Senate to hold public hearing on 2017 budget, despite maintaining secret finances

Nigerian Senate Chambers
Nigerian Senate Chamber used to illustrate the story.

The Nigerian Senate will on Monday hold a public hearing to enable citizen-participation in the approval of the N7.28 trillion proposed 2017 budget – presented by President Muhammadu Buhari last year.

Described as “a first-of-its-kind”, the convocation of the public hearing on the budget proposal was disclosed by the spokesperson for the Senate, Aliyu Abdullahi, in a statement late Thursday.

According to Mr. Abdullahi, the public hearing is aimed at allowing stakeholders and members of the public make contributions to the proposed legislation before passage by the National Assembly.

The Senate, like the House of Representatives, announced suspension of regular plenary sessions on January 26 to allow all committees “conduct adequate oversight” and convene budget defence sessions for ministries, departments and agencies to defend allocations proposed for them in the budget.

Bukola Saraki

Both chambers are expected to return to regular plenary on February 21.

Monday’s public hearing, Mr. Abdullahi said, would push the budget defence a step further by allowing members of the public to weigh-in constructively on ways to improve the appropriation bill.

“This will be the first time something like this is happening,” Mr. Abdullahi said, adding that, “It’s a testament to the leadership and foresight of the Senate President, and the commitment of the 8th Senate as a whole to ensure that the budget is passed transparently — with adequate feedback from the general public.

The spokesperson quoted Senate President Bukola Saraki as saying: “We will continue to create platforms such as these, that will allow the general public to play a role in what we do here.“

“Moving forward, the public can expect that we will continue this practice of having an open budget hearing where every-day Nigerians are primary contributors.”

While the Senate seeks public review of the 2017 budget, it has refused to provide details of its own budget.

Mr. Saraki, also the chairman of the National Assembly, has refused to honour repeated promises to Nigerians to publicly disclose the details of the lawmakers’ budget.

Mr. Saraki came to office in June 2015 promising accountability and transparency; but ever since, he has reneged on every promise to open the budget of the National Assembly to the public.

With N23.347 billion in 2003, the National Assembly’s budget now stands at about N115 billion, representing over 492 per cent rise in 13 years. Until 2016, the budget had often gone as high as N150 billion.

It is not immediately clear if heads of the MDAs who have been appearing before various committees will participate in Monday’s unique public hearing on the budget.

The Senate had in January passed the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, a precursor to consideration of annual budget.

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