Late Budget Submission and the Problem of “inter-arm” Harmony in Governance

 In Thinking Aloud
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The federal government has demonstrated an inability to harmonise and deliver on administrative processes. Since the return to democracy in 1999, government has been unable to submit budgets in time. The outcome of Executive and Legislative horse trading-ordinarily meant to be in public interest has become a feud exacerbated by the party lines. This poorly managed relationship would certainly affect the development and growth of the economy and livelihood of citizens. This was probably why Lead Director of the Center for Social Justice, Mr. Eze Onyekpere said: “The Federal government can stop the delayed passage of the budget and ensure that it is ready for implementation by the first day of January in each year by guaranteeing that budget preparation starts early so that it can be sent to the legislature not later than September every year”. The call from Civil Society is welcome one and an indication of its awareness of keeping the government on its toes but urges such as his would likely fall on several deaf ears.

The problem of late budget submission is one that can be traced to the Constitution, specifically s. 81 that allows the President to lay the bill before the National Assembly at any time in the financial year. Further, the National Assembly has the freedom to consider the budget within any time-frame because it is also not bound by time length. The problems of abuse and manipulation of these provisions were meant to be cured by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 but practice has shown that even the FR Act has been abused”.1

Politics in Nigeria has affected budget passing. Other countries also have political squabbles, party wrangling, subversion and inefficiencies but problems faced in Nigeria could perhaps be avoided. The politicized nature of the budget process has been somewhat avoided in the U.S, for example, by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that plays a role in Budget passing. The historical problem of fiscal control being the purview of the executive or ‘Monarch’ was one reason why legislative oversight evolved in the first place. It shows that the need for oversight of executive functions is as old as the westphalian form of governance. Perhaps because the historical foundations of government in Nigeria are of transplanted and not organic systems, the challenge of institutionalizing oversight as a purpose of ‘checks’, is missing. This is not to say the historical development of oversight was because the Parliament actually cared about the citizens but rather, they preferred an outcome where the executive was kept in control of their excesses. The challenge is to align incentives between the two arms of government creating an outcome is beneficial to the public. Perhaps that would be a burden on Civil Society, in addition to the voting process. But one thing is sure, voting process as a means of curing governmental lapse is painfully slow. The government needs to respond to civil society and its own mandate because governance is really something that is everybody’s business.

(Footnote: 1. See Sam-Tsokwa, A., & Ngara, C. (2016).The National Assembly and the Budget Process in Nigeria’s Fourth Republic: Tackling the Challenges of Timeliness, at p. 5. Canadian Social Science Vol. 12, No. 5, 2016, pp. 1-7, DOI: 10.3968/8458. Available at: http://www.cscanada.net/index.php/css/article/viewFile/8458/pdf. Date accessed-15/12/2017).

Photo credit: India.com

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