BY JOSEF OMOROTIONMWAN
Here and everywhere, every occupation or profession has its unique language. Since understanding is a main essence of communication, it is imperative that professionals make themselves understood by the relevant public.
When the legislative and the executive branches of government deal with each other in a language that the ordinary man cannot comprehend, that is conspiracy. They speak quite aloud to our hearing but we cannot understand what is being said.
In a situation of that nature, you are unable to hold them accountable for anything because all that you have before you are the sounds of silence.
When we were growing up in the village, we knew the pad in one positive sense. In native Bini parlance, it was called “Ukoki” – a piece of soft cloth wrapped round and put on your head each time there was a load to carry. It was put between the head and the heavy load, to cushion the effect of the heavy load on your head. When we went to the stream to fetch water, the pad was put between the head and the calabash of water. When returning from the farm, it appeared between the head and the bundle of firewood or a hamper of yams or cassava.
As we got nearer modern civilization, the pad changed. We started hearing of padded cars and the like. People began to talk of their padded V-Booth and padded-Peugeot cars. To the extent that these padded vehicles had added comfort, padding was also viewed in the positive sense.
In the 2016 Appropriation Year, the National Assembly added a new word to the political lexicon of Nigeria – the padded-budget.
In the Second Republic, this writer was in the team that sought relentlessly for a viable budget system for Nigeria – from Rutgers University in New Jersey to the University of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; from ASCON, Topo-Badagry to the Royal Institute of Public Administration, London and the Bookings Institution Washington, DC, we undertook courses and collected available books and materials relevant to the budgetary process. Nowhere did we come across the term budget-padding.
Even in Nigeria, no one has been able to say exactly what budget-padding represents. Apparently, this could be one of those terms that cannot be defined but can only be described. In such a case, people will, on a continuing basis, come across items that would require further clarifications: First, does a non-padded budget presuppose that the National Assembly must pass the Appropriation Bill exactly as presented by the Executive? Put differently, does it mean that if the National Assembly increases the President’s estimates by say N100, the budget has been padded by N100? What, then, is the need for the submission?
Section 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 requires the President to forward the annual Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly for consideration.
After it receives the Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly, not wanting to be a mere rubber stamp of the Executive, has a right to dismantle and tear the President’s submission apart, so to say; and then rearrange it whichever way it wants.
If the President does not like what the National Assembly has done on the Appropriation Bill, he can veto the Bill by returning it to the National Assembly, stating the grounds of his objections. The President can also pocket-veto the Bill by doing nothing and at the expiration of 30 days, the Bill stands automatically vetoed.
In each of these cases, the National Assembly can also over-ride the President’s veto by an overwhelming majority of two-thirds of its members. Then the President is bound to implement the budget as passed. Where does the idea of budget-padding come in?
We soon get to the area of morality when we begin to hear the issue of budget-padding bordering on how the principal officers have disproportionately appropriated large sums to their constituencies. If this is what the people are now calling budget-padding, it must be made clear to them that the best time to cry out over such is when the budget is being passed, not after. As the saying goes, it is too late to cry when the head is off.
And, in any case, why would anyone be fighting to be a principal officer, if he is not to get any additional benefit from the other members?
The conspiracy theory increasingly points to the fact that the budget-padding imbroglio could be a copout by the National Assembly leadership for its obvious failures. Here is a National Assembly that is always fighting for its independence and the power to check the Executive branch of government.
Where was the National Assembly when the massive arms scandal was going on under its nose? And now, the Dogara Affair! Are members of the House leadership not the same APC members who came to power on the change mantra and the sing-song of zero-tolerance for corruption?
When will these people stop taking us for a ride? In fact, what Nigerians desperately need today is just anyone that can protect them from the excesses, recklessness and wanton corruption in the National Assembly. One question on the lips of right-thinking Nigerians is whether the National Assembly has not outlived its usefulness.
Come to think of it, the budget-padding palaver revolves largely around the constituency projects, so-called. We even hear that budget-padding in its absurd form includes cases where the House leadership surreptitiously smuggles items into the budget without the knowledge of other members. This is criminal. Such perpetrators with their accomplices must face the law.
Meanwhile, no capital budget in Nigeria ever performs near the 100 percent mark. When we lack enough wisdom to do, wisdom consists in not doing at all. In the face of plummeting resources plus the fact that budget implementation is a race against time, the time has come to stop the implementation of the nebulous constituency projects, lest these legislators, in their total indiscretion, might someday have us begin to pay for their village- and family-projects under some disdainful guise.