There seems to be no end in sight to the wrangling between the House of Representatives and the Presidency over the poor implementation of the 2012 budget, with the House throwing barbs at the Executive yesterday.
Nigeria has left the military era behind, House spokesman Zakari Mohammed said at a special media briefing where the House faulted the Executive’s claim that the National Assembly’s input into the budget delayed its implementation. The National Assembly is no longer “a toothless bulldog”, Mohammed said.
The House also, in a direct reference, warned President Goodluck Jonathan against the kind of advice he gets from Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and other “un-elected appointees”, which might put his administration in more trouble.
Mohammed said: “The idea of the National Assembly distorting the budget is incorrect. The National Assembly cannot distort a budget which it has full powers over. There is no law that says the budget must be returned to the President exactly the way it is forwarded to the National Assembly.
“They (Presidency) seem to be suffering from military hangover where budgets were announced after a meeting of the Supreme Military Council (SMC). The Federal Executive Council (FEC) is not the equivalent of the SMC. The National Assembly has replaced the SMC.
“If the Appropriation Act is to be sent back to the Executive the way it is presented, then, it is better that the National Assembly is abolished. In a constitutional democracy, in the budgeting process, the National Assembly exercises the constitutional responsibility of taking care of the interests and aspirations of Nigerians from every constituency.
The House spokesman, who read from a prepared text entitled: “2012 Budget, Non-Implementation: Okonjo-Iweala Should Address the Real Issues,” accused the Finance Minister of breaking the law by not adhering to the letters of the 2012 Appropriations Act.
According to the House, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala’s claim that the executive arm has implemented 56 per cent of the 2012 budget as widely reported, “is not true,” as only “about 34per cent of the budget has been implemented.”
The statement said:
“The House of Representatives will like to restate its concern on the poor and selective implementation of the 2012 budget by the executive arm of government and the attitude of officials of government saddled with the responsibility of implementing the Appropriation Acts. For the avoidance of doubt, section 6 and 7 of the 2012 Appropriation Act clearly says what officials of government and in this case the Honourable Minister of finance is permitted to do.
“Section 6 of the Appropriation Act, 2012, states that: “The minister of Finance shall ensure that funds appropriated under this Act are released to the appropriate agencies and or organs of government as and when due, provided that no funds for any quarter of the fiscal year shall be deferred without prior waiver from the National Assembly”. Mark and note the choice of the word “shall” which is mandatory under the circumstance, not discretionary.
“This is what the minister is expected to do. It is not within her powers to pick and choose projects and programmes to fund as has been the case with the Appropriation Act 2012. Her piece meal and discretionary release of funds for projects contrary to the schedule approved in the Appropriation Act is unlawful. She is, in fact, apparently breaking the law. What the law requires the minister to do is ensure that all funds appropriated for projects within a particular quarter are released to all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, as at when due without preference.
“If the revenue target is not achieved in any particular period, it is the responsibility of the Honourable Minister to seek for waiver from the National Assembly. This has not been the case as the Honourable Minister has not told the nation or the National Assembly that the monies for these projects are not available.
“This is not to say that funds should be released and accessed by MDAs without due process and actual execution of projects. In other words, there should be value for money. How released funds are accessed by the various MDAs is stated in Section 7 of the budget Act and further guided by due process law.
“Section 7 of the 2012 Appropriation Act states as follows:
‘The department of government charged with the responsibility of certifying that due processes have been complied with in the processing of implementation of projects shall ensure that all processes of approval are completed within the specified period as provided for in the Public Procurement Act”. Again, mark and note the choice of word “shall” and not “will”. If these processes are not satisfied by the MDAs the monies lapse at the end of the financial year and are returned to the treasury. The Honourable Minister has rather chosen to release funds for the implementation of the budget subject only to her whims and caprices. She has no right to do so.
“The House will further like to clarify a few misinterpretations on the Minister’s recent media briefing on the implementation of the 2012 budget as reported by the media on Thursday July 26, 2012.
First of all, it is not true that the executive arm has implemented as at today 56% of the 2012 budget as widely reported. In truth, about 34% of the budget has been implemented. What the minister admitted to as can be confirmed from her own words is that, at best Government has implemented 56% of the N404 Billion released to MDAs.
“The Minister was clear in saying that, of this amount (N404 billion) only N324 billion has so far been cash backed. In other words, it is only N324 billion that is available to the MDAs for implementation of capital projects and programmes of government out of about N1.5 trillion appropriated for all capital expenditure. The House of Representatives also does not agree with the Honourable Minister that the slow pace of implementation of the 2012 budget is as a result of the constituency projects introduced into the budget by the National Assembly.
“For the avoidance of doubt, constituency projects represent less than 10% of the 2012 capital budget. How can this be the reason for the slow implementation of the budget? This excuse for non-implementation falls flat on its face when a review of the performance of the Executive on even its own preferred projects is made. More evidential is the fact that releases so far made to the MDAs are not enough to pay for on–going projects or projects chosen by the executive. For instance, out of a total appropriation of N145 billion for the Ministry of Works in the budget, only N47 billion has so far been released to the ministry. In the first quarter, N38 billion was released and in the second quarter only N9 billion was released, with a shortfall of about N30 billion for the 2ndquarter.
“The projects that need these appropriations are core road projects scattered all over the country. Or are these inter-state highways and other strategic road projects also constituency Projects? Playing to the gallery by the executive arm will not change the facts of the situation.”
The lawmaker said it was important to restate that the constituency projects are managed by the Executive arm of government.
“Members of the National Assembly are not involved in the advertising of these projects, nor are they involved in the short listing of contractors for the projects neither are they part of the process of the actual award of the contracts. It has been their exclusive preserve.
“The security, welfare and prosperity of Nigerians has always been and remains uppermost in the consideration of the House of representatives in raising concerns on the slow implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act. What is the benefit of annual appropriations if projects enunciated in the budgets are not implemented?
“For us in the 7th Assembly, significant implementation of budgets is our desire. We are not at war with the executive arm on this matter. We shall continue to insist on the implementation of the budget, no matter what is being insinuated as the motivating factor for our intervention.
The lawmaker while faulting the Finance Minister’s claim that a 100 percent implementation of the budget is impossible before the resumption of the House on September 18, said: “If you give your child an examination, when you see the result, you should be able the know if he/she has passed or not.”
According to him, the era when the National Assembly was viewed as a toothless bulldog was over as the House will take stringent action when necessary to ensure that Nigerians benefit from the dividends of democracy.
Mohammed, however, agreed that there has been a slight improvement in the implementation of the budget since the resolution of the House on July 19, adding that lawmakers have been getting updates from their constituencies in that regard.
“We further wish to enjoin all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, to continue with the procurement processes and eventual award of all capital projects within their purview.
“Finally, we call on Mr. President, as an elected official who is ultimately accountable to Nigerians, to be careful of the type of advice he gets from his unelected appointees on the issue of the implementation of the budget, as its significant implementation is ultimately in the interest of his presidency.”