By IHEANACHO NWOSU and CHUKS AKUNNA, Abuja
The House of Representatives yesterday kicked off the process of amending the Fiscal Responsibility Act with a meeting with 63 Federal Government agencies. Declaring open the session, House Speaker, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, said the time had come to plug the huge leakages in revenues that accrue to the Federation Account by amending the Act that empowers agencies to spend the money they make and return peanuts to the coffers of government.
The Speaker was represented by his Deputy, Emeka Ihedioha. Some of the leading agencies include Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigerian Porty Authority, Nigeria Customs and National Maritme and safety Administration Agency. Tambuwal said the “Fiscal Responsibility Act should be amended to bring it into conformity with the Constitution and strengthen its enforcement provisions. “A situation where actual government revenue and expenditure is unknown because revenue earning Agencies of government spend the funds as they deem fit can no longer be tolerated.
A situation where over 50 per cent of actual government revenue is spent outside the national annual budget has put Nigeria in a fiscal crises. It makes our Budgeting System inefficient, ineffectual, and opaque. “It does not promote accountability, transparency, responsiveness and openness that is the hallmark of a democratic government” Tambuwal said the nation was heading for a serious financial crisis if the unconscionable leakages that take place daily in the system was not checked. He observed “For far too long, the menace of revenue leakages has dominated the finances of our country to the detriment of our “economy and wellbeing of the people of Nigeria.
“The Constitution and our laws on revenue Generation and expenditure has been observed more in breach. For the avoidance of doubts, the Constitution has provided elaborate methods of revpoue collector1, revalue remittances and expenditure approvals.” He submitted that the “method of remitting the revenue and the Government Account or Fund where it may be remitted may be different but there is no room whatsoever for discretionary approach to revenue and remittances.”
He stressed that “Indeed the Constitution establishes the Federation Account (S.162); The Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation (S.80 (i); and other Public Funds (S.80). All revenue must be paid into any of these funds set up by the Constitution. If by an Act of the National Assembly, an agency is set up for a specific purpose, (S.80 (i), revenues from such Agency is not for the discretionary use of the agency. Such revenues are public funds not private funds.” Faulting the brouhaha that often trail any input made by the National Assembly to the budget, the Speaker announced that the National Assembly will continue to tinker with budget estimates.
He said that the Chambers would be failing in their duties if they pass budget proposal the way it was presented by the President. He said “When a financial measure is brought to the National Assembly, it is exposed to robust debate. It passes through rigorous and painstaking processes, that is made open to all stakeholders and Nigerians for their input. This enhances a better budgeting process and accountability. “This should not, and cannot be allowed to continue.
The National Assembly must rise to the challenge and actualize the fiscal dreams of our founding fathers so clearly enunciated in our Constitution.” Earlier the Chairman of the Committee, Hon Abdulmumuni Jibrin said that there were discrepancies in the what the agencies take the federal treasury and what the constitution provides. He listed areas that his committee would focus on as “discrepancies in Figures between the Budget office and the Agencies; reflection of surpluses in the revenue framework instead of gross collections as on other revenue sub heads ;high expenditures that wipe off revenue generated ;Internal laws of the agencies seem to empower the agencies to spend their revenues.
However the constitution is clear on these issues as government revenue should be paid to the treasury as well as remittances of operating surpluses not being timely “.