KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY SPEAKER YAKUBU DOGARA, AT THE 2-DAY NATIONAL SUMMIT ON INTER-GOVERNMENTAL/PARTY-RELATIONS AND THE BUDGET REFORM PROCESS
KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY SPEAKER, HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, RT. HON. YAKUBU DOGARA, AT THE 2-DAY NATIONAL SUMMIT ON INTER-GOVERNMENTAL/PARTY-RELATIONS AND THE BUDGET REFORM PROCESS FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA, ON 17TH OCTOBER, 2017 AT THE NICON LUXURY HOTEL, ABUJA
It’s my singular honour and privilege to welcome you all to this all important Summit on inter-governmental/interparty Relations and the Budget Reform Process for Sustainable Development in Nigeria. May I, therefore, thank the facilitators of this Summit for this innovative and timely meeting and for reaching out to such a broad range of stakeholders.
2. In this paper, I will examine in depth the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive in the budget reform process within the context of inter-governmental relations and identify some of the challenges that have confronted the various arms of government in fully utilizing the budget as a tool for development. Furthermore, this paper will suggest concrete ways to bolster inter-governmental cooperation on the budget process and explore how, through inter-governmental cooperation and oversight practice democratic governance can be strengthened in Nigeria.
3. The relationship between the Legislature and Executive depends on the system of government practiced in any given country. It varies from parliamentary to presidential to the hybrid systems. It accounts for the wide differences in how political power is shared and the relative influence each branch of government has over policy formulation. Constructive relationships between the Executive and the legislative arms of government are absolutely essential in effectively securing our Constitutional order and the rule of law.
4. The Legislature and the Executive in the presidential system adopted by Nigeria are each vested with powers over some defined activities of government (Section 4 & 5 of 1999 Constitution). In many respects, joint efforts and collaborations are constitutionally required in the exercise of their powers.This is to enhance the performance of the organs and ensure harmonious inter-organ relations. A pugnacious nay belligerent Executive or Legislature is no evidence of strength, it’s rather an acute symptom of inept leadership. The Executive and the Legislature were meant to be led by people who accept the inevitability of conflict as well as the necessity for consensus and compromise, not those who employ the tools of democracy in decapitating democratic Institutions.
5. One such area of shared power and responsibility concerns the budget (Sections 80-84 of the Constitution). The annual budget is the vehicle provided by law for the acquisition, allocation and distribution of resources for socio-economic development of the nation. I have always maintained that the budget should reflect not just national priorities but also the priorities of the ruling party.
6. The budget is also a legitimate opportunity for the government to set its policy agenda and priorities. Thus, in almost all political systems, it is generally accepted that the Executive has the primary role in developing an annual budget and presenting it to the Legislature. However, the Legislature plays a more active role in shaping the outlines of the budget submitted to it by the Executive. In most presidential systems, such as ours, the Legislature has the right to review, in some cases, amend, alter, approve or reject the spending plan proposed by the Executive. This is in consequences of the powers of the purse conferred on the National Assembly by the Constitution.
7. Suffice it to say that even in developed democracies, the Executive and legislative branches have traditionally struggled to find an equitable balance of power over financial matters. That struggle is equally evident here in Nigeria where both the Executive and Legislature seek to exercise their budgetary prerogatives in sometimes rancorous manner. Over the years, the National Assembly and the Executive have often disagreed over basic and more fundamental issues ranging from the petroleum price benchmark for the budget and role of the National Assembly in amending or modifying budget proposals submitted by the Executive to reflect diverse national development requirements. Other subjects of contention include details of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), timeline for budget presentation, implementation status and legislative oversight of budgets. While some see Legislature-Executive conflict as a necessary and beneficial precondition to limiting and controlling government, others view it as contributing to gridlock over major public policy decisions, thus making government ineffective. I see it however, as a healthy constitutional exercise, for public good. However, cooperation between the Executive and the National Assembly is not only necessary but unavoidable.
8. These conflicts often stem from weaknesses inherent in the different stages of our budget process. At the formulation stage, there is no adequate provision for a fixed and realistic budget calendar as well as public participation in the budget process. Also, the budgeting system is characterised by a weak link between development plans and annual budgets, resulting in poor development outcomes. Fundamentally too, there is neither a reliable and comprehensive database on the socio-economic conditions of the country nor a rigorous analytical framework for determining policy objectives. Happily, in the last Constitution Alteration exercise, the National Assembly passed an amendment to S.81(1) of the Constitution which if ratified by the State Houses of Assembly, will now require the President to prepare and lay the budget proposal before the National Assembly not later than 90 days before the end of each financial year rather than the current provision of laying it “at any time” in the financial year.
Secondly, at the enactment stage, the process still appears haphazard with no defined timeline for the enactment of the Appropriation Bill.
Finally, at the implementation stage, some of the weaknesses include the relatively low budgeted capital expenditure compared to recurrent expenditure. Capital budget implementation is still constrained by weak revenue base; untimely and irregular releases of funds; preponderance of unplanned projects; weak implementation capacity on the part of MDAs; and weak budget monitoring by the Executive and sometimes weak legislative oversight.
9. Based on these considerations, the National Assembly has been at the fore front of advocating for series of reforms of the budgetary process. In the House of Representatives, we have shown our commitment to ensuring that the procedure and process of consideration and passage of the 2017 Budget was transparent, inclusive and professional for the first time in the history of Nigerian legislature. The details of the Budget was debated and passed in Plenary to avoid unnecessary drawbacks that normally characterise the budget process, in Nigeria, which was also unprecedented in our history. That is why I personally sponsored a Budget Process Bill, to set out mandatory time-lines for all stakeholders in the budgetary process.
10. Budgetary reforms, I have consistently argued, requires that there must be a robust pre-budget interface between the Executive and Legislature, to reduce areas of friction during the Appropriation process. For instance, the National Assembly, as a key stakeholder, and direct representative of the people should be consulted on issues of project selection, as legislators are in a better position to determine the needs of the people rather than civil servants. Such cooperation will ensure that projects admitted to the National Budget are properly thought through and based on actual need with relevant spread to reflect the federal character of Nigeria. In Nigeria, the Fiscal Responsibility Act mandates an MTEF that will be agreed to and passed before the Annual Budget is proposed. This sets out the aggregate fiscal policy statements where overall spending, revenues, borrowing, and debt are clearly outlined.
11. For us in the National Assembly, we shall continue to strengthen oversight of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government with a view to appraising the performance of the budget and conduct of budget defense. MDAs should continually cooperate with the Legislature in providing detailed, timely and complete information to aid oversight.
12. It bears repeating to re-state the need for greater resources for the Legislature specifically the need for professional committee staff, independent legislative budget offices, legislative auditors, and funding for budget expertise within parliament is of great importance. We in the Legislature in Nigeria are making concerted effort at building the capacity of all parties involved in the budgetary process. A legislator has limited time at his disposal and relies on the expertise of staff and professionals. We must also continue to support and grow our legislative support institutions particularly the National Institute for Legislative Studies, and National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) which provides legislative support and technical services to the Nigerian Legislature and beyond. That is why concluding the setting up of an Independent Budget Office in the National Assembly (NABRO) has become an emergency of sorts.
13. Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to briefly discuss the importance of oversight particularly in the budget process.Over the years, legislative oversight has been seen as more adversarial than cooperative. However, in conducting oversight, the principles of co-operative government and intergovernmental relations must be taken into consideration, including the separation of powers and the need for all spheres of government and all organs of State to exercise their powers and perform their functions in a manner that does not encroach on the functions of other arms. Seen in this light, the oversight function of the Legislature complements rather than hampers the effective delivery of services with which the Executive is entrusted.
14. For oversight to be meaningful and for its outcome to be effective, we must begin to see oversight as a joint venture in ensuring good governance between the Executive and the Legislature. Outcomes and recommendations of oversight undertaken by the Legislature should be eagerly received, studied and implemented by the Executive as a measure of accountability. I cite, for instance, with pride the attitude of former President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. I can give personal testimony that as Chairman, House Ad-Hoc Committee on Customs, the REPORT of the House investigation we conducted was requested for by him personally and he started to implement the recommendations before we even adopted the report.
15. The various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are constitutionally required to account to the Legislature, and they should always avail parliament of the complete picture on performance of the functions assigned to them as the consideration of the annual report of the MDA’s alone may not give the complete picture of the performance of the relevant functions.
16. On the issue of Legislative Resolutions, one of the tools available to parliament in enforcing its Resolutions is the power of the purse. Any MDA’s that persistently disrespects a well-informed Resolution of Parliament may confront the power of parliament over its budget. Over the years, legislative resolutions have been taken as merely advisory and hence enjoy a low level of compliance by the Executive branch. I wish to strongly make the point that whereas some Resolutions of the Legislature are expressions of the will and views of the Legislature, they most often do have practical, political and legal consequences. Resolutions are also mechanisms through which the Executive obtain expressions of opinion of important stakeholders to assist it in framing its policies. In jurisdictions like the USA, UK and India, Parliamentary Resolutions are taken seriously and level of implementation reported back to parliament. We should consider adopting these models in Nigeria.
17. Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to outline some core principles that can strengthen cooperation between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary in our collective struggle to develop Nigeria and ensure better life for our people. First, we must always adhere to acommon loyaltyto the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This means that all arms of government are committed to securing the well-being of all the Nigerians and, to that end, must provide effective, transparent, accountable and coherent government for the country as a whole. This is the object of cooperative government.
Second, thedistinctiveness of each arm must be safeguarded. This entails the following: the constitutional status, institutions, powers and functions of each arm must be respected; each arm of government must remain within its constitutional powers; and when exercising those powers, it must not do so in a manner that encroaches on the institutional integrity of another. This means that checks and balances should be in place with mutual respect for the authority and powers of the other arms so as to achieve better cooperation.
Third, each arm of government must take concrete steps to realize cooperative government by – (i) fostering friendly relations; (ii) assisting and supporting one another; (iii) informing one another of, and consulting one another on, matters of common interest; (iv) co-ordinating their actions and legislation with one another; and (v) adhering to agreed procedures
18. In conclusion, I wish to emphasize the importance ofinter-party dialogue. Effective and inclusive dialogue between political parties is an essential element of democratic politics. Conflicts and polarized relations between political parties could hinder development. Inter-party dialogue is necessary as it promotes conflict-resolution and confidence-building thus leading to the consolidation and sustainability of democracy and development. I therefore strongly advocate for setting up and strengthening existing inter-party dialogue platforms. In the National Assembly, we work cooperatively with one another irrespective of party affiliations.This is also a model to be emulated in the larger context of Nigeria.
19. It remains for me to thank you for your kind attention. I wish us all highly productive and fruitful deliberations.
20. May God bless you all and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.