RESPECT INTELLECTUAL LABOUR

National Assembly has to respect CRA over Division of Revenue standoff

We are in this stalemate because we somehow don't want to listen to the CRA, despite the fact that it was expressly created by the Constitution to advise we in government and Parliament at a moment like this.

In Summary

• The makers of the Constitution assumed that the intellectual labour of CRA would be respected by all those involved in allocating public finances for the public good. A

• This is the wrong assumption that was made.

County Governors led by CoG Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya speak outside the Supreme Court after lodging a case seeking the apex court's intervention in unlocking the current impasse on the Division of Revenue Bill 2019 on July 15, 2019.
County Governors led by CoG Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya speak outside the Supreme Court after lodging a case seeking the apex court's intervention in unlocking the current impasse on the Division of Revenue Bill 2019 on July 15, 2019.
Image: JAMES MBAKA

The trouble is we rarely take intellectual labour seriously in implementing public policy.

Very often we in government access serious research and analyses on how we should frame public policy. In practice, however, these ideas sit in our shelves while we implement very strange things that, if you ask me, don't make any sense. Reason? We are pursuing goals other than public interest.

Let me take this simple issue of dividing public money between the national and the county governments. Why is it such a complicated task? Because people are pursuing goals other than the public interest. They come to the negotiating table with all kinds of cards under the table, exposing some by mistake when the intellect and the heart are at crossroads in the same person. Jameni, this is a serious matter.

But let me go back to the genesis and evolution of this raging debate on the Division of Revenue Bill. Where did it begin and where is it heading?

It started with our Constitution, where we established a very sound principle of creating "two levels of government, separate but interdependent." Then we added a schedule that very clearly separated the functions performed by these two levels of government. These were very neat products of intellectual labour by the Committee of Experts, who put the original document together.

Then a fundamental question was posed. How would these two levels of government that are separate but interdependent perform their functions?

The answer was again provided by saying that at least 15 per cent of the nation's budget would be allocated to the counties. How to arrive at this "at least" was then given to a special institution performing intellectual labour continuously to advise the two levels of government and Parliament on how to do this year in year out.

This special institution was named "the Commission of Revenue Allocation. The makers of the Constitution assumed that the intellectual labour of this commission would be respected by all those involved in allocating public finances for the public good. And this is the wrong assumption that was made. I will tell you why.

You see the word "at least" gives in to too much discretion, and the rational application of discretion assumes that public policy implementers, in Parliament and Executive, will always take into account the public good. Very often, this is not the case because of a plethora of reasons. I will illustrate this for you.

The commission started its work by laying down one very fundamental principle of dividing the money between the two levels of government as provided for in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution on the division of functions. The principle was very simple: Resources follow functions. And where functions are obviously shared between the two levels, the commission was given the mandate by the Constitution to advise Parliament and the two levels of government on how the arithmetic of dividing resources should be done. 

WHY NATIONAL ASSEMBLY, COUNTIES ARE AT LOGGERHEADS

How come then that Parliament and the two levels of government must be at loggerheads every year when the issue of dividing resources is at stake? 

First, because we somehow don't want to listen to the CRA, despite the fact that it was expressly created by the Constitution to advise we in government and Parliament at a moment like this.

At such a moment the National Assembly chooses to read the Constitution selectively by emphasising the fact that money bills are its sole domain. But can money bills be fairly arrived at without the intellectual input of the CRA? Can you reasonably arrive at a Division of Revenue Bill without the "divider" of that revenue having a substantial input, i.e. the CRA advising you on how to divide? Jameni, let us be honest with ourselves. As the Nigerians say "let us speak vernacular to one another".

But you will realise that when the National Assembly needs the CRA most, that is when some of its erstwhile members  begin to call it names, offering those honourable gentlemen and women no room to reply since the mass of the spoken word from the Wabunge at that point in time is so thick in  the oral atmosphere that nothing  else can penetrate it. But let me retrace my steps.

From where I started, I think we could have avoided coming to where we are today simply by accepting an architectural fault in our Constitution that the phrase "at least 15 per cent" will not help us in the Division of Revenue in the future. As we review our Constitution, let us not allow this discretion with or without the CRA in our next constitutional dispensation.

Second, if we retain the CRA — which I think we should — then we should shield it from the rather awkward subordination to Parliament and the National Treasury. It is very sadistic to create a responsibility for an institution and then proceed to make a mockery of the people working there. 

Third, let us be honest with ourselves. We have not been very good at reforming our laws to keep in touch with certain cardinal principles of good governance and good management of public resources as laid down in our Constitution. Year in year out, intellectuals and researchers have pointed out some inconsistencies between our Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

I am almost sure that the CRA is appraised of all these issues and it can easily advise on the way forward if Parliament can care to listen to it. Some of these issues do not need constitutional review. They need a simple harmonisation between our existing laws and the supreme law.

And finally, and this is my sincere plea. Let us stop political posturing, chest thumping and name-calling as leaders if we want this nation to move forward.

God gave us brains to think and not simply to shout so that we can be heard several miles away even when what we are talking about amounts to nothing but self-aggrandisement. The dictum "politicians are people who speak with their mouths open and their minds closed" is a very heavy burden that some of us are bearing rather unfairly. 

Let us seize some opportunity to put this heavy burden somewhere at the foot of the cross of reason before we drop dead down the hole of public wrath, which is fast gathering like a thunderstorm against the political class.