Between American and Nigerian¢s Legislators.
By Alhaji Ibrahim Isa
The octopus America economic crisis that emerged suddenly and with torrential rapidity has sent shock waves around the globe. The crisis if not properly managed can lead to a gargantuan global economic recession with cataclysmic consequences. It has been estimated that about 700 billion US dollars will be required to bail out the United States of America from the ravaging economic mess. It is significant to note that when the government took the decision on the bail out plan, it did not immediately commence the process of implementation. It followed the laid down rules and procedure as clearly spelt out by the American constitution, which is the fact that it approached the US congress for approval since the power of appropriation is vested in the legislative arm of government. This is because the legislature will ask very crucial questions in the discharge of its legitimate functions, namely that, where will the money be taken from? How will the money be spent? And, for which specific projects?
What led to the economic recession in the first place? Is the strategy for managing the American economy right? Is there a need for a change in model or approach? What will be the likely challenges of the bail out plans? What implication will the $700 billion bail out plan have on, first, the American economy and two, the global economy? What will be the immediate, medium and long term plans and implications for managing this crisis? And other germane questions. It is only when they are satisfied with the explanation given to them that the government can go ahead with the bail out plan. This is the standard practice in all civilized democracies around the globe. It is only in banana republics or some feudal enclaves where the iron law of oligarchy reign supreme that this kind of process is circumvented for very selfish reasons.
This preamble is very important bearing in mind the fact that very soon the executive arm of government will send the 2009 budget proposal to the House of Representatives for perusal and inputs. The point here therefore is, will the executive arm of government really allow the lower house to pick the budget to piece, thereby making the budget a document that will indeed serve the best interest of all Nigerians, and not just a document that expresses the mindset of few powerful people in the corridors of power. Budgets are meant to be well debated, to arrive at the best possibilities in the overriding interest of the country. It is when preference is not given for such details that difficulties are encountered in the implementation of the budget. Because, the figures and assumptions in such a budget will not just add up.
However, there are reasons to be optimistic, this is because the House of Representatives has been performing its oversight functions creditably well and asking relevant questions, on critical issues of national importance. If not for this, perhaps Nigeria would have encountered a similar economic crunch like what is happening in the United States of America presently. When the House started to ask questions, it was as if they were out to settle political scores with some perceived foes. Some people saw the public hearings, the probe panels and the way the oversight functions were carried out with zest as an act of braggadocio and bravado intended to hoodwink the prying eyes of the public, but with the benefit of hindsight we now know better. The lesson here is that the executive arm of government must not see the green chamber as a confrontational arm of government; rather it must understand and appreciate the fact that it is complementing the work of other arms of government and working in sync with them for the good of the country.
It is germane to point out that legislature in most countries authorizes the raising and spending of money by the executive. Financial control is a traditional weapon in the hands of the legislature in seeking to exercise some control and influence over governmental policies. If the legislature refuses to appropriate money, the executive cannot prosecute its programmes. Again, legislatures can launch investigations into the conduct of administrative activities and into the personal conduct of and lives of members of the executive. Their investigations may be carried out by committees of the legislature. The abuse of executive powers can be checked by the investigatory powers of the legislature. Similarly, the legislature can delay or disapprove presidential nominations to high office.
Thus, the powers of the legislature to approve certain presidential appointments and ratify treaties negotiated by the president provide an opportunity for the legislature to influence the policy of the executive. The legislature especially in parliamentary regimes influences the decision-making process of the executive during the question period. Law makers are provided the opportunity to question members of the government on many points of policy administration. It is also important to underscore the fact that, the legislatures of most democratic nations perform investigative functions. Legislative committees are set up for the purpose of digging up information desired by the legislators. These committees hold hearings, subpoena witnesses, keep records and correspondence and often submit reports to the committee of the whole house for further deliberations.
In the United States of America , the Watergate, Korea-gate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal are good examples of congressional investigations. And, the media coverage given to legislative debates, and answers provided to questions raised by the opposition enable the broader public to learn about what is going on in the polity.
It is therefore important for the House of Representatives to be provided with the enabling environment to function effectively and efficiently in the best interest of the country.
Isa, public analyst contributes this piece from Kaduna.