Delay in the Senate on commencement of debate on general principles of the N8.83trillion 2019 Budget proposals, five weeks after presentation by President Muhammadu Buhari, is caused by the leadership of National Assembly headed by opposition Peoples Democratic Party lawmakers, Senator Ali Ndume has said.
Senator Ndume said this while fielding questions from journalists on happenings in the National Assembly and the general polity, in Abuja yesterday.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had in December last year, presented an aggregate expenditure estimate of N8.83 trillion for the 2019 fiscal year to a joint session of the National Assembly.
But speaking on the slow pace of work on the Bill yesterday, Senator Ndume, said the ruling All Progressives Congress’ lawmakers were concerned and wanted the budget passed within a week, but frustrated by the NASS leadership, headed by PDP lawmakers.
“Though, federal lawmakers on the platform of APC are more in number than their counterparts in PDP, but since it is the PDP lawmakers controlling the leadership of both chambers , the speed at which any executive bill, particularly the 2019 Appropriation Bill before us now will take , lies with them.
“Those of us in the APC at both chambers have the passion and the will to effect expeditious consideration and passage of the 2019 budget proposals, but the required speed for that lies with the leadership, topmost of whom are PDP members.”
On popularity ratings between President Muhammadu Buhari and his closest rival in next forthcoming polls, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, the former Senate leader said, in the North-east where Atiku comes from, Buhari will win 95% of whatever votes cast during the exercise.
Reps fault budget
Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives have identified some discrepancies in the 2019 Appropriation Bill.
The position came after the House commenced a second reading process of the budget yesterday.
Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has however directed that while the process is on, relevant committees would meet the Minister of Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, and her Budget and National Planning counterpart, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, to iron out the grey areas.
Debate on the general principles of the Bill was initially challenged through a point of order by Rita Orji, who, after Majority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila moved motion for the commencement of debate on the proposal, argued that the House did not meet the requisite quorum for a plenary, and therefore prayed that the budget be stepped down.
The lawmaker was however ruled out of order by Speaker Dogara, who told her she was not the custodian of the House’s plenary attendance register and so not in the position to determine the quorum status of the House.
At this point, Deputy Speaker Yussuff Lasun started the debate, cautioning that in considering the budget, members must be able to see the linkage between government policies and the budget, what government does, and also “continue to look at a wider horizon on how the budget can cater for the population.”
The issue of errors, discrepancies and contradictory figures were raised by Adamu Chika, who also wanted clarifications from the finance minister and her budget and planning counterpart.
Speaker Dogara, however, appealed that in spite of the noted discrepancies and “irreconcilable differences,” members should confine themselves to the general principles, while attention of the ministers is drawn to them by the relevant committees for clarifications and correction.
Chika further said the 2019 budget was predicated on an oil production target of 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd), but that the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), at the moment, pegged the country’s export ceiling at 1.68 million bpd.
He also said the $60 per barrel oil benchmark of the budget was unrealistic, as current price of crude oil in the international market is hovering around $50 per barrel.
However, Johnson Agbonayima, in his submissions, said the Buhari-led government was “in the right direction with the budget”, as he cautioned his colleagues to treat it without “politics and sentiments”.
And in the opinion of Aliyu Ahman Pategi, the budget came the National Assembly late, “and at a time when we (members) were about to embark on recess, adding that government’s abysmal implementation of last year’s budget has made “2018 a wasted financial year.”
Several members spoke on the Bill, before the debate was adjourned to continue this morning(Thursday).
Marafa tackles Saraki on oil subsidy
Meanwhile, a disagreement ensued yesterday between the Senate President Bukola Saraki, and Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Senator Kabir Marafa (APC Zamfara Central), over alleged N2.4 billion being spent on fuel subsidy per day by the federal government.
Featuring on Kakaki, an AIT breakfast programme, monitored by Blueprint yesterday in Abuja, Saraki said, the Buhari administration is spending N2.4 billion to subsidise 50 million litres every day.
He said: “It is shocking and alarming that the current administration in the country claimed that Nigerians are consuming 50 million litres of fuel everyday and for two years, they did it without appropriation.
“What type of integrity are we talking about when a government claims to have been spending N2.4 billion? We have the (Senator Kabir) Marafa committee set up to look into it but we have always met a brick wall.
“For two years, we made several cases to the executive that the subsidy claims must be presented for appropriation, because we cannot continue to rely on the arguments by the executive that it was only spending money on under recovery.
“We have set up a panel to look into it, but its activities are being frustrated because we have a government where its executive does not believe that it is accountable to the National Assembly.
“We have done our part to raise it and to do as much as possible to expose what is going on. The way subsidy is being managed now at 50million a day, is fraud. It’s not possible.”
Faulting the claims, however, Senator Marafa told journalists in Abuja that the Saraki erred, and said, findings by his committee revealed that Nigerians were not consuming more than 30 million of litres of fuel per day.
He also said it was not possible for the nation to spend up to N2.4 billion everyday to subsidise fuel.
“It is not possible to spend N2.4bn on subsidy in Nigeria every day. Even though we don’t have the exact figure, but it ranges between 25 to 35 million per day, depending on the circumstances.
“Even if we are selling 30 million litres per day at N145 per litre, it will amount to N4.3 billion. If you say that government is subsidising by N2.4 billion, are we saying that government is selling at half of the amount?
“I don’t want to join issues with the Senate President. I don’t know the particular committee he mandated to carry out his investigations, but if he said so, it must be for the purpose of winning elections.”