The revenue shortfall the federal government has been experiencing is the reason it has not been able to fulfil the provision of the law that says allocations to the National Assembly and the Judiciary be released in full, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed has said.
The minister was responding to an allegation by the green chamber that the ministry of finance withheld full releases to the National Assembly and the Judiciary over the past years. It was a subject of fierce backlash at the House of Representatives last week.
Members had raised concerns over flagrant flouting of a constitutional provision. They said it has badly affected their ability to pay their aides and staff of the National Assembly, leaving them at the risk of grovelling at the feet of the executive for funds. This, they believe, is not good for separation of powers.
“For whatever reason, the releases were short. The finance minister failed to release funds (in full),” Babangida Ibrahim (APC, Katsina), who moved a motion on the matter last week, said, adding that the issue had been pending since the 8th Assembly.
However, the finance minister through her special adviser, Yunusa Abdullahi, has denied withholding the funds.
“Budget implementation is a subject of resources and the government is doing its utmost to manage available scarce resources,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
She said while most of the other agencies got an average of 50 per cent of their capital budgets in 2019, those under statutory transfers got an average of 85 per cent of their budgets.
“(The) government has been experiencing revenue shortfalls which has hindered full implementation of the budgets,” Mrs Ahmed said, “as a consequence of that is agencies cannot have all what they ask for or even what is appropriated.”
Funds allocated to both the National Assembly and the Judiciary are included in the first-line charge (or statutory transfers) — a special category of funds which mandates the federal government, after receiving revenues, to make 100 per cent releases directly to the institution in question before other considerations.
This arrangement was not so until 2011 when section 81 (3) of the constitution was amended the previous year to place INEC, the National Assembly and the Judiciary on the first-line charge. These bodies are captured in the annual appropriation acts as statutory transfers.
Since the amendment though, save 2017 following public outcry, the breakdown of the National Assembly budget remains a secret as it is only known to the legislative hierarchy.
Nonetheless, with the passage of the Finance Bill of 2019 targeted at shoring up the government’s revenue, Ms Ahmed said her ministry hopes to achieve a much higher level of budget implementation for all sectors.
The House of Representatives, too, said it would ensure that all outstanding arrears due to both the National Assembly and the Judiciary from the 2018 and 2019 appropriations acts are paid.
It said it would set up an ad-hoc committee to look into the matter.