Speaker Yakubu Dogara on Monday used a speech he delivered at a colloquium to rail against the prevalent budgetary system in the country and called for sweeping reforms to the process.
“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,” Mr. Dogara said.
He spoke as a guest of honour at a seminar organised by Orderpaper.ng, a multimedia news platform with primary focus on the activities of the legislature, held at Sheraton Hotel, Abuja.
Mr. Dogara spoke on the theme: ‘Budget as Tool for Efficient Executive-Legislative Relations.’
His appearance came in the wake of allegations of budget fraud in the House of Representatives and he used his speech to allay the fears of Nigerians on the matter while offering a new way forward.
Mr. Dogara, a major target in the budget padding scandal, also decried the current budgetary system that is highly permissive of laziness, wasteful spending and fraud.
“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,” Mr. Dogara said.
To resolve this, Mr. Dogara recommended “a critical operation of financial year as defined in Section 318 of the Constitution.”
He also recommended an 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.
Mr. Dogara also said current budget process lacked requisite transparency. He called for a broader participation of key sections of the society during deliberations to foster transparency.
“Subjecting budget defence 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. 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 Appropriation Bill. I am aware that many CSOs scrutinise the Budget yearly and usually point out areas of duplications and wastages. We need to institutionalise this mechanism,” Mr. Dogara said.
Later at the event, attendants signed a communiqué read out by journalist and author, Chido Onumah, on the need for budget reform and proper engagement.
In the communiqué, the participants recommended that media and civil society should improve their watchdog roles in monitoring the budgetary process. They also recommended pre-budget consultations and liaison between the legislature and the executive and also effective tracking of projects and evaluation of budget expenditures to ensure transparency and accountability. They also asked that the role of anti-corruption agencies in the budgetary process be clearly defined and enhanced.
Guests at the event included the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal; Director of Centre for Democratic Development, Idayat Hassan; Premium Times Publisher and CEO, Dapo Olorunyomi; and Oke Epia, the editor of Orderpaper.ng.