Senator Dino Melaye who represents Kogi West in the upper legislative chamber, says President Muhammadu Buhari is “playing to the gallery and milking the naivety of the masses” on the issue of the 2018 budget.
President Buhari frowned at the insertions made by lawmakers into the budget document and berated the national assembly for increasing its own budget by N14.5billion.
The president tendered an N8.6trillion budget before a joint session of the national assembly on November 7, 2017.
However, by the time the 2018 budget returned to the Executive from parliament, it had been increased to N9.120 trillion–indicating a N508billion increase, with estimates for critical projects getting mercilessly slashed.
The national assembly had also increased its own budget from N125billion to N139billion; with a slew of insertions of their own.
Buhari wasn’t pleased by it all and laid into lawmakers during a brief budget signing ceremony.
Melaye says Buhari shouldn’t have signed the budget
However, Senator Melaye says Buhari had a choice to withhold his assent instead of appending his signature to a document he strongly disagrees with.
“What the president is authorised to do constitutionally is to present the National Assembly with a Bill; a Bill is a work-in-progress and not the finished work,” Melaye lectured.
“The reason the constitution directs the bill to be submitted to the national assembly is that it expects the national assembly to vet it and make inputs before passing it in readiness for appropriation act”.
Melaye added that the national assembly isn’t supposed to be a rubber stamp of the Executive in a constitutional democracy.
“The national assembly is not expected to rubber stamp whatever bill the president presents. If this was the norm, there would have been no need for the constitution to direct that the bill should be submitted to the national assembly in the first place.
“The powers and authority of the national assembly cannot be eroded by the presidency. The National Assembly is not a department of the presidency”.
According to Melaye, the president is only trying to sway public opinion on the contentious budget issue, his way.
“Mr. President should therefore refrain from playing to the gallery and milking the naivety of the masses on the issue.
“In any event, he reserves the prerogative of refusing to append his signature to the bill passed if it meets with his displeasure. He is also free to return the bill to the national assembly unsigned with a note indicating his areas of disaffection.
“I also ask, in the last three years of this administration: What has been the percentage of implementation of capital budget? Therefore Mr. President should halt his chicanery and smear campaign of the national assembly,” the senator said.
Melaye who has become something of a rebel within his own party, the APC, has been a vocal critic of the president and his party since his legal troubles began.
What the constitution says
Opinions have been divided over whether the national assembly has the powers to insert fresh items as it deems fit, into an appropriation bill prepared by the Executive.
Section 80, subsection 4 of the 1999 constitution as amended, reads that: “No monies shall be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue fund or any other public fund of the federation, except in the manner prescribed by the national assembly”
Section 81, subsection 1 states that: “the president shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year, estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the next following financial year”.
While the constitution says the president can prepare the budget and lawmakers can prescribe how it is spent, it is silent on whether insertions by lawmakers is permissible, a situation that has sparked a ferocious debate across the country.
Pundits have advised the Executive to approach the courts for an interpretation of the constitutional lacuna.