Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Fresh uncertainty over 2016 Budget.

Another cloud of uncertainty is hanging over the 2016 Budget estimates approved by the National Assembly last Thursday as the Appropriation Bill may not be signed into law for full implementation any time soon. 

Instead, there may ensue a showdown between the Presidency and the National Assembly on the budget. Investigations by Vanguard had revealed that the lawmakers may have played a fast one on the Presidency by transmitting only the highlights of the budget and kept the details in their custody. Release of the budget highlights without details makes it difficult for President Muhammadu Buhari to know what adjustments were made by the lawmakers. 

To this end, it was learned that the President and his ministers, who investigations revealed, were eager to sign and begin implementation, are now boxed into a corner. Investigations further revealed the Budget Office, which also needs the details to work with, is handicapped at the moment. This gives an impression that it was either the budget was not well tidied up or that by approving the estimates three months after it was laid, the National Assembly had left itself off the worry of Nigerians and now passed the buck to the President, who is not likely to sign the bill into law until the details were made available to him. 

Vanguard gathered that the development was fast prompting a face-off and crisis of confidence between the Presidency and National Assembly which may delay the passage of the budget to the detriment of Nigerians. Efforts to contact spokesmen of the President, Messrs Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, for confirmation last night proved abortive as they could not be reached on phone. 

Text messages sent to their mobile phones were also unreplied. However, a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara South), said yesterday that full details of the passed 2016 Appropriation Bill were with President Muhammadu Buhari for assent. In a text message to Vanguard last night, Senator Ibrahim who is also Chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, said the bill was at the moment going through a process. His words: “There is nothing like the President refusing assent to the Appropriation Bill. We worked closely with the executive in passing the bill. We are aware it is going through the normal process before the President assents. “If anybody tells you that the President refuses to assent, let the person tell you the reason. The Appropriation Bill is already with the Executive with full details.” 

It will be recalled that the National Assembly, upon the passage of the budget, slashed the estimate from the original N6.08 trillion to N6.06 trillion. However, while presenting the report on the budget at the plenary for consideration in the Senate, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, had noted that the budget was filled with controversies, and many lapses. He added that if the Senate had insisted on clearing up the lapses, the committee would not have been able to meet up with the deadline of submission. The Senate said its approval of the 2016 fiscal document was due to its satisfaction that the country would benefit if it was passed into law. 

He had said: “This budget is full of controversies and we did not want to have more controversies or else it won’t have been presented today and the National Assembly would be blamed. The people would not understand it because people are even saying that we are playing politics. “This budget exercise was a follow-up negotiation, going forward and back. When the budget was presented as attested by many committees, there were strategies discovered that couldn’t close the personnel cost in various committees and these were highlighted by various committees and the total amount involved was presented to the executive during our interaction with the budget office.

“We presented that these are the shortfalls from personnel and other overhead cost which we believe should be taken care of. So, because this budget is full of controversies, we didn’t want to add more controversies and if we added more controversy, the report wouldn’t have been submitted today and the National Assembly would be blamed for delaying this budget. That is why we did everything possible to ensure that we beat the deadline in bringing it today.’’ But members of the House of Representatives, yesterday, shared divergent views on the President’s alleged refusal to sign the 2016 Appropriation Bill sent by the National Assembly last week. 

While some of the lawmakers argued that it was not possible to send an empty budget proposal to the President, others argued that though they had not been fully briefed on the issue, that if it was true, then the President was right. 

 It’s mere speculation —Minority Leader, Leo Ogor Ogor, who represents Isoko Federal Constituency in his reaction, said it was virtually impossible to send the Appropriation Bill to President Muhammadu Buhari without details, noting that it was contrary to the convention of the National Assembly. He said: “I want to believe that it is mere speculation that we sent such a sensitive bill to Mr. President without the necessary details. “What we sent was a detailed budget that will make the President congratulate us for a job well done and that it is not possible for us to do such a thing, such an action is contrary to Section 59 of the 1999 Constitution as amended and is against our convention.”

The President is right if it is true—Emmanuel Ekon, PDP, Akwa Ibom Ekon in his contribution simply said “though I’ve not been fully briefed but if it is true that what we sent does not have details, then to an extent the President is right”. Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Austin Chukwukere when contacted on his mobile phone, said he did not have any knowledge of such. Chukwukere, who represents Ideato Federal Constituency of Imo State on the platform of the APC said: “I can’t react to this because I don’t have any information about it, it is only when I have the information that I will be able to react to it.” Also reacting to this, Anayo Nwonu (PDP, Ebonyi) said: “The point there is that the National Assembly budget is very transparent. If he says he will not give his assent until the National Assembly gives a break down of its budget, it is democracy, every thing should be open to Nigerians. It is the duty of the leadership to provide the information. The leadership is transparent and is ready to do that.


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