The latest controversy on the 2016 budget is on whether the N60billion Lagos-Calabar rail project was included in the original proposal submitted for consideration. Olugbenga Salami brings the issues on disagreement between the executive and legislature.
It is no longer news that the N6.08trillion 2016 budget has been the most controversial in the history of Nigeria. It all started with the allegation and counter allegation of being missed, stolen and withdrawal after President MuhammaduBuhari presented it to the joint session of National Assembly on December 23, 2015.
Just after Nigerian National Assembly announced the suspension of the deadline date initially set for the passing of the 2016 budget. The budget, which has been deliberated upon by the National Assembly earlier, contains different anomalies and inconsistent figures.The integrity of the budget, and the people who prepared it, has been questioned as an indictment on the “change” mantra promulgated by Nigeria’s present administration. The February 25 deadline for passing the budget was suspended before it was eventually passed weeks after.
Earlier, the issue of “lost but found” budget episode had happened in January and followed by its alleged withdrawal and re-presentation to the National Assembly by the President. Even after it was eventually ‘found’ and many Nigerians thought the federal legislators would sit down for business of debating the document for quick passage, the issue of padding soon started and this again delayed the defence by ministries, agencies and departments, MDAs.
The latest furore surrounding the budget is issue of inclusion or non-inclusion of the N60 billion Lagos-Calabar coastal rail projects in the document.
Minister of Transportation, Mr.RotimiAmaechi had claimed that the project was part of the ministry’s budget presented to the National Assembly, but the Senate on Monday said it was not included in the original proposal it submitted for consideration. The Red Chamber therefore asked the executive to appreciate it for passing a budget it said was full of flaws in many aspects. Its reaction came against the backdrop of claims by the executive that it removed the project in the budget.
In clarifying the issue, the chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator OlugbengaAshafa (APC Lagos East) said the project was not contained in the original budget submitted by President Buhari, adding that Amaechi only presented the project in a proposal to his committee.
On his part, a member of the committee, Senator LanreTejuoso (APC Ogun East) said the committee discussed it and made appropriate recommendation to the Senate Committee on Appropriation for its funding but wondered why it was not contained in the final budget.
But the Presidency, through the Senior Special Assistant to the National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, explained that President Buhari delayed assent on the budget to give room for wider consultation.
As the controversy rages, the Senate has vowed that in spite of protest by the executive over non-inclusion of the rail project in the 2016 budget, it would not revisit the budget it passed two weeks ago. Instead, it asked the President to prepare a detailed supplementary budget capturing the project and submit before it for consideration.
This was part of the decision taken during its closed-door session, shortly after resumption of plenary where the upper legislative chamber insisted that Buhari must sign the budget as passed, thus giving indication that the legislature may override the President if he witholds his assent.
The closed-door session, where the resolution was taken, was reportedly clouded in heated arguments as some senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, insisted on capturing the rail project in the budget while those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP stood firm that the president must assent to the budget and later submit the project in a supplementary budget.
Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu SabiAbdullahi told journalists in Abuja that he has to verify his facts on the matter so as not to go to the press with falsehood. He advised the executive not to instigate Nigerians against the legislature, saying “enough is enough”.
He said: “I have to verify my facts. I have to get my facts and to speak on these facts; and I think we have made that point very clear and we would definitely remain guided by the tenets of the Nigerian Constitution as we do whatever we are supposed to do.
“Now, one thing that is obvious is that yes, we have passed the budget, Nigerians are asking what next for us. What is important now is for the budget to be signed.
“The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations and Section 81 of the Constitution is very clear on what you need to do, which is to sign the budget and then submits a supplementary appropriation.
“I want to assure you that the Senate is not unmindful of the cries of Nigerians that we said for example, the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very, very important project for this nation to embark on.
“And so, the National Assembly, the Senate is open if the executive brings a supplementary appropriation with respect to this and any other issue that they feel very strongly about, we are ready and willing to consider such. But the most important point to note is that we want to remain guided by the provisions of the constitution”, Abdullahi stressed.
The senate spokesperson maintained that the budget as sent by the executive was not passable, saying the National Assembly considered it because of the suffering of Nigerians.
“We are Nigerians and we are representing Nigeria. It is our duty to appropriate and that is what we did by virtue of the constitution. One thing I want to say is that all of us are aware the kind of budget submitted by the executive. We are aware that when it came, we had two versions.
“Those two versions, did they emanate from Nigerians or the National Assembly? It emanated from the executive. At the end of the day, we came up with a project that will have the overall interest of Nigeria. If anything, I want to believe that the National Assembly has been magnanimous and this showed the patriotism in the way we approached and handled this 2016 budget.
“You will recall like we said, I have not seen the reactions, we have not seen the details of whatever their comments are on the budget. For example, the one you talked about- Lagos-Calabar rail is not even included in the budget that was submitted to us. What was not there, how come suddenly we were the ones to remove the project?
“I think these are questions that we should ask and I think the Minister of Transportation should hear. The documents are public documents and all of you have access to it. You can also verify like the Senate. The committee chairman on appropriation of the House said that you should go and verify the document that was with us and bring it out and show us where it was included in the budget”, he explained.
Some members of the National Assembly had argued that the corrected version of the N6.08trillion budget proposal submitted to it was wasteful, fraudulent and unrealistic. The lawmakers explained that the budget was too high for a government talking about cutting cost.
They argued that N3, 914,197, 062 billion meant for annual maintenance of Aso Villa facilities was not in the first budget document. Also, the N228.6million for sourcing and purchasing equipment (purchase and importation), which was not in the first budget was contained in the corrected version.
While the lawmakers said the budget only made projections for heavy revenues through massive borrowing without serious plans for the repayment of such loans, they also criticized the idea of borrowing N500m daily to fund the budget.
Specifically, they said earmarking N4billion to Aso Rock clinic, N536million to link cables from drivers’ rest room, guest house to the Aso Villa and N795million for website update were all fraudulent.
But the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma UdoUdoma, has said that the 2016 budget proposals submitted to the National Assembly by President Buhari were very well structured and targeted at reviving the economy, notwithstanding the fall in the oil price. The proposals, he added, have received general commendation.
Udoma, however, explained in a statement to set the record straight over the controversial budget, that details of the document were developed using the Zero Based Budget, ZBB, stressing that “it is a new concept to our Budget Officers away from our traditional envelop process”. He also pointed out that, the Budget staffs in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, as well as those handling budget issues in all MDAs is still grappling to master the technicalities in the ZBB template.
The minister, therefore, stated that, some errors in the budget are not unexpected in the change over to the new ZBB approach, which he said was the reason the Ministry arranged for the proposals to be placed on the website of the Ministry of Budget and National planning to expose them to Public scrutiny.
However, the latest controversy on the Lagos-Calabar rail project seems to have again raised the issue of competence and credibility of President Buhari and his cabinet members that took him about six months to assemble because, ironically, he wanted to choose credible and competent Nigerians.
Many Nigerians are seeing the President’s 2016 budget of change as a budget of confusion and wanted him to urgently see to the revival of the nation’s economy from being plunged into a state of comatose..