• Acting President Empowered To Sign 2017 Budget, Lawyers Insist
Worried by late implementation of capital projects due to late commencements, Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has issued a presidential directive, which will henceforth (until a constitutional amendment) mandate the executive to submit budgetary proposals to the National Assembly latest by September of every year.
This move is sequel to the realisation that capital votes’ components of budgets, which have an over-bearing impact on the citizenry, normally get the least implemented percentage due to weather conditions like rains, which hampers earth moving equipment during road construction, while the recurrent portion of budgets, which entails spending on government personnel always get 100 per cent implementation.
Also under the new vista, which comes into force with the 2017 budget, no locally made goods/ services substitutes shall any longer be imported into the country as part of measures to check graft in procurement in public service, as well as, boost revenue diversification sources locally and create employment opportunities.
All these are coming on the heels of the cloud of uncertainty that envelope the recently passed 2017 fiscal plan, which assent and implementation still remain a subject of controversy.
In a chat with The Guardian, the Director General of Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, said the issue of faithfully implementing the budget can only come up after a careful perusal of the document.
“We can only say if the budget is implementable after a careful scrutiny of it. We are going to take our time and go through the document. How long this is going to take, I can’t tell you. This is dependent on the volume of intervention by the National Assembly.”
He added that work on the 2018 budget has already commenced with the call on MDAs to submit their personnel emolument requirements for 2018.However, after the National Assembly Presidential Liaison Aide, Senator Ita Enang, and Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, last week contradicted themselves on who would assent to the budget, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the Acting President, Laolu Akande, informed that his principal would sign the budget, hence there was no need for apprehension.
Two days latter, Osinbajo followed up with the issuance of three Executive Orders (Presidential Orders), two of which have to do with budget preparations and procurement, fast-tracking budget implementation, guarding against graft as well as saving funds for implementation of government plans and programmes.
The orders according to Osinbajo are in line with the authority vested in him as the acting president, said a release by Akande.On budget, the order directed as follows: “All agencies, whether or not listed in the Fiscal Responsibility Act, shall, on or before the end May every year, cause to be prepared and submitted to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, their schedule of revenue and expenditure estimates for the next three financial years.
“All agencies shall, on or before the end of July every year, cause to be prepared and submitted to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, their annual budget estimates, which shall be derived from the estimates of revenue and expenditure as projected in their three-year schedule.
“A joint committee of the ministries of finance, and the budget and national planning shall review such estimates and ensure their conformity with the national plan and the financial and budgetary regulations before processing them for approval and early transmission to the National Assembly,” the order stated adding, “supervising ministers and heads of agencies as well as the chief executive officers of government owned companies shall verify that the process of preparation, harmonisation and collation of budget estimates are as stipulated in relevant laws and guidelines, as well as, ensure strict compliance with this Executive Order.”
Meanwhile, joining the ongoing debate on who would assent to the 2017 fiscal plan, Abuja-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ade Okeaya-Inneh said: “My view is that once you write a letter in accordance with section 145 of the 1999 Constitution, automatically, the vice president becomes the acting president. It doesn’t matter what word is used. If they are trying to introduce all kinds of things, then there is a major constitutional crisis looming,” he warned.
For Managing partner, Bank Oki, Oyesanya and Co. Adekunle Oyesanya (SAN): “If he (Osinbajo) is acting as the president, then there is nothing he cannot do, including signing the budget. It doesn’t look as if they are even coordinated. What does the constitution even say about the office of the acting president? Does the constitution say that an acting president cannot do certain things? The opinion of the cabal is immaterial. What matters is what the law says.”
If the grundnorm, the fundamental law of the land says an acting president can do everything that a president can do, then what are they saying?” Constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) on his part said Osinbajo cannot only sign the budget, but can deploy armed forces and declare a war. There is nothing, according to him, he cannot do, stressing that the budget is a small thing among the things he can do.
His words: “Osinbajo as the acting president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as it stands today, under Section 5 and 145 of the 1999 Constitution. So taking the budget to London for Mr. President to sign is unconstitutional. It is an aberration and it constitutes a legal and constitutional anathema.
“There can’t be two obas in one palace or two emirs in one palace. There can’t be two popes in the world. Having transmitted a letter to the senate that he was traveling abroad on health ground under Section 145, the vice president automatically assumes power of the acting president. Section 145 says that the vice president will act in that capacity for as long as the president is away. Until then, Osinbajo remains the acting president that has all the power to do anything that the president can do. And that includes signing the budget, it includes declaration of war, it includes deployment of the armed forces to ward off external aggression.
“It includes presiding over the Federal Executive Council and the Council of States meeting and giving instructions to the ministers. That includes controlling the entire apparatus of government under section 153 to 159 of the Constitution. That includes exercising all powers of the president under section 5 of the 1999 Constitution. So, it does not therefore matter whether the letter was written as coordinator.”
According to him, even if the letter had referred to Osinbajo as sweeper of Aso Villa or cook in chief of Aso kitchen or messenger in Aso villa, the nomenclature or description does not matter at all. “So, all the noise being made by the shenanigans, the cabals and the lurking hawks, all go to no issue at all, as far as this constitutional matter is concerned,” he insisted.
Similarly, a constitutional lawyer, Sebastine Hon (SAN) said vice president Osinbajo is Nigeria’s acting president, even though a letter was sent to the national assembly saying he will coordinate affairs of government pursuant to section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.
According to Hon, since it was written pursuant to section 145, the provisions of section 145 becomes applicable automatically. “The National Assembly noticed that slight error. I prefer to call it slight error even though there may be more to it, and it addressed it by confirming him as acting president. So, any interpretation that is otherwise, that is contrary to the spirit and letter of the Constitution is void. He can sign the budget,” he stated.
In his own view, Samuel Zibiri (SAN) said Osinbajo is acting and therefore can sign the budget. “Acting means that he is stepping into the shoes of the president,” he argued.
In a related development, two members of the House of Representatives, Messrs Olajide Olatubosun, and Ossai Nicholas Ossai have reiterated the need to the reform the country’s budgeting process.
The duo, who spoke separately to The Guardian argued that the measure would surely curb the recurring problem of delays in budget passage.Ossai who is the chairman of the House committee on Ethics and Privileges said: “The delay is coming from the executive. It is expected that the budget would be committed in the first week of October to the National assembly. If it takes the executive the whole year to prepare a budget, do you expect the National Assembly to pass the budget within two weeks?
The lawmaker who represents Ndokwa Federal Constituency of Delta State continued: “It is not possible because in passing the budget, you must take into cognizance the performance of the past budget and you must be able to reach out to all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to make sure you scrutinise them and determine the performance of the previous budget before you are able to address the future budget.
Olatubosun, who is a member of the House Committee on Appropriation, expressed doubts if the delay in the passage of the 2017 budget impacted negatively on the economy.
According to him: “If you recollect the last budget was signed into law on the May 5, 2016 and it was stated in the Act that the capital component of the budget was for one fiscal year. That means it won’t expire until the midnight of May 4 2017. So, what that means is that from January to that day, there was a budget that was running. Most Nigerians thought it was from January to December 2016. The capital component of the budget was being implemented, funds were being released and if you go round the country you see some projects that are being executed.”
However, “I won’t say that the delay in the passage of the budget has not got any impact considering the fact that in Nigeria, the government is the major spender. But what I have just said is that if you are talking of any delay, the only period that we did not have a capital budget now is between May 6 and today (last Friday) and that is just about twelve days. So it is not like we don’t have budgets in January. No. The Appropriation Act for last year covered the period from May 6, 2016 to May 5 of 2017.”
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Source – m.guardian.ng