Against the background of allegations of budget padding and abuse of public trust by the leadership of the House of Representatives, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has told the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara that, “There is absolutely no constitutional provisions that grant to members or leaders of the House of Representatives the power to insert projects in the budget.”
The organization said that “the idea of members of the National Assembly allocating projects to their constituencies and then approving such projects is a grave and direct affront to basic constitutional principles of equity, fairness, transparency, accountability and separation of powers.”
SERAP’s statement signed by its executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni is in response to Mr Dogara’s defence of the decision of the lower chamber to unilaterally insert 2,000 items into the 2016 budget after former Chairman of Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin Jibril accused the principal officers of padding the budget.
According to Mr Dogara, “So the budget being a law, therefore, means that it is only, I repeat, only the parliament that can make it because it is law and I challenge all of us to look at the law and tell me where it is written that the President can make the budget.” Jibril alleged that the speaker had allocated projects worth N4 billion to his constituency, leaving 359 other members of the lower chambers “to share the remaining N36 billion out of N40 billion unilaterally inserted in the budget.
But SERAP disagreed with Mr Dogara, stating that, “The practice of constituency projects directly undermines the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides the framework for rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances amongst the organs of government. It’s contrary to the public interest; inequitable, disproportionate, unfair and a clear case of conflict of interest for leaders of the National Assembly to enjoy unbridled discretion in the allocation and diversion of projects to their constituencies.”
According to SERAP, “To justify project insertion in the budget is to place the interest of the leaders of House of Representatives over and above the public interest.”
SERAP’s statement reads in part: “The constitutional role of the National Assembly is limited to the authorisation of any public spending by the executive and not insertion of projects in the budget. Authorisation of public spending literally means official permission to take a step and doesn’t equate insertion of projects in the budget. The House of Representatives absolutely has no power to insert any projects in the 2016 budget that was not originally part of the estimates of the executive in the Appropriation Bill.”
“If it’s true that some projects were arbitrarily and unlawfully included in the 2016 budget by some leaders of the House of Representatives, then those portions of the Appropriation Act would be deemed void under section 1 of the 1999 Constitution, which provides for the supremacy of the constitution and that any other law (including the Appropriation Act) which is inconsistent with constitutional provisions will be deemed void to the extent of the inconsistency.”
“The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mr Abubabar Malami SAN, should move swiftly to approach the court to set aside those portions of the budget that were not parts of the original estimates submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly. Alternatively, Mr Malami should advise President Buhari not to implement the aspects of the budget that were padded.”
“Mr Malami should also test the constitutionality of the practice of constituency projects if corrupt practices and abuse of power in the design and implementation of national budget are to be effectively prevented and combated. This proposed action will serve the best interests of all and the general welfare of Nigeria, especially the victims of corruption who continue to be denied the right to an effective remedy.”
“Granted that a major component of the oversight function of the National Assembly is to consider and pass the Appropriation Bill into law and that no money can be withdrawn or spent from the Consolidation Revenue Fund or any other public funds except with the authorization of the National Assembly. But this oversight function cannot and should never be used as a pretext by the leadership of the House of Representatives to assume inherently executive functions whether directly or by proxies.”
“Nigerians have never received value for money in the execution (if at all) of any consistency projects. The practice also directly violates the Procurement Act 2007 which regulates the mode of procurement of goods and services in any government or governmental institutions, thus promoting public accountability, probity, transparency and openness in such transactions.”
“Specifically, the Act requires that the process of bidding and the choice of the suppliers of any service or goods are made open to all persons or business entities that are qualified for the process.”
“SERAP is seriously concerned that there is little or nothing to show on the ground for the over N900 billion appropriated for constituency projects between 2004 and 2013 alone.”
“The leaders of the House of Representatives will do well to focus on their primary constitutional duty of making laws for the peace, order and good government, and performing oversight role on spending of public funds rather than engaging in inherently execution functions of designing and executing projects This will enhance the operation of the sacred principle of separations of powers and the ability of the House to properly hold the executive to account for spending of public funds.”