By Monima Daminabo
As the saying goes, it is not what happens to a man that matters more than what he does with it. In the same vein, while the perennial lateness in the country’s budgets may have been serially condemned, the adequate response is yet to be activated. In fact the National Assembly raised the hope of reversing the trend and actually launched initiatives in that direction. However the lateness of the 2018 budget remains an eloquent testimony to how far this malady in the country’s fiscal regime has remained unresolved. It then implies that budget 2019 may also be so late, may be coming as late May in that year – ostensibly after the general polls and, associated activities?
In the context of the foregoing, the need for drastic change in the country’s budget regime remains urgent. And if fingers are pointed at the National Assembly by the public in the light of who has the ultimate responsibility for effecting the envisaged change, such a gesture may not be totally misplaced as the federal legislature may be under-estimating the expectations of the Nigerian public with respect to its obligations towards transforming the country’s political economy.
This contention enjoys credence on at least two grounds. Firstly the National Assembly is the country’s apex legislature which with the state assemblies constitute the arm of government which statutorily remains the key change agent of governance. As the actual representatives of the citizenry, the National Assembly is constitutionally endowed with the powers to initiate change in virtually all aspects of the country’s life, including the exclusive powers to remove the President of the country, when and if circumstances dictate so. Secondly, in the light of the unmistakable tendency whereby the executive arm has serially demonstrated lack of capacity to reform its bureaucracy for the better, the onus still falls on the National Assembly to address such, even if it entails exercising necessary leverage in directing its focus on transforming the country’s bureaucracy, in the direction of taking the country to the next level.
Traditional arguments on the separation of powers between the various arms of government often refer to the work by 18th century Frenchman Montesquieu, which laid out before the world the principle of separation of powers among the three arms of government. However not even Montesquieu ever argued that the legislature which is the eye and voice of the people, should stand by and watch aloof in the manner of a by-standing spectator, even when some misguided and ill-intentioned citizens, stand on the liberty of their access to the reins and appurtenances of public office, and invoke the principle of separation of powers to muddle up as well as destroy a country’s patrimony, as is becoming the norm in Nigeria.
For those who think that delayed budgets for the country’s fiscal life do not matter, they are standing the truth on its head. For indeed, hardly can they have treated the country with a worse act of disservice. Even as space will fail this piece to delve into the wider implications of delayed budgets, suffice it to be declared that any delayed budget remains a dispensation that is dead on arrival. The best utility it can muster remains the celebration and institutionalisation of distortions in the economy, and providing open sesame for fraud, graft and nepotism; just to mention a few of the very ills the government may be targeting in its anti-corruption war.
It is, therefore, in the light of the foregoing that the National Assembly, through its Committees on Public Service and other areas of national life, needs to take on frontally, the task of reforming the public service of the country as a matter of bounden duty. Its oversight powers over the business of government are not and should not be confined only to instances of past malfeasances. The more critical aspects of government business which the anti-corruption crusade should address fall within the terrain of procedures, rules and guidelines which are usually manipulated in the breach, to perpetuate the culture of endemic corruption. The procedures that are breached today provide the leeway for tomorrow’s fraud. Addressing the compromised procedures will transform the country’s public service space, curb late budgets, and tame the syndrome of pervasive corruption, to the benefit of the country.
Daminabo, a public commentator, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org