By Bassey Udo:
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) appears to be on a collision course with lawmakers over allegations of abuse of budget processes enshrined in the constitution.
Specifically, the RMAFC is against the practice where ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are invited by the lawmakers to defend, before the various committees of the National, State and Local Government assemblies, budget proposals already presented for appropriation by the president, governors and local council chairmen.
The commission, which is charged with the constitutional responsibility of monitoring revenue inflows and outflows into the Federation Account as well as advising the Federal and State governments on fiscal efficiency, has described the practice as illegal.
It said not only does it amount to duplicating the process, it is also against the provisions of the constitution.
Chairman, Senate Committee on National Planning, Economic Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Zaynab Kure, however, does not share this opinion. A source at the Commission said she recently issued a strong worded letter to the Commission, demanding an explanation why its Chairman had refused to respond to invitations to appear before the commitee to defend its budget.
Ms. Kure, in her letter, described the alleged conduct of the Commission as an “insolent behaviour,” which would “not be taken lightly,” as it was “a clear manifestation of contempt of (its) constitutional authority.”
But, the Commission Chairman, Hamman Tukur, not only drew attention to the illegality of the practice, but also accused National and State Assemblies of refusing to subject themselves to due accounting processes spelt out in the 1999 Federal Constitution in preparing, presenting and defending their annual budgets in the spirit of the principle of checks and balances.
Mr. Tukur’s position was contained in a circular obtained yesterday in Abuja, dated January 19, 2010, with Ref. No. RMC/OHC/CGM/002/Vol.1, signed by Mr. Tukur and all the Federal Commissioners from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and sent to the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, members of the Executive Council of the Federation, Governors of the 36 states of the Federation, heads of all MDAs and Local Government Councils.
The document said Sections 81(1)(2)(4) and 82 as well as 121(1)(2)(4) and 122 of the Constitution vest the responsibility of preparing the Federal, State and Local Government Council annual budgets in the President, Governor and Local Council Chairman, who are expected to lay such budgets before the various legislative assemblies for appropriation.
Process based on cooperation
“Appropriation,” he explained, “is the phase where the budget undergoes the legal process, which authorises the Executive to incur expenditure”, pointing out that “there is nowhere in the Constitution that expressly states that the legislature can redraft or review the estimates upwards or downwards relative to what was provided by the Executive.”
The Constitution, he said, must have envisaged a budgeting process anchored on cooperation, consultation and collaboration between the Executive and Legislative arms of government, while retaining the principle of separation of power.
“One of the major controversies dogging the country’s budgeting process today is the refusal of the lawmakers to subject themselves to these principles,” he accused.
The legislative arm, the Chairman said, cannot, under the current democratic dispensation in the country, be “a judge in its own case,” arguing that the practice of inviting representatives of the other arms of government to appear before the various legislative assemblies to defend their budgets is a negation of the provisions of the constitution.
A top official of the Commission, who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity, said:
“The lawmakers are not above the law. They must have where they go to subject their budgets for scrutiny, considering that every year their allocations keep rising without commensurate impact on the people they claim to represent. What the lawmakers call budget defence is actually duplication for corruption purposes.”
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