The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has reiterated the need to subject Appropriation Bills to public hearing to promote transparency and enable Nigerians and experts to make inputs before they are passed into law.
He also said the National Assembly was cautious not to pass any law that would muzzle the civil society in view of the need to strengthen the synergy between the legislature and the civil society groups as well as enhance their effectiveness in the polity.
He made the call in Abuja, Wednesday, at the National Conference on the Role of the Legislature in the Fight Against Corruption in Nigeria.
Ekweremadu, who chaired the session on “The Legislature and the Civil Society: Making the Feedback Process Count”, said the Appropriation Bill was about the most important Bill in a democracy, shaping patterns of development, and deployment of resources, and as such needed to be subjected to public scrutiny.
He explained: “The Appropriation Bill or Budget Bill is one of the most important Bills in any democracy. If less important Bills are subjected to public hearings, I see no reason a strategic Bill like the Appropriation Bill should not also pass through public hearing to make room for wider consultations and technical inputs by communities, and institutions who are even the end beneficiaries of the projects provided for in such budget.
“I have been canvassing this for quite sometime now. However, I must say that one of the key challenges or setbacks is late submission of Appropriation Bills to the National Assembly by the Executive. If we get the Bills early, and do not have to process them in a hurry, then the chances of subjecting them to public hearings would be high. This is something we have to do to enrich our appropriation system and budget implementation”.
The Senator reiterated that the appearance of heads of Ministries, Agencies, and Departments, (MDAs) before the respective parliamentary committees to defend their appropriation proposals was not the same thing as a public hearing where people, the civil society, experts, and institutions with superior information and capacity are accorded a platform to make inputs into the budget.
He further disagreed with the constitutional provision that allows the executive to spend up to six months into a new fiscal year based on the previous or receding year’s budget as an aberration, noting that that was one of the reasons the executive could afford to delay budget proposals, which denies Nigerians the opportunity to subject the Appropriation Bills to a thorough examination.
Ekweremadu also emphasised that only an anti-corruption war perceived as just could enjoy popular support, maintaining that the onus was on the civil society, in particular, to ensure there was no mismanagement of the anti-graft crusade.
He added: “We must ensure that it is not selective or dented; we must ensure it is responsible, fair, equitable, just, and not targeted at any particular individuals, groups, or sections of the country.
“If people see that the water flowing from the anti-graft war is contaminated by nepotism and witch-hunt, they will lose faith and government will lose their cooperation. The nation will rely heavily on the civil society organisations to hold the government accountable and ensure that this does not happen”.