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Budget Padding: Enough Of The Semantics

By Iyke Ozemena
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“Appropriation” is a legislative process of enacting into law a country’s total estimate of income and expenditure. With the hindsight of Westminster model which Nigeria discarded several decades ago, there is nothing sacrosanct about the proposed sum and the sum finally passed into law; otherwise the parliament would be a mere rubberstamp. For the parliament has the power to add, subtract, multiple and divide. They also derive their powers to do so from s.80 & 81 of the 1999 constitution.

So when I heard about the hullula ballo of “padding” the appropriation bill. I couldn’t understand the word in the context of law making process, but I took it with a pinch of salt pending the alleged call for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s intervention.

Again for any scandal or abuse of appropriation process, the Westminster model would have held the Committee of Ways and Means to account; just the same way Appropriation Committee chaired by Hon. Jubrin Abdulmumuni is being scrutinized, criticized and harassed. So a gag order by the All Progressive Congress (APC) against the chairman is to say the least inappropriate, because if the accusations, counter-accusations, questions, joinders and innuendos did not go on this far. A lot of people would still be in the dark about the legislative procedure involved.

No government has succeeded without one scandal or the order which ultimately metamorphosed into a plus or minus for the party that forms the government. In this particular case, I am wondering what APC stands to gain from a budget riddled with obnoxious incident such as taking too long to pass, to its disappearance and re-appearances as well as padding that even baffled the presidency, and the threat not to assent to the Bill. Could it be that the budget was assented to under duress?

While all these were going on, the economy was gliding to recession; giving rise to the question how sensitive to the sensibilities of ordinary Nigerians waiting for change are their elected representatives? That the presidency hesitated to sign the bill suggests that he smelt a rat. Admittedly PMB is not an economist by training but he is surrounded by a team of economists led by Dr. Adeyemi Dipeolu. If the allegation is unfounded, why did Honorable Members called for the speaker’s head and the suspension of Committee Chairman, Hon. Jubrin Abdulmumumi?

There was escalation of the case when the House could not convince the presidency and critical members of the public that “padding” whatever it means was part of legitimate legislative process, which by separation of powers under the 1999 constitution entitles them independent judgment that they have done their job legally and properly. The question that became pertinent was whether this was the first ‘padding’ of budget in Nigeria’s democracy? The second question would be whether Legislators have padded budgets for personal advantages. It has to be noted however, that Nigeria had not adopted constituency projects for legislators in the past.

But if it is true, as believed in some quarters that “padding” involves dishonest allocation and approval of fund through the budget with the connivance of blind disbursement of same, then all the members should be charged for complicity or conspiracy. There is hardly any chance for any of them to plead ignorance because they are in a better position than ordinary Nigerians to know that such illegal transaction was carried out. And for this they deserve to be sanctioned, that is why stepping down and investigation of its leadership is apt. This, in my view is more appropriate than blind accusation and endless media trials. Perhaps one option that not yet explored by the house committee is the invocation of section 58 of the 1999 constitution which requires a Joint Finance Committee of the house or a joint sitting of both houses to resolve the stalemate.

Finally, I am optimistic that their trials, errors and criticisms are part of a continual civic, constitutional and fiscal education and therefore wish to reproduce a submission I made in a different write-up. “A country without the equivalence of parliamentary budget office, is now tinkering with the enactment of National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO). An initiative of members of the legislature, when enacted it would be an apolitical institution that researches, analyses and forecasts the annual fiscal ritual.

It would be of immense assistance to the lawmakers in providing capacity for the discharge of their statutory roles. A typical assignment would be to analyze the budget and give unbiased and independent assessment of budgets to the legislature. This function could have stemmed the situation that arose (“padding”) in the 2016 budget, or put them on notice before the presentation.” Meanwhile the EFCC should investigate the various claims prosecute it they find such criminal claims or rest the semantics.

Iyke Ozemena
Corporate Attorneys/Consultants.

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