or, for that matter, any period of 12 months. Contrary to the views expressed by several Honourable Members, nothing confers on the legislature the power to increase or reduce the number of months in a Financial Year and the Financial Year does not start counting only when the budget is approved; rather, it starts counting on January 1. It is immaterial that the 2010 Appropriation Bill was signed into law in July 2010. That the President cajoled the National Assembly into making a law to extend the life of the 2010 Appropriation Act to March 2011 is also immaterial. The National Assembly ought to have known that it cannot force the President to implement a law that was dead on arrival.
Any legislature that is unwilling to apply itself to the full realisation of its powers certainly has lost its right to complain of marginalisation by the Executive. Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila (Surulere I) spoke rather glowingly of the evils inherent in impoundment but he did not convince anyone of any anti-impoundment measures which the National Assembly has put in place.
Again: “Most projects have remained on-going in several years’ budgets until they disappeared entirely” (Hon. Samson Osagie: Orhionmwon/Uhunmwode). Similarly, Hon. Patrick Asadu (Nsukka/Igboeze South) reminded his colleagues of the existing maxim in the Executive: Let the National Assembly appropriate whatever it likes; we shall execute only what we want. These are Executive excesses that the National Assembly can curb if it works a little harder. We expect the National Assembly to develop a good budget cycle under which it can by law, compel the Executive to submit its budget proposals for the following year, say by June 15 of the current year; and also put in place laws that will ensure that the Appropriation Bill is signed into law before the end of the preceding year, so that the Appropriation Act is implemented throughout the Fiscal Year for which it is designed.
The President drags his feet until the final days of the year before submitting his estimates to the National Assembly, thus wrong-footing it into considering the proposals far into the Financial Year. Suddenly, the National Assembly is surprised at 40 percent and 100 percent implementation levels for capital and recurrent budgets, respectively. While the recurrent budget runs for 12 months of the Financial Year, the capital budget is operated for less than six months, that is only after the budget approval. While the Executive waits for the capital budget to be approved before starting execution, there is no month that workers are not paid their wages. Section 82 of the 1999 Constitution permits some spending levels on the budget even before its approval.
In all these, a good budget office of the National Assembly can make a big difference. The end of the Financial Year should not mark the death of a project that is duly approved by the National Assembly. For any programme to take off, the legislature must take two affirmative actions on it – one, to authorize the programme and two, to appropriate the necessary funds for its execution.
It is the duty of the Budget Office to keep track of the authorised projects and ensure that they do not get missing in action or that they do not enter into the “voice mail” of the Executive and that only the amounts needed to execute such projects for the year are inserted in the year’s budget. Over-bloated and unregulated budgets can only lead to selective implementation and project abandonment such as we now have dotting the entire landscape of this country. Wanted urgently, good laws to shape the policy direction of this country!