The National Assembly is holding a public hearing on the 2017 National Budget today and it has invited ministries and government agencies to defend their budget allocations.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has just given his opening address where he stated that the hearing is a fulfilment of the goals set by the 8th Assembly.
READ FULL SPEECH BELOW:
It is with great pleasure and fulfillment that I address you on this auspicious occasion of the opening ceremony of the Public Hearing on the National Budget organised by the Committees on Appropriations of both Chambers of the National Assembly, which is coming at a time of heightened public expectations, given our experiences with the processing and implementation of the 2016 Budget and the fact that the 2017 Appropriation Bill is currently before the National Assembly.
I am also delighted to be presenting this address at a forum where both Chambers of the National Assembly, particularly members of the Committees on Appropriations of both Chambers who are engaged in this arduous task of processing the national budget and critical stakeholders are present.
That legislative control over public funds is at the foundation of our constitutional democracy has never been in doubt. Expatiating on Article 1 sections 8 and 9 of the US Constitution which contain analogous provisions with Section 80(1)-(4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, Prof Kate Smith brilliantly and lucidly sealed the case on Congress’ power of the purse. Indulge me as I attempt to dwell briefly on this.
Section 80(1) of the Constitution lays down the principle of the Public Fisc, asserting that all monies received from whatever source by any part of the government are public funds, and S.80(2)-(4) lays down the principle of Appropriations Control, prohibiting expenditure of any public money without legislative authorization. The two principles are complementary: The Public Fisc principle defines all federal receipts, while the Appropriations Control principle defines all lawful federal expenditures. Prof Smith further argues that, these two principles impose powerful limitations on the executive branch. Agencies and officials of the federal government may not spend monies from any source, private or public, without legislative permission to do so. Even where unauthorized spending by the Executive would impose no additional obligation on the Treasury-because it is made with private or other non-governmental funds-the Constitution prohibits such spending if it is not authorized by Congress in the USA and National Assembly, in our own case.
The Principles of the Public Fisc and of Appropriations Control also impose an obligation on the National Assembly itself. National Assembly has not only the power but also the duty to exercise legislative control over federal expenditures. As a necessary corollary, the National Assembly is the repository of the obverse power, the power to prevent public expenditure except as authorized by it.
It’s always baffling to listen to some self acclaimed pundits who are apparently ignorant about the workings of our constitutional order, argue that the legislature cannot touch the estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year which the President lays before National Assembly each year. These pundits maybe ignorant about the very nature and exercise of “executive power” which by our Constitution must be deliberate and limited. Except where the Constitution grants powers or duties to the President, executive governing authority must be created by legislation. Therefore the exercise of any executive power by the President, or any member of the executive not expressly conferred on him or them by the Constitution or Act of Parliament is ultra vires his powers. There is nothing known as executive appropriations of public funds under our Constitution or laws.
As a consequence, no Legislature worth its salt, such as ours, will ever abdicate this onerous constitutional responsibility no matter the degree of intimidation and blackmail the Legislature is subjected to by persons who want to cow the Legislature and brazenly put our democracy in a recession. The Legislature, which is the most immediate representative of our people, must and will always exercise its powers for the general good.
For us in the House of Representatives in particular, today’s event represents a fulfillment of one of the major goals we set for ourselves in our Legislative Agenda adopted at the beginning of the 8th Assembly wherein we committed as follows:
“The House shall examine the efficacy of conducting public hearings on the Budget before legislative approval as this exposes the National Budget to increased citizen and stakeholder participation”.
At another occasion, I had cause to make the following pronouncement on the issue of Public Hearing on the budget which I hereby adopt. I said then: “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. The National Assembly will benefit from the research skills of various CSOs and the technical expertise of professional bodies at the enactment stage of the Appropriations Bill. I am aware that many CSOs scrutinise the Budget yearly and usually point out areas of duplications and wastage. We need to institutionalise this mechanism.”
We pass an Appropriation Bill every year and 2017 will not be an exception but we have tasked ourselves particularly this year on reforms of the budget process to ensure a more transparent and accountable system. It is as a result that this public hearing is taking place. It is expected that Nigerians will use this opportunity offered by the legislature to interrogate the budget document and ensure that the needs and priorities of our people hold sway at the end of the day. Stakeholders in their various fields of expertise and active players in all aspects of the economy are invited to make their inputs and assist the National Assembly in passing a truly peoples’ budget that will set us on the path to sustainable economic recovery.
The Reforms being introduced into the Budgeting process will ultimately lead to amendment of existing laws, including the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have keyed into the need to enact a Budget Process Law that will set time frames and activity schedules for all participants in the Budgeting process. This will require the active cooperation and collaboration of not only both Chambers of the National Assembly but the Executive branch as well.
I expect the Joint Appropriations Committee handling the 2017 Budget to take the input of stakeholders into consideration in fashioning out the final budget document that will be passed by the National Assembly. This event which is the first in the history of the legislature must not be a mere talk shop. It is hoped that the outcome will help address the flaws associated with our annual budgets.
May I sincerely thank you for listening as I wish us all fruitful and frank deliberations.
God bless us all and the Federal Republic of Nigeria.