After dithering for nearly four weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan on February 26 signed the 2013 Appropriation Bill into law, thus putting to an end the bickering that had dogged the exercise.
The National Assembly had passed the law to the President for assent on January 15.
Although the executive branch had expressed misgivings with National Assembly’s tinkering with the provisions in the course of its passage, the indication that the President was not well disposed to appending his signature to the budget as passed would come shortly after it was transmitted to his office.
Among the issues listed by the presidency were the hiking of the budget from N4.92trillion to N4.98trillion.by the lawmakers; the raising of the benchmark crude price from $75 to $79 per barrel in the computation; the constituency projects which the executive found objectionable, and finally, the issue of zero allocation for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
In the following weeks, the President was reported to have sought advice on possible use of veto to which an irritated National Assembly equally contemplated the possibility of overriding – if it came to that. There is clearly a lot to say about the posturing on both sides while the ‘feud’ lasted.
To start with, it was unhelpful that the two parties stuck to their respective positions, which they claimed were in the best interest of the economy even when the issues came to no more than chasing mere shadows. That the threat to override the presidential veto worked is nothing but failure of engagement and reasoned dialogue. The presidential promise of possible amendment to accommodate areas of concerns in a subsequent bill comes to no more than a face-saver. The entire development is certainly unfortunate.
Unfortunate, because the issues said to underlie the disagreement have even now, neither been addressed nor solved. If anything, the development suggests that few lessons have been learnt in the last 14 years. The other point is that the President has shown, contrary to his posturing, that he has neither the stomach to stand by his resolve nor is he willing to show leadership on a matter in which the citizens were told could either make or mar the fortunes of the 2013 budget.
The question is – why allow the matter to drag to a head if the President knew that he would later cave in? Or, as the cliché goes – why heat up the polity needlessly just to make a point? More fundamentally, what is the idea behind the pre-budget briefings of principal officers of the National Assembly if not to narrow down the areas of differences between the two arms of government? One area of disagreement is the budget benchmark which the lawmakers hiked by $4 in the guise of reducing the deficit in the budget.
Whereas the executive has not quite sufficiently explained how the $4 addition to the revenue from the hike would prove toxic to a budget with a huge deficit component, the National Assembly has since shown that its motive is hardly altruistic in terms of the stated objective, but motivated by its desire to accommodate constituency projects which the lawmakers want at all cost.
To the extent that constituency projects are oftentimes state and local government projects packaged as the Federal Government’s, they have not only become sticky issues in their relations with the executive, they are increasingly antithetical to good governance and best practices. We urge the National Assembly to reconsider this as well as other areas of concern with the executive.