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Still hunted by padding allegations, Dogara harps on need for reform of budgeting process

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.House of Reps may amend SSS law

Still smarting from the many controversies that characterised the passage of the 2016 budget, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has called for an urgent reformation of the nation’s budgeting process that will make it more effective and impact on the lives of the average Nigerian.

The Speaker who made the call at a colloquium in Abuja on Monday, noted that it was regrettable that since 1999, Nigeria’s national budgets have not yielded any satisfaction for Nigerians, adding that there must be a review of the legal framework to ensure that budget estimates are submitted on time if there must be any realistic reform in the process.

Dogara speech read in part: “This will lead to amendment of S.81(1) CFRN, which gives the President authority to present the estimates of revenue and expenditure ‘at any time’ within a financial year.

“The imperative necessity to ensure that the Budget is passed on time, before the commencement of the next financial year. This may, if necessary, require that a budget time frame be included in the Constitution to bind both the Executive and Legislature.

“A clear development plan with broad national consensus should be put in place that deals with short, medium and long term plans of the nation.

“We must ensure that yearly budgets follow the development plans as much as possible, except emergencies arise. MTEF should be detailed enough to contain major projects contemplated in a three year period with approximate costings.m

“Projects that are admitted to the National Budget are not properly thought through and based on actual need with relevant spread to reflect federal character of Nigeria.

“This entails that project selection process must be more transparent, need based and technically driven with justification. Discretionary and whimsical selection of projects must be downplayed.

“That the Technical capacity of both the bureaucracy and Members of both the Executive and legislative branch on budget matters is deliberately beefed up. We must as a legislature ensure during this session that the National Assembly Budget and Research Office, Bill (NABRO) is finally passed and signing into Law, to provide timely and accurate financial and economic information to the Legislature.

“There should be extensive stakeholder consultation at the executive level during preparation of the Budget.

“There must be a robust Pre-budget interface between the Executive and Legislature, to reduce areas of friction during the Appropriation process. Indeed the National Assembly should be consulted on issues of project selection.

“In any case, even though there is both constitutional and practical need and imperative for the National Assembly to work in a cooperative manner with the Executive on Budgeting matters, nevertheless, it cannot give up its constitutionally assigned responsibilities in the budget process in the guise of seeking cooperation with the Executive branch. The watchword is cooperation not abdication.

“Clear budgetary objectives and government targets to be achieved in the Budget should be clearly stated.

“Government must set out clear objectives and targets it intends to achieve during the budget year, which should be widely disseminated to all stakeholders and the Nigerian people.

“Reform of the process of the passage of the Appropriation Act in the National Assembly that encourages more openness and transparency especially at the Committee levels. The plenary of both House should be more involved in the Schedule to the Appropriation Act.

“Subjecting budget defense exercise to stakeholder involvement in a form of public hearing. Subjecting the annual budget to public scrutiny at National Assembly will give stakeholders opportunity to make their inputs and challenge incorrect assumptions in the Budget. This process will involve the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other professional bodies. We need to institutionalise this mechanism.

“Amendment of Section 82 of the Constitution to reduce the time the previous year’s budget will continue to run in the event that the Appropriation Act is not passed at the beginning of the financial year from 6 months to 3 months as this distorts the Budget process.

“A critical look should be taken at the operation of Financial Year as defined in S. 318 of the Constitution. A situation where an approved budget is not allowed to operate for 12 months is constitutionally unacceptable.

“This is the main reason for failure of budget implementation every year and the cause of abandoned projects that litter the Nigerian landscape. When projects are not completed, the nation is terribly shortchanged as the money and effort invested in it is lost. In this regard, we must institute a compulsory mechanism that rolls over major projects that is not completed in one budget year into the following year’s budget.

“The current practice of not including on-going projects in the following year’s budget is a huge waste of resources.

“I wish to draw attention to the existence of the problem of lack of full disclosure of the appropriate size of the National budget and the actual revenue and expenditure of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“It is recommended that the Executive should look into the possibility of having just one National Budget that captures the revenues and expenditure of all MDAs, such as NNPC, CBN and other revenue generating government agencies. This should be included in the yearly Appropriation Bill.

“I must commend Mr. President for formally sending the Budget of these Agencies to the National Assembly this year. The budget of these agencies should not just be an ‘attachment’ to the Appropriation Act but an integral part of the National Budget”.

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