Face-off! Court didn’t validate National Assembly’s bid to increase budget –Falana
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), on Tuesday faulted the claim that a Federal High Court in Abuja had, last year, affirmed the power of the National Assembly to increase budgetary estimates submitted to it by the President.
Falana was the plaintiff in the suit in which Justice Gabriel Kolawole delivered the judgment cited by those who believed that the power of the National Assembly to alter the executive’s budgetary estimates had been recognised by the court.
But the senior lawyer said in a statement on Tuesday, “In the entire 22-page judgment, the learned trial judge never said that the National Assembly has the power to increase any budget proposal submitted to it by the President.
“On the contrary, the Federal High Court made it categorically clear that the National Assembly lacks the legislative powers to prepare ‘budget estimates’ for the President or ‘disregard the budget proposals laid before it and substitute it with its own estimates’.”
He said despite dismissing the suit on the grounds that he, the plaintiff, lacked the locus standi to institute it, the court concurred with the submissions he canvassed in the suit.
He also said he had initiated an appeal to challenge the dismissal of the suit.
He said, “Even though I have taken the legal battle over the dismissal of the case to the Court of Appeal, I wish to state, without any fear of contradiction, that the learned trial judge concurred with my submission that the Constitution has not vested the National Assembly with powers to increase the budget.”
Although Falana said Justice Kolawole stated in the judgment that the National Assembly was not expected to be a ‘rubber stamp parliament,’ the senior lawyer alleged that the statement of the judge was twisted to give a “misleading” impression that the power of the National Assembly to increase budgetary estimates had been recognised by court.
He said, “No doubt, the learned trial judge said the National Assembly is not a rubber stamp parliament.
“The incontestable statement has since been twisted to give the very erroneous impression that the power of the National Assembly to increase the budget has been judicially recognised.
“Thus, in a press statement credited to the National Assembly last week, it was reported that ‘The Federal High Court has ruled that the National Assembly has the power to increase or review upward the budget estimates laid before it by the executive.’
“With respect, the summary of the decision of the Court by the National Assembly is grossly misleading.”
Falana who quoted the relevant portions of Justice Kolawole’s judgment, said by acknowledging that the National Assembly was not a rubber stamp parliament, the court recognised the duty of the legislature “to debate and make its informed inputs” into the the President’s budget proposals.
But he said nowhere in the judgment did the court say “that the National Assembly has the power to increase or insert new items like constituency projects into the budget estimates contained in any Appropriation Bill or Supplementary Bill prepared and submitted to it by the President.”
According to him, sections 13 and 18 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act No 31 of 2007, have addressed the lacuna in section 81 of the Constitution which provides for how the National Assembly should handle the executive’s budgetary proposal. Punch