Buhari, National Assembly’s Fight over 2016 Budget Continues

THE crisis between President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly over the 2016 budget has worsened as the executive has discovered fresh padding of the fiscal document by the lawmakers.

Sunday PUNCH reliably learnt on Saturday that only one minister did not have problems with the budget when it was discussed at the emergency Federal Executive meeting presided over by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on Friday.

It was learnt that the lawmakers reduced amounts allocated to some major projects and inserted what was not originally included in the budget by the executive.

A top civil servant, who confided in Sunday PUNCH said, “Only one minister did not have any problem with the budget details the National Assembly submitted to the President.

“There are instances, where they completely removed projects and padded the budget by inserting theirs. The lawmakers should know that the budget is the document of the executive and it takes responsibility for it.”

It was learnt that at the FEC meeting that many key aspects of the budget on government’s infrastructural programmes were removed.

One of such, it was gathered, was the coastal railway project. Findings showed that Calabar-Lagos rail project was removed from the budget by the lawmakers.

The senior civil servant, who confided in Sunday PUNCH, said, “The coastal railway project is one of the reasons the President is in China. N60bn counterpart funding has been provided.

“We are working on two major rail arteries. The Lagos-Kano line and the Calabar – Lagos line. While the Lagos-Kano provision was left intact by the National Assembly, the Calabar – Lagos line was removed.”

The projects will be jointly financed by the Federal Government and China.

It was learnt that the FEC meeting noticed that the amount proposed for the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail project, was also reduced by N8.7bn.

It was gathered that the executive observed that the reduction would make the completion of the project difficult.

The civil servant stated, “Another major area noticed was the completion of on-going road projects. While the executive in the budget provided for the completion of all major road projects, the National Assembly reduced the amounts budgeted for them and instead, inserted new road projects which studies have not even been conducted.

“The amounts allocated by the National Assembly for the projects can neither complete the ongoing projects nor the new ones. At the end of 2016, no significant progress would have been made.

“Another major flaw in the budget is in the health sector. Proposals made for the purchase of essential drugs for major health issues such as Polio and AIDs were removed by the National Assembly.”

The FEC also observed that certain provisions made for agriculture and water resources as part of the Federal Government’s diversification projects were either removed or reduced.

“The funds were moved to provision of rural health facilities and boreholes, for which provisions have been made elsewhere,” the top civil servants said.

It was gathered that the lawmakers made such provisions in their constituencies.

Investigations showed that the President had reached out to the leadership of the National Assembly as part of efforts to resolve areas of disagreement.

It was learnt that Buhari was determined to ensure that the budget was signed as soon as he returned from China and once the grey areas were resolved.

It will be recalled that the National Assembly had a few months ago detected errors in the budget. The lawmakers had also alleged that the budget was padded.

Asked to speak on the recent development, the House of Representatives advised the executive to appreciate the power of the legislature to appropriate funds as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs , Abdulrazak Namdas, who gave the House’ position, explained further: “The job of the executive is to initiate projects and spending heads, but it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to appropriate funds as necessary.”

On padding, Namdas said that it was actually the fault of the executive, which brought a budget that was already full of discrepancies to the National Assembly on December 22, 2015.

“Padding was an issue that the executive itself admitted even before the National Assembly started a thorough re-working of the budget to clean it up,” he said.

The senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, neither picked calls to his mobile telephone nor responded to the text message sent to him on the issue.

Also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, had yet to respond to a text message sent to him after repeated calls made to his mobile line did not connect.

When contacted, the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enag said, “What the Minister of Information said after the FEC meeting is the exact position of government on the issue. I have nothing more to add.”

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