By Yakubu Dogara
I welcome you all to this National Assembly dialogue, which is a forum for generation and processing of legislative ideas for economic recovery, improvement of security architecture, and general development of the nation.
This dialogue by the National Assembly, which is facilitated by The National Institute for Legislative Studies, is indicative of the unity of both Chambers of the National Assembly, and signposts the methodology of legislative cooperation and synergy of the 8th National Assembly.
It is hoped that this dialogue will address the burning questions of the day, and should proffer workable solutions to guide both the Executive and Legislative arms of government, especially at this early period of PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI’s administration.
The 8th House of Representatives very early in its life, debated and adopted a Legislative Agenda, setting out a legislative compass to guide it for 4 years. The Agenda addressed in detail all the issues facing us today. Without preempting the remarks of the presenter of the Houses’ Legislative Agenda perspectives, it is necessary to touch on a few areas of the Agenda that concern us today.
The House committed itself in its Legislative Agenda, to a Review of the National Budgetary Process and the revamping the National Economy and Development with sub topics such as;
Legislative measures to tackle non-remittance of internally generated revenue and leakages; Infrastructure development; Legislative Initiative on New Cities and Regional Hubs of Development; Legislative initiative on North-East and Niger-Delta; Legislative initiative on Unemployment; Legislative Initiative on Housing, Urban Development, Mortgages; Legislative initiative on Power; Legislative initiative on Security; Legislative initiative on Economic Diversification.
The House further committed itself in specific terms to a review of the budgetary process with emphasis on the following:
- Promotion of an inclusive budgetary process that seeks the cooperation of the Executive in institutionalising pre-budget interface and consultations.
- Adoption of an effective Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).
- Strict compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007.
- Insistence on prioritisation of budget expenditure that reflects approved budget lines
- Zero tolerance for non-implementation of capital projects as approved in annual Budgets
- Effective monitoring and evaluation of expenditure and of outcomes achieved – value for money.
- Revisiting the ‘Constitution Amendment passed by the 7thHouse mandating the President to submit his Budget proposals at least 3 months before the end of a fiscal year, instead of “at any time” before the end of a fiscal year currently in the Constitution. This is critical in passing annual Appropriation Bill’
- Possibility of conducting public hearings on the Budget before legislative approval as this exposes the National Budget to increased citizen and stake holder participation.
- The House also committed itself to ensuring ‘proper functioning and operation of the Fiscal
- Responsibility Act, including a possible review of the Act, to streamline budgetary processes and achieve strict adherence to timelines for budget presentation and passage.’
- The House committed itself to a further review of the Finance (Control and Management)
- Act to expunge all provisions that are inconsistent with the Constitution and Presidential System of Government.
- The House shall also seek to ‘amend Section 82 of the Constitution to reduce the period of 6 months that the President is allowed to spend without appropriation as this provision severely distorts the Appropriation process.’
- ‘The 8th House of Representatives will take legislative measures to ensure that the
- Executive does not choose which aspects of the Appropriation Act it implements. Indeed the House shall seek the cooperation of the Executive to develop and enforce a Needs
- Based Budgeting System rather than an ‘envelop’ Based Budgeting System’.
- ‘The 8th House will also ensure the coming into being of an independent effective, nonpartisan Budget Office (NABRO) by law to aid in economic and budgetary information and planning’.
- The House shall enforce strict compliance with the Reporting requirements by various officials and MDAs contained in the annual Appropriation Acts which are currently observed more in breach by the Executive without consequences.
- The House shall insist on timely release of appropriated funds and general implementation of the Budget as the ‘Nigerian people are entitled to feel the impact of governance through the appropriation mechanism and process’.
We cannot meaningfully discuss the improvement of the national economy without discussing priority legislation in this field. Undoubtedly, one of the most important pieces of legislation is the Petroleum Industry Bill. This is necessary because Oil and Gas still accounts for over 70% of our foreign exchange earnings in spite of the rapid fall in oil prices. We therefore cannot afford not to organize the sector in such a manner as to benefit the nation. In this regard, may I call on the President as the Minister of Petroleum to as a matter of urgency transmit a Bill to the National Assembly on how his administration intends to reorganize the Petroleum Sector. The PIB has had a checkered history. It was introduced late in the life of the 6th Assembly and was not passed. In the 7th Assembly, a private Members Bill was introduced in the first month of that Assembly, based on the experience of the 6th Assembly. However, the last administration informally indicated that it would prefer an Executive Bill on the matter, which took over two years to materialize. It was passed only by the House of Representatives very late in its tenure without the Senate concurring. Investment decisions in this field cannot continue to wait. Clarity on the legal framework for Oil and Gas in Nigeria is crucial to our economy. Contrary to the assertion that the size of the Bill is the problem, the fact is that an early introduction will lead to an early passage.
Priority Legislation that can help jumpstart the economy includes the Competition and Consumer Protection Laws and indeed other laws that touch on the economic wellbeing of Nigeria. The 8th House will partner with the Executive arm to introduce legislations that will not only ensue that the change we seek is made possible but that it is sustained and ingrained in our polity.
Anti -Corruption Legislation and Over-sight would be the major contribution of parliament to the CHANGE that has come to Nigeria. As I have said elsewhere, the National Assembly remains the only arm of government specifically charged with responsibility by the Constitution to ‘expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it”. (S.88 (2)b.) .
The enduring fight against corruption must be waged through the instrumentality of law and legislation. People can only be accountable when the law is clear and when it is enforced fairly and firmly. While we await the decision of Mr. President on whether to merge EFCC and ICPC, the urgent legislative undertaking now, is to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the Heads of these agencies by requiring the consent of the Senate to their appointment and removal from office. This will ensure that they are not whimsically removed when they disagree with a sitting President.
Pundits have always raised issues on the effectiveness of motions and Over-sight functions, and the National Assembly’s contributions to the national economy. But just last week, the Senate passed a Resolution to investigate payment of Consultants involved with the new TSA administration. Twenty four hours later, the CBN ordered the company to return billions of Naira, which the company has since complied with. This has been achieved by just a single motion. Several other examples abound. The legislature may be slow, but its contribution to our democracy and economic development is assured.
We cannot discuss issues of development and economy without discussion of the Budget process in Nigeria. Mr. President should follow up the implementation of the TSA with another bold and courageous move to capture all expenditure by all the MDAs in one single National budget. No longer should the income and expenditure of some revenue earning agencies be an ‘Attachment’ to the National Budget but should be an integral part of it. It should be part of the aggregate figures that make up the Budget. Such agencies should include the NNPC, NPA, NIMASA, Customs and Excise, NCC, Federal Inland Revenue Service, etc.
This Roundtable should also consider whether it is appropriate to continue to maintain January to December as the Financial year. In the alternative, the National Assembly may prescribe the financial year to be 12months from the date of the signing of the Appropriation Bill. This is because the only way a Budget would have any realistic chance of full implementation is if it is operated for 12 calendar months as the spirit of Section 318 of the Constitution seems to suggest.
This Roundtable has Security as one of its main themes. That the security situation in Nigeria is very bad is common knowledge and needs no repetition here. We should be rather concerned with legislative solutions to the problem. We need to think outside the box. It seems to me that the time has come for us to reexamine the legal and constitutional framework for policing in Nigeria. A decentralized police force may be more effective as Nigerians in their communities are better placed to detect criminals in their midst. We look forward for further guidance by experts in this regard and for your recommendations. Furthermore, it has become necessary, in my view, for the appointment and removal of the Inspector General of Police to receive the blessing, of at least, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This will also ensure some measure of operational independence and command integrity. Policing however, must exist side by side with economic empowerment of the people for it is said that an idle mind is the devils workshop. To this end, we support the idea of a North East Development Commission to mobilize and channel resources for development in the North East Zone in an organized and orderly manner. In the House of Representatives, we have taken the unprecedented step of creating a new Committee on IDPs, Refugees and North East Initiatives, to oversight developments in this area.
Finally, I wish us successful deliberations and may God Bless you all and bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Remarks by Speaker, House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara at the opening ceremony of a National Assembly Dialogue on Economy, Security and Development organized by the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) in Abuja.