• We’re no rubber stamp, alterations justified –Senate, Reps
Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye; Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, accused the National Assembly of padding the 2018 Appropriation Bill.
Buhari, who spoke during the signing of the Appropritaion Bill into law, expressed regret that the federal lawmakers made reductions amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and inserted 6,403 “alien” projects amounting to N578 billion.
The president said he was compelled to sign the budget in order not to keep the economy continuously on standstill.
“As I mentioned during the presentation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, we intend to use the 2018 budget to consolidate the achievements of previous budgets and deliver on Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020. It is in this regard that I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented.”
Also, Buhari posted on his verified Twitter handle, @MBuhari, “I am however concerned about some of the changes @nassnigeria has made to the budget proposals I presented.
“The logic behind the Constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that, it is the Executive that knows & defines its policies & projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me. The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“As it is, some of these projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the states and local governments, and for which the Federal Government should therefore not be unduly burdened.”
Buhari who noted that many of the projects cut were critical and might be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation, said he would send supplementary budget soon.
He listed some of the projects affected to include the provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project, which he said were cut by an aggregate of N11.5 billion.
Buhari also said provisions for some ongoing critical infrastructure projects in Abuja, especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project were cut by a total of N7.5 billion.
He said the provision for rehabilitation and additional security measures for the United Nations building by the FCT, Abuja, was cut from N4 billion to N100 million.
This, Buhari said, would make it impossible for the Federal Government to fulfill its commitment to the UN on the project.
He added: “The provisions for various strategic interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of N7.45 billion.
“The provision for security infrastructure in the 104 unity schools across the country were cut by N3 billion at a time when securing our students against acts of terrorism ought to be a major concern of government.
“The provision for the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme was cut by N8.7 billion.
“At a time when we are working with labour to address compensation-related issues, a total of N5 billion was cut from the provisions for Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment.
“The provisions for Export Expansion Grant and Special Economic Zones/Industrial Parks, which are key industrialisation initiatives of this administration, were cut by a total of N14.5 billion.
“The provision for construction of the terminal building at Enugu Airport was cut from N2 billion to N500 million which will further delay the completion of this critical project.
“The take-off grant for the Maritime University in Delta State, a key strategic initiative of the Federal Government, was cut from N5 billion to N3.4 billion.
“About 70 new road projects have been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. In doing so, the National Assembly applied some of the additional funds expected from the upward review of the oil price benchmark to the ministry’s vote.
“Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the National Assembly.
“Another area of concern is the increase by the National Assembly of the provisions for statutory transfers by an aggregate of N73.96 billion. Most of these increases are for recurrent expenditure at a time we are trying to keep down the cost of governance.
“An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by N14.5 billion from N25 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the Executive.”
He said he decided to sign the document so that the pace of recovery of the nation’s economy would not be further slowed down.
Buhari said the remedy was to send supplementary or amendment budget soon, expressing the hope that when ready, the National Assembly would give it an expeditious consideration.
The budget signing ceremony was witnessed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma; Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun; Senator Ibn N’alla, who represented Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara who was represented by Ado Doguwa.
The two chambers of the National Assembly passed the budget on May 16, six months after it was presented by the president and transmitted to the Presidency for assent on May 25.
Notwithstanding the delay and alteration, Buhari said he was determined to continue to work with the National Assembly to improve the budgeting process and restore the country to the January-December fiscal cycle.
However, a ranking member of the upper chamber, Na’Allah said he was not worried by the president’s concerns on the budget.
“The job of parliamentarians is a very difficult one. The way the budget came, if we had allowed it to go that way, we would have been in trouble with those who elected us. You have to balance between the six geopolitical zones.”
In its reaction, the House of Representatives said the alteration was done in the exercise of its constitutional powers.
In a statement by the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrasak Namdas, the House said the additional projects were aimed at meeting the needs of the people.
“The legislature is not expected to be a rubber-stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable.”
“… We have to remind Mr. President that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positively. Some of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man,” he said.
On the budget of the National Assembly, Namdas explained: “Before 2015, the budget of the National Assembly was N150 billion for several years. It was cut down to N120 billion in 2015 and further down to N115 billion in 2016. In 2017, the budget was N125 billion and N139.5 billion in 2018. This means that the budget of the National Assembly is still far below the N150 billion in the years before 2015.”
Also reacting, Doguwa defended the alterations, saying, “certainly, you wouldn’t expect us to just rubber stamp and just bring it back. We have to do the nitty-gritty of budget consideration. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well and we have done what we think is the right thing to do to deliver on the expectations and the mandate bestowed on us by the people of our constituencies.”
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has said President Buhari’s claim that the 2018 budget, “will be near un-implementable,” was an admission that he lacked the capacity to implement it.
According to PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan: “President Buhari, in picking holes on items that would directly impact on economic productivity, infrastructural advancement, rural development as well as those that would provide urgent palliatives to the plights of Nigerians, shows his aversion to developmental economy as well as insensitivity to the welfare of our citizens.
“In fact, President Buhari, in his comments on the budget has further de-marketed our economy before international investors, thereby worsening our woes as a nation.
“How on earth can a president, if indeed he loves the people, quarrel over budgetary items seeking to cushion the biting effect of the economic recession, particularly for the poor, who are the direct victims of the harsh policies of his incompetent administration?
“Furthermore, President Buhari’s resort to blaming the National Assembly for his inability to exert himself as a leader and ensure smooth implementation of the budget, further shows that he cares little about the actual needs of the people, having holed in himself in the comfort, security and pleasures of the presidential villa,” the PDP said.
It tasked the National Assembly to ensure strict implementation of the 2018 budget.