House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara insisted yesterday that budget padding is not an offence, saying no lawmaker can be investigated or tried for it.
“No member of the National Assembly can be investigated or charged to court for performing his constitutional responsibility of lawmaking including passing the budget”, he said at the Civil Society Dialogue session on one year of the legislative agenda organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) in Abuja.
Dogara, who drew the flaks over his statement last Friday that “padding is not an offence”, said lawmakers have the constitutional right to tinker with the budget proposal presented by the executive.
“Tinkering with it should not amount to or be regarded as padding”, Dogara added, noting that it is wrong to accuse lawmakers of using constituency projects to “pad” the budget proposal.
The Speaker was reacting to the allegation of budget padding levelled against him and 12 others by ousted Appropriations Committee chairman Abdulmumin Jibrin.
The others are Deputy Speaker Yusuff Lasun, Chief Whip Alhassan Ado Doguwa, Minority Leader Leo Ogor and nine committee chairmen. They were said to have padded the budget with 2000 projects worth N284billion.
A Special Investigation Panel (SIP) raised by acting Inspector-General of Police Ibrahim Idris and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are looking into the matter.
Dogara said the 2016 Budget was “controversial from the beginning”, adding: “it took dialogue, compromise and consensus to produce a workable document.”
The Speaker argued that by virture of the provisions of the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, no member of the parliament can be charged to court or investigated for exercising his powers of law making.
The budget, he said, was the appropriation bill, which like any other bill must be subjected to normal legislative processes and scrutiny.
Dogara said: “The Constitution talks about the estimates of revenue and expenditure to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly. The Constitution did not mention the word budget. And the reason is very simple. Budget is a law. Going by the very pedestrian understanding of law which even a part one Law student can tell is that the functions of government is such that the legislature makes the law, the executive implements and the judiciary interprets the law.
“The budget being a law, therefore, means it is only the parliament that can make it because it is a law. And I challenge all of us members of the media and civil society. organisations (CSOs) to look at our law and tell me where it is written that the president can make a budget.”
The Speaker maintained that by the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, only the National Assembly has the powers to scrutinise the revenue and expenditure estimates submitted by the President.
“What I am saying is further reinforced by Section 80(4) of the Constitution which says that no money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other fund of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
“I want this thing to sink so that we can understand it from here and perhaps it may change the ongoing discourse.
“If you say the National Assembly doesn’t have the powers to tinker with the budget; that we just pass it. When it is prepared and laid we turn it into a bill. If it is a bill how do other bills make progression in the parliament in order to become law?” he asked, adding:
“If you contend that we cannot tinker with the appropriation bill, even though it is a money bill, it, therefore, goes without saying that we cannot tinker with any executive bill.
“Because if they (Executive) bring a bill they will not consult the public to say come and give us your input on this bill. It is the legislature that does that by the instrumentality of public hearing and when we aggregate your views it is only our duty as representatives of the people including the media and CSOs to make sure that your voices are reflected so that by the time we hear from you we now turn it into a legislative bill and when it gets to the President and he signs they say oooohhh some people have padded the bill.
“The budget is a law and nobody can object to the fact that only the legislature can make law so it is only the parliament that can conclude it.”
On constituency projects, Dogara said it was the only means through which lawmakers can attract federal projects to their constituents.
According to him, this is necessary because the process of selecting constituency projects “lacks integrity as it is always lopsided against most federal constituencies”.
He said: “If you come from a constituency like mine for instance, right now, we don’t have a permanent secretary anywhere, we don’t have a director anywhere, so if you look at the 2016 Budget, if you were to go as proposed by the executive, there is no single federal funded borehole, even if it is N50, there is no N50 meant for any project in my three local governments. Why? Because I don’t have anybody where they are preparing, sharing or making allocation.” The Nation