Budget Laying & Democratic Conventions By Nasiru Suwaid
When it happened, many an American citizen situated it as an innocuous mistake or even an innocent misrepresentation, where during the first inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama, on the 20th of January 2009, Chief Justice John G. Roberts incorrectly ‘garbed’ or rather ‘mangled’ some wordings in the constitutionally sacred deed of swearing an oath of office, but most specifically, the particular section that was caused to be mumbled inaudibly was the word ‘faithfully’. Upon realizing the dangerous precedent about to be set, the head of the American judiciary had to call for repeat of the oath swearing for the next day, which is the 21st of January precisely, to guard against the eventuality of some individuals questioning the legality of the oath taken by Obama and the legitimacy of the government formed with such a defectively sworn vow. Unfortunately for the concerned parties in the swearing ceremony imbroglio, the tenure of the outgoing incumbent President George W. Bush, ended on the 12 noon of the 20th January 2009, while President-elect Barack Obama was to be affirmatively re-sworn on the early noon of the 21st of January.
The question that arose was whether the expiration of Bush’s tenure and the none assumption of office of his successor via a validly accepted sworn oath, has not created a huge constitutional crisis, which is the probable ‘existence’ of a leadership vacuum in the White House, more so as legally, the practical act of swearing an oath is the primary measure of the beginning of tenure of any elected political office holder. Fortunately, the assumptive and need I say the presumptive benevolence of political conventions, aided in settling a likely fatalistic legal lacuna, as the constitutional convention in the United States, project rationality in operative change of power, from one to the other, thus automatically, it is to be taken that the moment one administration’s tenure ended, the elected successor immediately assumes its place, with or without the validating swearing-in ceremony. Indeed, the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution affirmed the Convention, where it states; “The term of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January………………..; and the term of the successor shall begin.”
Thus, what the American example is telling us, apart from the fact the United States is operating a similar federal and presidential constitution just like ours, is that even established legal norms could be overridden by conventional wisdom, just like the legality of the laying of 2014 Budget Proposal is highly suspect and clearly unconventional, though, even the lawful latitude of Section 67(2) of the 1999 Constitution, which was used as the authority, to enable the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance to present next year’s budgetary estimates, merely authorized a minister to defend a ministerial portfolio, when invited to the National Assembly. In fact, the other authorizing Section 148(1) of the same self document was actually expressing the discretionary power of Nigerian president to delegate responsibility. While the only appropriate portion of the constitution, that is the Section 81(1), cited to justify the budget laying exercise and which emanated from the Powers and Control over Public Fund, actually mentioned only the president, having powers to cause the preparation and laying to the National Assembly, the revenue and expenditure profile of the succeeding year.
However, even if the democratically and need I say constitutionally inappropriate act were to be justified within the prism of law or legal benevolence of convenience, it is certainly against democratic conventions and a threat to the long held democratic norms and ethos of accountable governance, indirectly a disrespect to the people’s parliament, directly a snub to the people through their elected representatives and most importantly, a sacrilege in a democracy, when a non elected delegate perform a task solely, specifically and constitutionally reserved for the highest elected representative of the people. But and perhaps, some might argue that it is not unique to Nigeria, as in a country like the United Kingdom, it is Secretary of Her Majesty’s Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who traditionally lay the budget in the British House of Commons. It is pertinent to note though, such a government minister, unlike the one heading the finance ministry in Nigeria is an elected member of the parliament and he or she is always accompanied to the legislature, to perform the sacred constitutional duty of budget presentation by the British Prime Minister.
Who in actual fact always performs a historically established parliamentary task of Prime Minister’s Question Time, where the ruling party leader defends Her Majesty’s government policies before the budget presentation exercise is undertaken.
It is most important and noteworthy to observe that budget presentation is more than the projection of fiscal financial expenditure profile of the incoming year or even an agreement on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework of the succeeding years to come, indeed, it is not about the laying of meaningless financial figures or economic indices that are hardly implemented. Rather, it is deeply sober and reflective performance, on the future financial requirement of a nation, most especially, it is a platform and an avenue to reassure the country and its citizens on the social, physical, environmental, security and general challenges confronting the polity, which certainly cannot be undertaken successfully nor performed adequately by a mere appointed public official. Surely this is at the very least, a monumental shirking of presidential responsibility akin to a constitutional gross misconduct.
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