As Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Legislative Budget and Research, Timothy Golu Timothy has the responsibility to first receive money bills submitted by the executive, scrutinize it, analyse it and then forward it to the Committee on Finance before it is finally transferred to the Committee on Appropriation. In this interview with Sanya Adejokun, he takes a look at issues surrounding budgeting process, executive/legislative relationship and the way forward.
What is your attitude to President Buhari’s quest for emergency powers to deal with current recession?
Let me start by asking what the emergency bills are because as soon as we read about it in the media, members of the national assembly started consultations but the Presidency denied it the very next day. They said they were not planning to bring any such bills. So, let the man come up with the bills. There is no bill that is treated in secrecy. All bills are treated in plenary before the media and the whole world before it would get to the level of public hearing where professionals and stakeholders can contribute to it. In this case, we only keep talking about it. You cannot shave somebody in his absence, according to late Chief M K O Abiola. So what are the emergency bills the President is talking about? What extra powers does he require from the National Assembly? Let it not be a blind thing, let Nigerians also know so they can discuss it. A situation where no bills have been presented to us but everybody keeps speculating about it is raising unnecessary tension in the polity.
Besides, you talk about procurement process and others. Is it that we don’t have procurement laws? If there are aspects of it that are injurious to contemporary situations, then all that is required is amendment. We have been amending a lot of bills here. So, it is not about a new bill: The Procurement Act is there, the Fiscal Responsibility Act is there, the anti-corruption laws are there that established ICPC and EFCC. All the relevant that controls economic activities are all there. So if the laws are delinquent or are limited in addressing contemporary issues then we will talk about bringing amendments and the National Assembly is always ready to amend any such laws.
Is there then the needed cordial relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government in Nigeria?
I will say politically yes. But fundamentally, no because cordial relationship that exists only when you meet at party levels or at political levels. The fact is that whether you are APC or PDP, you are forced to relate at certain levels whether the person is Speaker or Senate President and you don’t like him, you are forced to relate; whether the other person is President of the nation or a minister but you don’t like him, you are forced to relate. This is the political aspect that I am talking about. But fundamentally, because the executive really does not have a full understanding of the National Assembly. That is how the executive behaves at all levels.
For them, the legislative process is too slow. Even those who were in the legislature once they get into the executive, they seize to be legislative conscious. The new colour overwhelms them. To avoid governmental accidents, the law provides distinctions among the arms of government so that the legislature will make the laws, the executive will implement, legislature will oversight and judiciary will adjudicate.
However, the problem has been with the executive. They tend to equate policies with legislations. For policies to be lasting, to be sustainable, they must be backed by law so that they will have the confidence, authority and legitimacy they needed. That way, even when the next person that takes over from you is not ready to continue along that path, he will be forced by circumstances. That is why we have a lot of abandoned projects, abandoned policies, abandoned ideas and so on because there is no law backing them.
If the executive will humble itself and take their time to understand that the legislature is the critical; it is not just an arm of government but the symbol of democracy. Without the legislature, there is no democracy.
Look at what is happening today. For a number of years, the executive in Nigeria has not involved the legislature in the budgeting process. It is even worse at the state and local government levels. In the state, the governor may give just 24-hour notice that he is going to present his budget and that is all. Here at least we have a Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) that is submitted to us even if it is to fulfil all righteousness because all they do with MTEF is just to fulfil righteousness.
Even the MTEF should be prepare in collaboration with the legislature because it will eventually be submitted to us. The executive should be humble enough to involve us. We have better ideas than the executive. They can oversight us as see our own weaknesses and we can also see their own. Even before the preparation of the MTEF, there should be a sectoral MTEF; sectoral stocktaking or analysis.
Take the agricultural sector for instance. The minister should invite all stakeholders and discus what the challenges are. We want to diversify: how do we go about it? What are the individual ideas? From those who are farmers you ask what their challenges are; how lucrative is the business? Then you present the report of such sectoral analysis to the ministry. The ministry will then prepare the MTEF. And knowing that it will eventually go to the legislature, involve legislators so that you get their own inputs because when you come here, you then discover that we have the final power to remove and add. Then you will be asking what caused the removal. We remove because we have our own perception.
If you bring projects that do not meet requirements of Federal Character, we will tell you look: this road is good but you cannot put it in a particular area again it must go to another region because those other people lack roads too especially because of the limited funds involved. If we have all the funds, everywhere should have roads but because we don’t have enough, let us put the road there. We are representatives of the people. There is no town or village that is not under the federal constituency or a senatorial district so we see these things under different points of view. There is no grammar that will change our own perception as to fair representation of our people.
And if you look at how budgets are actually made, it is the directors and permanent secretaries who are not elected that sit down to design the budget. Go to where the directors and permanent secretaries are then you will discover that most of the projects under the ministries are located in their places. They are not elected but they have more projects than the legislators. And people are telling the legislators to just do their work. Legislate and go. How can we legislate and don’t know what whether the product of the legislation is impacting on the society? And if it is impacting, then charity begins at home. The light that will shine the farthest must be brighter at its base. You go back home and people as you: This man has a lot of water project but it is not him that attracted them but the director who is from the area. Some constituencies have more than enough projects while others do not have at all.
So we must be involved as we are the best people that know the problems of Nigerians.
So this is why budget processes have always been rancorous?
Exactly. That is, it!
But was the legislature not involved in the formulation of 2017-2019 MTEF just submitted to the National Assembly?
We were not involved in the preparation of the MTEF. Just as it happened during preparation of 2016 budget, it is happening again. They would invite stakeholders and even invite foreigners but nobody has invited any legislator either from the Senate or House of Representatives for consultations and at the end of the day, they are coming here. So what is the problem? Why is it so difficult for them to involve the legislature? It will remove conflict, it will promote understanding, we will argue it there on the table, agree and then put it together. But when you bring in something that we were not part of its preparation and since we are not rubber stamp and the Constitution gives us power to approve the budget in a manner we deem fit. If somebody knows that we wield such enormous powers, the person should take us into consideration. If you see a policemen standing in your way, you must befriend him. Not in terms of bribery but in a way to show him that you are aware that he is powerful.
The executive ought to approach the legislature in a manner that says: I want us to see this thing together. Is it feasible to achieve a N6.9 trillion budget? We would have told them it is not feasible. What are the sources of financing? We have a committee on Legislative Budget and Research which does the analysis and then hand it over to the committee on Finance. The Committee on Finance sits and analyse the projections, whether it is realistic to obtain half of that money from the sale of 2.2 million barrels of crude a day at $38/barrel. And the 2.2 million barrels per day projection has been halved due to activities of militants. And wishes are not horses otherwise, we would have wished for 5 million barrels’ production per day.
As it is now, the crises in the Niger Delta will not allow that. Why are they pretending not to know that there is crisis in the region, which is affecting production? That it will just vamoose like that? Throughout the tenure of late President Yar’Adua and President Jonathan and even since President Obasanjo’s time, the crisis has been there. Is that what you are wishing away in one year? The budget is for a period of 12 months and so what magic will you use to settle the crisis especially when the economy has not been diversified? You want to diversify to agriculture, to solid minerals, to science and technology but that is yet to crystalise.
Meanwhile the total budget of N6.6 trillion has only 1% dedicated to agriculture, which you claim you want to diversify to; 1% to solid minerals which is more lucrative than even the oil sector because the minerals and agricultural sectors have more potentials than petroleum. You don’t need the type of technology that required for the oil sector to develop agriculture.
If past governments failed because of lack of planning and lack of right policies and then you came in promising change, then it means that you must adopt a realistic change mechanism so that you don’t follow the path of failure. But they are not just following, they are even performing worse than past governments. Look at the level at which Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan developed agriculture. They gave more attention to agriculture than this government. And we are talking about diversification.
I really do not know the mindset of this government. Look at Saudi Arabia. As rich as they are, they sold part of their shares in a particular national asset. That is not because they were broke but because they wanted to develop and diversify into another sector because the more diverse your economy is, the more alternative you have because if there is a problem in a particular sector, others will stand in. Look at Israel, they don’t have anything. Theirs is a knowledge economy. Tourism is not a natural resource; you organise it. Look at it, they have Science & Tech and sell technology out. They are a desert, they don’t have oil and yet they are surrounded by oil producing countries. For me, this economic recession is good for our country. I sympathise with the problems were are passing through but it is forcing us to think.
Let the Federal Government think outside the box. Let us assume as if there is no oil, that we are starting afresh. So let us think of what to do. All the sectors are the same. As it is now, we don’t know what will happen. In this year’s MTEF, they base the price of oil on an assumption of $42.22/barrel. What is the evidence that things will improve within this short period because we are supposed to have been treating the budget if not for the delay in bringing it? Even if the price goes up, what about the volume?
Again the exchange rate. They peg exchange rate basis for 2017 budget at N290/US$. Right now it is about N305/US$. What monetary policies has the central bank put in place to achieve this? In essence, are the sources of income realistic enough to accommodate a N6.6 trillion appropriations for 2017? The committee on Finance will do the analysis to determine if the budget could be funded before it will pass it to the committee on Appropriation foe allocation. If you have N30 billion to fund a project and you are appropriating N100 billion. When the time comes, and you discover that you have only N30 billion in your account, have you done justice to yourself? That kind of thing also encourages corruption. The Minister of Finance told us here that unfortunately that she had no apology over selective implementation of budget. How did you get the criterial to select project? You said there are no funds. Yes, you don’t have the funds because you over budgeted. You are used to surplus budgeting. You know that is what they used to do. Because there was money, they prepare budget in surplus and at the end of the year, they even remit surplus. At the state level, it is deficit budget that they prepare and so they do not have the advantage.
At the end of the day, you project a revenue of over N1 trillion from recovered loot! How can you buy monkey when it is still on the tree? You have to catch the monkey first before you put a price tag. And so, the 2017 budget projection is not realistic. The executive should carry the legislature along because two good heads are better than one. We have committees and they are not for nothing. What happens in the committees is more than what happens at plenary? Why wont the Ministry of Budget and Planning relate with the various committees of the National Assembly?
We are in the process of setting up our own ministry of budget known as the National Assembly Budget and Research Office. It will serve as a think Tank for us. It will be staffed by professionals of all kinds to give us timely analysis and projections. Now, we are working on 2017-2019 MTEF.
How would you rate the implementation of 2016 budget so far?
The implementation so far is not satisfactory. It is slow. It is slow for reasons that we don’t know. They said that there are no funds but they have not given us any briefing since the passage of the document. Each time the Finance minister comes here, she parries questions. Maybe she is being political, she does not want to offend her bosses or if she does not have answers to the questions. We want to really know what is happening. We are in a recession but what is the extent of the recession? Let us know what is happening.
Look at Treasury Single Account (TSA) again. They warehouse money in TSA but to access the money is a problem. And if money is not flowing, there are worms which are monetary in nature that are capable of further devaluing the currency.
As long as the executive is not cooperating with the legislature in such a way that we can put our heads together, this kind of rivalry will continue to affect the economy.
But there is a clause in the budget mandating regular briefing on budget execution?
They are not obeying the law! Let me tell you: MTEF is supposed to have been presented today but when I checked the Order Paper it was not included. It would have created some crises. There is a stipulation that the President should brief us about the performance of the previous budget, the MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) but that has not happened.
Now, some members are insisting that we cannot take on the MTEF until we get the performance of the 2016 Budget. They are only talking about a journey: where are you coming from? Have we achieved what we planned to achieve? To what extent have you achieved it? What are the challenges so that we can avoid the same pitfalls next time?
The executive is really making our work difficult and Nigerians need to understand that these are the issues that we always raise but the executive would prefer not to tell Nigerians what the issues at stake are so that all the blames will go to the legislature. Now they are accusing us of refusing to give powers to the President but what power is he looking for? Let him tell us the power first then we can also present it to Nigerians. And when things go on like this, the legislature will be skeptical of the motives of the executive.
This year, we allow members of the executive to sit with us in passing the budget. It was simply for political reasons. It was not supposed to happen. Remember the first time the President rejected the budget, we asked him what he really wanted. If we had not done that, the country would have accused us of not wanting the President to work but no member of the public queried the reason we allowed the executive to take over our work. If we had tampered with their own work, it would have been something else.
Why do you think that the public is more skeptical of the legislature than the executive?
It is because Nigerians do not understand the role of the legislature. The legislature is a political institution but that is not the same knowledge that people at the grassroots have. They hardly see members of the executive. They only see members of the legislature at the federal, state and local levels and so attention has always been on the legislative arm so any small mistake is ever so visible and obvious.
Most Nigerians are angry with us because they are expecting what we cannot deliver from us. We are expected to provide jobs, roads, water and all that but it is what the executive are supposed to provide. However, because the executive doesn’t do it, the legislators are forced to do it because we are closer to the people. If the executive has been alive to their responsibilities, we would not have been insisting on constituency projects. We have to force our way into what will impress the people.
Or is it because they believe that you guys have too much money?
Where is the money? In fact, the National Assembly is underfunded in Nigeria. We are one of the least funded in the world. That is why the budget will continue to have this kind of problem because we are expected to have the same structure with technical expertise and platform with which we can oversight and verify the estimate submitted by the President. If the President proposes Lagos to Calabar rail line and they bring a bill of N5 billion, using their technical expertise, we are upposed to have the expertise to verify. That is checks and balance but we don’t have.
The total capital, overhead and personnel of the National Assembly is N115 billion. This money is not shared among the 360 members and 109 senators but for the entire National Assembly. It is from there that National Assembly members get their salaries, their running costs, the directors get their salaries, get their running costs, the National Assembly management, National Assembly Service Commission, National Institute for Legislative Studies, our own aides (and we have five each), Inter-Parliamentary Friendship groups… For Democracy to thrive, we must relate with other democracies, upgrade ourselves. I belong to the Nigeria-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group …We have to go there, and they have to come here too. Now we cannot go because there is no money.
There is no money even to do public hearing. On every issue, we are supposed to do public hearing. The idea of Public Hearing is for the public to be involved. To let them know what we are doing. There is no Public Hearing that will gulp less than N2 million and it will certainly be much more if we are to beam it live on television.