By Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Besides the budget, underlining currents relating to the National Assembly Budget and Research Office, investigations into the Crude Oil Swap of the former administration, the Rail Contract scam, constituency funds for House members among other issues would also be of interest in the next few days.
During the recess, the lawmakers engaged Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government in a race against time aimed at concluding all committee work on the 2016 appropriation bill.
However, awaiting the Bauchi-born lawmaker and Speaker of the 8th House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara are many issues ranging from controversies surrounding the budget proposal as they concern various MDAs. At issue is the over bloated personnel costs and the allegation of the substation of the budget proposals of the MDAs as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The discoveries by lawmakers scrutinising the MDAs’ budgets of ugly attempts at short changing the country is now being said to have been the norm over the years with insinuations of the continuing entrenchment of a budget mafia in the budget making institutions of the Federal Government.
Indeed, never before had a budget defence exercise thrown up so much dirt in the nation’s Civil Service as now.
The discoveries of seeming scam in the budgets of the MDAs has also forced the legislature to abandon its earlier set deadline of passing the 2016 budget on 25th February, 2016.
The dislocation of the timeline for the budget announced on February 9 by the National Assembly Joint Committees on Appropriation headed by Senator Mohammad Danjuma Goje and Rep Abdulmumin Jibrin respectively must have thrown the leadership of both Houses off-balance following their resolve to keep the appropriation within the 12 month fiscal calendar without having to stretch deep into another year by way of implementation.
Senator Danjuma Goje had told newsmen that the decision to botch the deadline became necessary in view of the controversies surrounding the 2016 budget proposals adding that the National Assembly would not in the face of public expectations and yearning for change bring out a budget that would not be acceptable to the public.
He said: “We are here to speak on the ongoing processing of the 2016 budget. We are currently working on bringing out the clean copies of the final document. But with current controversies surrounding the budget, we felt that it’s necessary for us to come here and shed light on areas on of misunderstanding.”
“We don’t want to produce a budget that would be thrown back to us due to implementation difficulties or ambiguities. So this will no longer be possible by February 25th given that even the executive has accepted that there have been a lot of ‘padding’ in the allocations to MDAs”, Goje said.
Jibrin reiterated the commitment of the joint committee to producing a workable budget that would set the tone for good governance that Nigerians have demanded for by voting in the current administration.
Another headache awaiting the Dogara-led House is the often rejected National Assembly Budget and Research Office Establishment Bill (otherwise known as the NABRO Bill).
The bill which has been in the works since 2003 and even passed to the executive for assent had been returned unsigned by successive governments for inexplicable reasons.
The absence of NABRO has placed some serious question mark in the competence and credibility of the National Assembly to appropriate money for the nation’s government even though the power to appropriate is derived from the constitution.
However, the legal question on the lips of policy experts is that, by what means does the National Assembly complement its authority or expertise in the art of appropriating money for the federal government and its MDAs; bearing in mind the absence of the Budget and Research office that is supposed to be its backbone in budget matters.
This development has led to the wide use of consultants in budget making, a habit that has been roundly condemned with claims that it is self-serving and illegal.
NABRO could be compared to the Congressional Budget Office in the United States, a body that helps to guard American legislators on the parameters being used in preparing the budget and monitor the implementation of Federal Government budget.
Also of interest in the House in the coming weeks would be the many ongoing probes focused on Crude Oil Swap, Rail contract Scam among many others.
One other issue before the Speaker as the House reconvenes is the general misconception about constituency projects. Many have had cause to believe that the concept of constituency projects had been ill-motivated as it had been seen as an avenue for lawmakers to line their pockets via diversion of monies disbursed as quarterly constituency allowances.