Oversight: Senate Reads Riot Act To Heads Of Mdas

CHUKWU DAVID reports that the 10th Senate is evolving a new strategy to compel recalcitrant heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government to honour its invitations or summons by any of its standing committees given their disregard for such in the past

One of the critical statutory functions of the Legislature, is to oversight or supervise activities of the executive arm of government to ensure judicious management of the country’s resources, especially as it relates to spending of public funds in execution of capital and recurrent components of annual or supplementary appropriations. In order to effectively carry out this constitutional obligation, the Senate, in this case, through its committees, either visits relevant MDAs or summons heads of such agencies which attention is needed, to appear before the legislative body to provide needed information in the oversight process.

However, over the years, the National Assembly, whether the Senate or the House of Representatives, has been having unpleasant experiences with some of the agencies, as their chief executive officers usually ignore, and most times practically shun invitations by the legislative institution, thereby frustrating attempts by the lawmakers to put the executive arm in check. In the wisdom of the framers of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there should be separation of power among the three arms of government, namely: the executive, legislature and judiciary.

It is the strict adherence to the spirit and letters of this fundamental philosophy that facilitates effective checks and balances among these branches of government. Although there is no perfect or rigid implementation of the concept of separation of power anywhere in the world, not even in any of the most advanced democracies of the world, some countries, however, do better than others in respecting the independence of the three arms of government. In Nigeria, the story is pathetic, as the executive arm tends to lord it over the legislative and judicial arms.

In fact, in recent times, the executive arm appears to have usurped the powers of the legislature and the judiciary, thereby making them mere appendages, which only do the bidding of their master. This tends to explain why heads of MDAs, sometimes, demonstrate outright disrespect for the parliament, by disobeying its invitations or directives. The story is virtually a daily occurrence between the National Assembly and the MDAs.

Senate’s directive MTEF/FSP

Concerned by this worrisome trend, and in an effort to end it, the Senate, last week, called on President Bola Tinubu to sack any head of government establishment, who refuses to physically attend the on-going interactive sessions on the 2024-2026 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP). The President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, personally made the call, while declaring open the interactive session jointly organised by its Committees on Finance, Appropriations, National Planning, and Local and Foreign Debts.

He said: “If you don’t plan how to succeed then you have planned to fail. I therefore, remind our committee that any serious appointee or any head of any agency that is interested in the success of President Bola Tinubu’s administration ought to be here.” Accordingly, he directed the chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Sani Musa, to furnish him with the list of all the heads of agencies, who were invited for the ongoing interactive sessions on the 2024-2026 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, but failed to attend.

He said: “The chairman of the lead Committee (Finance), should give me the list of all the heads of agencies that you invited and who have failed to show up in this session. This is the beginning of their failure in their various offices. Any head of agency that sends representation here is not a serious person, and therefore, the President must take a second look at such a person’ s appointment. “It is not a threat but the truth. I shelved even my appointment to appear in Owerri today for the final rally of my party and all other schedules that I have to make sure that I appear, so that we strategize on how we can succeed.”

He noted that the 2024-2026 MTEF/FSP is being considered at a time that events at the global scene and locally, were putting massive negative financial and socio- economic pressure on Nigeria from most development indices. Akpabio stated that, internationally, the intractable Russian-Ukraine war and the sudden Israeli-Palestine war were having international economic repercussions that have consequences for the nation’s economic outlook.

He argued that for Nigeria to achieve a balance to reduce budget deficits, required the country to look inward towards increased revenue generation, block leakages and place restraints on what were generally frivolous expenditures by MDAS, particularly Government-Owned Enterprises (GOES). His words: “The 2024-2026 MTEF/FSP is being considered at a time that events at the global scene and locally, are putting massive negative financial and socio- economic pressure on Nigeria from most development indices. Internationally, the intractable Russian-Ukraine war and the sudden Israeli-Palestine war are having international economic repercussions that have consequences for our economic outlook.

“In addition, we are in the throes of the immediate effects of needed reform in our foreign exchange system and the equally needed removal of subsidy on petroleum products. Couple with the security challenges confronting the nation, there is no doubt that we must be painstaking and bold in economic projections and policies to stimulate employment and economic growth. “While we acknowledge that majority of our people are going through very difficult times in their daily lives at present, we are very hopeful that in the medium term and in the long run, Nigerian economy is bound to rebound for reliefs to majority of our people.

“In pursuant of this goal, I want to encourage a frank and honest discussions of all the parameters and indices contained in the 2024- 2026 MTEF/FSP. We must not shy away from confronting the economic challenges facing the nation and the 2024- 2026 MTEF/FSP should be a platform to guide our subsequent actions. “Given the progress made in our public finance with the reforms of our financial system through passage of four Finance Acts (2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022), we must continue to bring our financial legislation up to speed for increased revenue, removal of ambiguities and redress- ing socio- economic imbalances to favour the downtrodden.

“There is no doubt that the passage of the various Finance Acts are yielding results for government revenues and providing succor for the low-income earners and small and medium scale sectors of the economy among other fiscal and regulatory benefits. We are hopeful that the reforms and future enactments will continue to bring our financial legislations up to date. “In view of our current realities, borrow- ing cannot be totally avoided. But it is apparent that the borrowing trends cannot be allowed to continue unchecked and conscious efforts must be made to reduce budget deficits.

Achieving a balance to reduce budget deficits requires us to look inward towards increased revenue generation, blocking of leakages and restraints on what are generally frivolous expenditures by MDAS, particularly the Government Owned Enterprises (GOES). “We are convinced that the GOES can do better in terms of revenue and it is noteworthy that various reforms are being introduced to centralize the channel of payment of revenues by these agencies to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government. “On this note, I hereby declare this interactive session open and look forward to a robust session and a report for the consideration and approval by the Senate.”

None/delayed remittances

Similarly, the Senate also cautioned the MDAs on none and delayed remittances of internally generated revenue into the Consolidated Revenue Account (CRA). The chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Sani Musa, made gave the charge at day two of the interactive session on Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) with revenue generating agencies. Senator Sani, who was responding to presentation of the Nigerian Institute of Legal and Advanced Studies and the Nigerian Maritime Academy on delayed remittances to the CRA said MDAs must take issues of remittance seriously.

He directed the MDAs to present a breakdown of their revenue collection and remittances from January to date to the Committee, saying that the MDAs were aware that any action in breach of financial regulations was a breach of the law. According to him, agencies must work towards remitting the revenue due to government upon collection without delay, while requesting that all receipts of remittances be made available to the committee. Musa, who raised issues of disparity of revenue projections and remittances based on presentations of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and presentation by Office of Accountant General for the Federation, also urged the Accountant General of the Federation to interface with MDAs for reconciliation of remittances made and revenue projections in the MTEF and FSP.

He also requested for detailed breakdown of remittances arising from revenue collected from stamp duties by the MDAs, stating that there was need for proper reconciliation of the remittances in line with the nation’s financial laws and Fiscal Responsibility Act. With the pressure from the Senate on the MDAs, it is expected that the heads of these establishments will turn a new leaf, and pave the way for the lawmakers to effectively and efficiently carry out their oversight responsibilities on the institutions.

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