- Commences debate of document today
Senate yesterday adopted President Muhammadu Buhari’s amendments on the 2016 Appropriation Bill presented to the joint session of National Assembly on December 22 last year.
Buhari had requested both chambers of the federal legislature to discard the original budget proposals he presented to them and work with a corrected version of the bill he later made available to them.
In a letter from Buhari, which the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, read on the floor of the Senate, yesterday, he said Buhari indicated that the Presidency would check the proposals to ensure that there were no errors in the detailed breakdown.
He told the lawmakers that necessary corrections had been completed on the budget and that the corrected version of the money bill had also been submitted to the National Assembly.
The President therefore, said that the National Assembly would be given both the original copy he submitted to both chambers last year and the copy containing the corrections to work with in the approval process.
Buhari acknowledged that he was aware of the controversies and confusion the corrections made on the budget proposals had provoked in the polity.
He explained that the draft bill did not change, neither were there any changes in the figures of either the sectoral allocations or the total budget figures.
The letter reads: “It will be recalled that on Tuesday, 22nd December, 2015, I presented my 2016 budget proposals to the joint sitting of the National Assembly. I submitted a draft bill accompanied by a schedule of details.
“At the time of submission, we indicated that because the details had just been produced, we would have had to check to ensure that there were no errors in the detailed breakdown contained in the schedule. That has since been completed and I understand that the corrections have been submitted.
“The National Assembly would therefore have the details as submitted on the 22nd and a copy containing the corrections submitted last week. It appears that this has led to some confusion.
“In this regard, please find attached the corrected version. This is the version the National Assembly should work with as my 2016 budget estimates. The draft bill remains the same and there are no changes in any of the figures.”
In his remarks after reading the letter, the Senate President said that what was paramount in the hearts of Nigerians was the content of the budget and how it would impact on their lives, and not the controversies generated with respect to corrections being made on the bill by the Presidency.
He, therefore, noted that the Senate would commence debate on the budget proposals today and continue tomorrow and Tuesday next week.
Consequently, Saraki directed the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume to ensure that copies of the budget estimates were produced and distributed to members in preparation for debate.
“I think with this we can start our debate as projected as from tomorrow. I think the most important thing as far as Nigerians are concerned is the content of the budget and how it is going to impact on the lives of all of us.
“Senate Leader should, therefore, ensure that copies are distributed to Senators as from today so that we can start the debate tomorrow, continue on Thursday and Tuesday next week.
Meanwhile, the Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said that the letter from the President had vindicated the Upper Chamber in the controversies that raged in the last two weeks over the speculations that the 2016 budget was either missing, withdrawn/or doctored by the Presidency.
It will be recalled that the 2016 Appropriation Bill generated so much controversy in the polity, when it was speculated by the media that the Presidency withdrew the bill from the apex legislative assembly about two weeks ago.
Initially, the Senate denied the rumour and waved it as unfounded. However, it became evident that something was going on about the Appropriation Bill when on Tuesday last week, the Senate rose from a closed door session, with dissenting voices among members.
While some of the Senators, especially those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, emphatically said that the budget was missing from the custody of the Red Chambers, those of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, tried to cover up the uncertainties surrounding the document by saying that it was intact.
However, the Senate President had last Wednesday admitted during plenary that there were some issues about the bill and that an investigative committee had been directed to dig into the controversy and report back to the Senate.
On Thursday last week, the Senate confirmed to Nigerians that the bill had been tampered with and that copies of the doctored version of the document were produced by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang and brought to the Senate.
The Upper Chamber, however, resolved that it would not compromise its honour and integrity by not considering the version of the document in which discrepancies were spotted, insisting that it would get the soft copy of the original bill for its use.
Having received an official communication from the President on the corrections effected, it is believed that the controversies so far generated will be laid to rest, as the National Assembly commences debate on the bill today.