NATIONAL Assembly and the Presidency may be heading for a showdown over the 2017 budget as strong indications emerged yesterday that the senate may refuse to pass the document due to what it described as empty content of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF. The 2016 budget almost caused trouble between the two arms of government before its eventual passage into law in May this year, six months after presentation, by the legislature. The first of such problems for the 2017 budget yet to be presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari was the 2017-2019 MTEF supposedly containing projections and parameters upon which the budget estimates are to be based, already described as empty by the Senate. The alleged emptiness of the MTEF document forwarded to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 30th of September this year was declared yesterday by the Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume. Ndume, who rose through a point of order to call the attention of the Senate to a report in one of the national dailies on Wednesday where the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, was said to have blamed the National Assembly for the delay in the presentation of the budget by President Muhammadu Buhari, said the Presidency and not the National Assembly was delaying the budget presentation. According to him, the MTEF document upon which the budget projections and parameters are to be based is empty and efforts made so far to get the Budget and National Planning Minister into an interface with us over the document proved abortive. He said: “We received the MTEF on 30th September instead of submitting it according to law by 1st of September. That is not even the problem. The problem is the content. I have a copy, I went through and the copies have been circulated. I talked to some experts. Even in this chamber, we have people we can call experts. “If you look at this document that they call MTEF, it is empty; it is empty and it doesn’t contain anything. If you have nothing, how do you consider something? “Going through and knowing that it is empty, on October 19, I forwarded a letter to the Minister
to meet the Senate on way out but he failed to turn up on Tuesday, the 1st of this month the meeting was slated for. “The third paragraph of the letter I wrote to him states thus, to enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from a holistic fiscal perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, 1st November. “Before then, I said, ‘You are requested to please send the following documents ahead of the meeting because that is what will make us to have something to consider, but he refused to honour any of the requests physically and materially”. He therefore requested the Senate to deliberate on the report credited to the Minister against the National Assembly as regards the 2017 budget, saying “we cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with this blame game”. But the Senate President, Bukola Saraki quickly rescued the Minister from possible assaults from Senators by informing them that the Minister told him that he didn’t make such declaration to any reporter and that he would issue a rebuttal later.
“I think it is important that I share some information on this because I too saw this article yesterday (Wednesday) in the newspapers and I also take up on the minister why this was done and he denied the article and promised that he was going to make a statement to debunk it. He sent me an email saying that he never gave the interview. “Be that as it may, I think the matter is serious enough for the Leader to have raised the issue. I have not seen it in the papers today but I will take him by his words. But again, when those kinds of statements come out, the denial is sometimes not seen”. He however applauded the leader for raising the issue, saying “all the information being requested from the executive as regards the 2017 budget are very necessary for the processes to run without anybody indulging in blame game. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and Senator Bassey Akpan also commented on the allegation, positing that the National Assembly should remain focused in its parliamentary services and leadership to the Country regardless of periodic attempts from certain quarters to run it down.

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