NASS ‘padded’ 2018 budget, Buhari laments

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday signed into Law the 2018 Appropriation Bill of N9.12 trillion, seven months after the estimate was submitted to the National Assembly.
The federal government approved N8.612 trillion, but the lawmakers increased it to N9.12 trillion.
The lawmakers also increased the crude oil benchmark for the budget from $45 per barrel to $50.5 per barrel.
Speaking during signing of the budget in his office at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the President expressed concern over changes made to the budget by the lawmakers.
He said the lawmakers cut allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration amounting to N347 billion and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.

New projects
He said: “Many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.
“As it is, some of these projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the states and local governments, and for which the federal government should therefore not be unduly burdened.
“Such examples of projects from which cuts were made are as follows: The provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as Counter-part funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project were cut by an aggregate of N11.5 billion.
“Similarly, provisions for some ongoing critical infrastructure projects in the FCT, Abuja, especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project, were cut by a total of N7.5 billion.
“The provision for Rehabilitation and Additional Security Measures for the United Nations Building by the FCT, Abuja was cut by N3.9 billion from N4 billion to N100 million; this will make it impossible for the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfill its commitment to the United Nations on this project.
“The provisions for various Strategic Interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of N7.45 billion.
“The provision for security infrastructure in the 104 Unity Schools across the country were cut by N3 billion at a time when securing our students against acts of terrorism ought to be a major concern of government.
“The provision for the federal government’s National Housing Programme was cut by N8.7 billion. At a time when we are working with Labour to address compensation-related issues, a total of N5 billion was cut from the provisions for Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment.
“The provisions for Export Expansion Grant (EEG) and Special Economic Zones/Industrial Parks, which are key industrialisation initiatives of this Administration, were cut by a total of N14.5 billion.
“The provision for Construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from N2 billion to N500 million which will further delay the completion of this critical project. The Take-off Grant for the Maritime University in Delta state, a key strategic initiative of the federal government, was cut from N5 billion to N3.4 billion.
“About seventy (70) new road projects have been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. In doing so, the National Assembly applied some of the additional funds expected from the upward review of the oil price benchmark to the Ministry’s vote. Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the National Assembly.”

Further concerns
The President also expressed concern over increase in the provisions for Statutory Transfers by an aggregate of N73.96 billion by the lawmakers, saying most of these increases are for recurrent expenditure at a time the present administration is trying to keep down the cost of governance.
“An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by N14.5 billion, from N125 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the executive,” he said.
The President said he decided to sign the budget despite changes by the National Assembly in order not to further slowdown the pace of recovery of the country’s economy, which has been affected by the delay in passing the budget.
He said, however, that he intends to seek to remedy for some of the most critical issues through a supplementary and/or amendment to the budget.
The President thanked the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as all the Senators and Members, for passing the 2018 Appropriation Bill, after seven months.

Reps react
House of Representatives has thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law yesterday, expressing support for a return to the January-December budget cycle as provided for in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
The National Assembly had, in recent times, been adjusting the lifespan of the national budget, especially as they relate to capital expenditures, due mainly to poor implementation.
Spokesman of the House, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, in the statement over the signing also offered some clarifications.
The statement read: “That the budget is usually a proposal by the Executive to the National Assembly, which the latter is given the constitutional power of appropriation to alter, make additions, costs or reduce as it may deem necessary. The Legislature is not expected to be a rubber-stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable.
“We are on the same page with Mr. President in his desire to return our budget cycle to January-December. By the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, the budget estimates should be with the National Assembly around September of the year. In the case of the 2018 budget, the estimates came behind schedule in November 2017, even though this attempt was seen as one of the earliest in recent years. Going forward, we urge the Executive to speed up the reporting time to the National Assembly by complying fully with the FRA.
“Besides, there were delays that should be blamed on the heads of MDAs. Mr. President will recall that he had to direct ministers and heads of agencies to go to the National Assembly to defend their proposals. This came after the National Assembly had persistently raised the alarm over the non-cooperative attitudes of these government officials. On these grounds, the delay in passing the budget cannot be blamed on the legislature.
“While we commend Mr. President for a good working relationship, we also wish to state that we have a job to do, which requires adequate funding as well. The additional costs and projects to the budget were done in good faith for the sole purpose of improving the lives of Nigerians.
“Finally, we welcome the proposal by Mr. President to forward a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to address other areas of pressing demands and commend the President and the entire executive arm for a cordial working relationship.”

President playing to gallery
The Senate, in its reaction, accused the President of playing to the gallery.
A member of its Committee on Appropriations, Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara South), in an exclusive interview with Blueprint, accused the President of playing to the gallery.
He wondered why Buhari did not confront the National Assembly leadership when he had budget meetings with its leadership.
He said: “Let him bring it out now. Why did he sign? He shouldn’t have signed. He should have brought it out. So, what do we do? He has signed the budget. So, let him bring those insertions out. And send it. He said he is bringing supplementary or amendment. We are expecting it.
“He just likes to make drama. Why did he sign? He should have withheld his signature and see what would have happened. We are no longer interested in all those drama. He shouldn’t have signed. He should have confronted us with those (insertions), call the leadership of the National Assembly and confront them.
“We have done our best, we have passed the budget. The increment we made was in consonance with the Executive, which was as per benchmark. And we spelled out how we would apportion the money. And it was majorly for what their own priority areas they identified,.
“We don’t believe in him again. He likes to play to the gallery. He should have not signed. He should have withheld his assent. And let Nigerians confront him. He should send the supplementary budget and if he says that we insert, we younger ones will make sure that it is not passed. We will insist on our leadership. The way we normally bend for him, we will not allow them to bend again.”

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