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SENATE MOVES TO COMPEL CBN ON ANNUAL BUDGETS

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In unambiguous terms yesterday, Senate sent clear signals to the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi that it will no longer tolerate insubordination to its laws.

The nation's apex banking regulator refused to submit its 2012 budget for appropriation, with a reminder to the National Assembly that it had ceded such powers to it during an amendment of the CBN Act in 2007.

But the National Assembly replied during the budgeting process that the CBN was bound by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of same year to present its annual budget for appropriation.

Regardless, CBN stood its ground and refused to present its 2012 budget for consideration and appropriation. This prompted Senator Ita Enang to propose a bill for an Act to amend the CBN Act, Cap, C4 LFN, 2007 to compel the bank to submit its annual budget before the National Assembly and for related matters, 2012.

In his comments on the amendment bill, Senate Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi, reminded the CBN that any law not consistent with the 1999 Constitution was inchoate. 'There are clear guidelines in the Constitution, which is superior to any law that the National Assembly passes, that the CBN must submit its budget to the National Assembly. They must submit. This provision has been there since 1999. The money the CBN spends is held in trust for the people; it's not theirs.'

Chairman of the Niger Delta Committee, Senator James Manager, slammed the CBN on insinuations that the National Assembly ceded its supervisory powers to it.

Said Manager: 'We have the right to make laws, including laws to govern the operations of the CBN. That is what we are doing here today. We cannot donate our powers of appropriation. It's not something we can donate to anybody. It's not easy to get to this place and it's inconceivable that we get here and cede our powers to anybody. It's not done.'

On his part, Chairman of the Defence and Army Committee, Senator George insisted that the CBN could not appropriate funds for itself. He said: 'CBN appropriates for itself and spends such…We should look at what they want to spend within a financial year critically and send it to them. Anything outside that, I don't support it.'

To the Senate spokesman, Enyinnaya Abaribe, there are clearly spelt out constitutional provisions barring the CBN from appropriating public funds for itself.'Section 1(3) of the Constitution states that any law inconsistent with the Constitution shall be void. Let's go to Section 88, which empowers the National Assembly to make laws for the country. We have the powers to make laws for the CBN. Now, the CBN decides on its own, without reference to the Constitution, chose the law it wants to obey…With this bill, we are correcting ambiguity in a law earlier passed. CBN cannot say they are not subject to the laws enacted by the National Assembly.'

But Senator Isa Galaudu stoutly opposed the amendment. He argued that any alteration in the CBN Act would be tantamount to interfering with its independence, contrary to international best practices. 'With due respect, I oppose this amendment because it doesn't go in tandem with international best practices…CBN doesn't only have financial independence, it has operational and monetary independence.

'Therefore, you cannot withdraw budgetary independence and allow other forms of independence. For CBN to effectively and efficiently carry out its duties, there must be a level of confidence. CBN helped to restore confidence in the money market with the consolidation programme for the banks. 'Banks of England, South Africa, China, Ghana are all independent. The only one I don't know of its independence is that of Zimbabwe. We should not strangle the CBN.'

In his ruling, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session reiterated that the CBN could not arrogate powers it did not have to itself.

Said Ekweremadu: 'This amendment ordinarily shouldn't have bothered us. Section 81 is clear enough for the CBN to know that they should submit their budgets to us…It's better to err on the side of surplusage. All government agencies need to know that they must comply with Section 81 of the Constitution, without any exception.'