Tuesday 20 May 2008

Nigeria: Splitting hairs on Senate funding

The intent is clear

This is an update to the blog I wrote yesterday about the directive of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) advising Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA) about providing funds to other organs of government which should for their purposes be fully-funded for their activities.

In what is looking like splitting hairs, the spokesperson of the Nigerian Senate is now trying to interpret that message and achieve an understanding that is clearly not the intent of the SGF.

Live within your means

The fundamental principle simply is, every organ of government should be fully funded or prudently manage their budget to facilitate whatever activities they need to carry out within the law and their legal remits.

If that organ of government does not have sufficient funds, it should apply to its line of management to secure sufficient funds or can the proposed activity – it is a commonsense idea of living within your means.

Conflicts of interest

The National Assembly serves the dual purpose of enacting laws and providing oversight; to fulfil all righteousness in carrying out its duties, it should clearly be financially and structurally independent of the other arms of government.

Regardless of rules of engagement, it is only proper and ethical to avoid situations where the slightest influence can be leveraged through MDAs facilitating or offering funds to the legislative organs of government.

In fact, it is disingenuous of the Senate to expect that MDAs sponsor or facilitate so-called capacity building exercises which are to ensure the Senate delivers on its constitutionally authorised duties of oversight.

There are too many avenues for abuse if the budgets of any of the Senate committees are not completely under the purview of the Senate administration.

Maturing into an example democracy

Regardless of examples the Senate portends to happen in other legislatures in the world, the concept of facilitation should strictly be the availability of personnel, information and access to whatever is needed to ensure the legislature has all the detail necessary to reach the right conclusions for government.

Nobody would be against that, the monetary aspect should be completely off the table, if only to protect the fragile state of our democracy that is still trying to mature into one that fully recognises the rule of law and the principle of separation of powers.

Nigeria runs a presidential system of government, the government should not then allow for obfuscation that makes it appear it is running parliamentary system – the separation of powers including funding for facilitation must be sacrosanct.

Clear intent

I think the clear intent of the SGF was to prevent budgets within the Executive being imprudently disbursed to organs outside its control; this would definitely include the legislature and the judiciary.

Each organ has a job to do, if they cannot get their jobs done due to insufficient funding, the planners need to review their projections and make contingencies for unexpected circumstances – the law should clearly require that MDAs have no right to pass moneys out to the National Assembly.

There should be no debate on that matter at all.

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