Date Published: 06/14/11
Improving Legislative Participation in the Budget Process in Nigeria by Hon. Yusuf Shittu Galambi
Hon. Yusuf Shittu Galambi
It was only end of May, almost half way through the financial year that the Nigerian 2011 budget was finally assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan.
In the eye of the Nigerian public, the budget process has being one gruesome and less beneficial exercise. This is more so because since 1999, the executive and the legislature have every year flexed muscles on various aspects of the budget. When eventually passed the intent of the budget is hardly met.
It is either the legislators are accused of delaying the passage of the budget or that it has made too many changes, or the legislators are playing the roles of the executive; or the legislature in turn accuses the executive of none consultation and late presentation of the annual financial estimates.
All this blame trading can be avoided.
We know that the budget often outlines the policy intention of government and the resources that will go into realising this policy. So then we can say that the budget is the plan of government on how resources will be raised and how economic and social services shall be provided. The budget is therefore, to a large extent, a determinant of equitable access to services by the different populations that constitute the Nigerian state. You can see, therefore, that any legislator who wants to impart on his community must take interest in the budget and its process.
The resources of any country are not unlimited; but the social needs of its citizens are insatiable. It is even more so in a country like Nigeria with a strong federal system, high level of poverty, and high mistrust among the various units and strata that constitute it. So government must ration these resources, negotiate trade-offs and compromises. Continually, governments are engaged in choices about the allocation of scarce resources to meet competing needs in the society, while aware of the overall financial constraints. As the budget provides an avenue for carrying out this plan, for a smooth process, it will only be proper for the executive to carry the legislators along from the beginning.
There are three major categorisations on the involvement of the legislature in the budget process identified by the International Parliamentary Union:
1. The budget-making legislature: the legislature is thus referred to, if it has the capacity to amend or reject the budget proposal of the executive, and the capacity to substitute (part of) a budget of its own conviction. Very few parliaments fall into this category. And while the United State Congress, with the capacity to determine its own budget policy is a good example of this category, the National Assembly of Nigeria, is another. The measures taken by the National Assembly when passing the 2008 Appropriation Act and the clauses it added that triggered the controversy with the executive, provide and immediate example of the budget- making ability of the Nigerian parliament.
2. The budget-influencing legislature : this legislature has the capacity to amend or reject the budget proposal of the executive, but lack the capacity to formulate and substitute a budget of its own
3. The budgetnon-influencing legislature: this legislature lacks the capacity to impute any influence on the budget. It cannot amend or reject the budget proposal of the executive; nor can it formulate and substitute a budget of its own. They can only approve the draft proposal as submitted to them by the executive.
It is important to note that for all these categories, the budget would have been drawn up by the executive and the draft submitted to the legislature for enactment. And this is the second stage in the budget cycle.
Can the legislator not play any role in the other three stages of the budget process, like budget formulation, execution and auditing and assessment?
At the stage of execution, the legislature is known to perform oversight so as to provide checks and balances that go for transparent and accountable government while ensuring efficient delivery of public service. The most critical and decisive aspect of the budget cycle is the formulation stage. It is at this stage that all the basic research, ideas, trade-offs, determination of government policy and actual drafting of the budget is done, usually by the budget office. The budget is prepared by a very small group of people in the ministry of finance, who set the thinking of every other reader of the document in specific direction. And very few people have the capacity of thinking outside its set parameters. This group guards its position jealously in the name of protecting the inviolable right of the executive.
Getting involved in this process by any group or persons will break this monopoly and throw the process open as against the previous system where only persons with influence on this group determine budget input.
Seeing that over time, budget proposals prepared by a unit in the executive have gradually become standards against which the performance of legislators are measured, it is only natural for the legislature to begin to seek relevance at the formulation of the budget. As the representatives of the people the legislators are always interested that the budget optimally matches the needs of their people on whose behalf they are in government.
But how can they influence policies and programmes in favour of their constituents if they only come into contact with the budget when officially presented to the legislature and in the usually short time within which they must review the whole document and enact it in to law. As an elected representative of the people in Nigeria’s strong federal system, much is expected of the legislator. With increase in the level of infrastructural dislocation and poverty, the need for more legislative intervention in the budget preparation stage is arising.
It is my humble opinion that the budget will be richer and more down to earth if wider consultations are held. Opinions of civil society and community based organisations will go a long way in improving the service delivery component of the budget and enhance debate over policy matters. It will even be better, much better if legislators are made privy to the budget making process. Apart from enhancing easier passage in the National assembly, the legislators will enrich the process with their knowledge of their constituencies.
If disputes on benchmark, exchange rate of the naira, location of and viability of projects, or even capital/recurrent ratio, etc, in yearly budgets are to be avoided, more interaction is required between the executive and the legislature. That way our country is likely to go beyond the budget, being an annual legal ritual to a truly social document.
Hon. Yusuf Shittu Galambi
is a re-elected Member
of the House of Representatives
From Gwaram Federal Constituency
of the Jigawa State.