2016 Budget: Buhari, ministers study details

By The Citizen

President Muhammadu Buhari and his ministers are studying the details of the 2016 budget transmitted to the Presidency by the National Assembly on Wednesday. Recall that President Buhari had said he would not sign the budget unless it was accompanied by the details.

The President's receipt of the budget, yesterday, came on a day former President Olusegun Obasanjo paid him a courtesy visit, with a declaration that he never signed budgets into law, without details during his tenure.

This came as indications emerged that the President will be travelling to China on Sunday to shop for $2 billion loan to address the N3 trillion deficit in the new budget.

Competent sources said the aim of studying the document presented by the NASS by the executive was to compare what was eventually approved with what was sent in by the President.

It was learned that the executive was expected to spend one or two days to go through the document to enable the President assent to the bill before travelling to China next week.

One of the sources familiar with the budget told Vanguard, yesterday, that the ministers were expected to examine the budget of their respective MDAs to see whether there was a substantial addition or subtraction which could adversely affect implementation.

The top official said that although the Presidency was not expecting the NASS to return the fiscal document as he presented it to them, it was, however, mindful of the need to prevent undue 'padding' of the budget with unnecessary items, which had little or no real benefits to majority of Nigerians.

The source said President Buhari was eager to sign the bill into law to ensure immediate implementation and to give a new lease of life to the people and arrest the hardship in the land.

'There is a groundswell of opinion that Mr. President should sign the bill into law if there was no substantial deviation that could affect the performance of the budget,' the official said.

Asked whether he knew when the president would assent to the bill, the official said that he was certain that he would do so before travelling to China next week.

President Buhari had, last week, served notice that he would study the budget to be transmitted to him by NASS, ministry by ministry, before assenting to it, a development that drew flaks from prominent members of the legislature.

Most of them claimed that Buhari has no power to tamper with what they have passed.

Buhari was said to be afraid that any undue padding of the budget could make it difficult for his administration to implement it.

Competent sources said one controversial area that the Presidency would look out for was money meant for 'constituency projects', which could have been substantially raised as has always been the practice and a source of friction between the legislature and the executive.

Under the tradition, the NASS allocates some projects and attaches some money to them, with the principal officers getting higher allocations than ordinary members of the NASS.

But President Buhari is said to be opposed to such practice and wants the funds meant for capital projects to go straight to the respective MDAs for implementation.

It was learned that key government functionaries familiar with the process, had drawn the attention of the President to the trick usually applied to import some projects into the budget after presentation by the executive.

Buhari to borrow $2bn from China
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari will visit China on Sunday to sign a loan infrastructure projects deal worth about $2 billion and the low interest loan is to be deployed to finance the N3 trillion deficit in the budget.

Though the exact figure for the loan is yet to be confirmed, the Presidency and Chinese foreign affairs ministry confirmed the visit.

The President's Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, who disclosed this in an interview with Reuters, said: 'I can't tell you how much until the day the loan will be signed. Both countries will also be signing some bilateral agreements to strengthen their relationship, that is all I can say for now.'

In February, financial and government sources said the loan could be as high as $2 billion, but officials have not provided an update since then.

The federal government had said it would raise about $5 billion abroad to cover part of its 2016 budget deficit which could be as high as N3 trillion.

Lu Kang, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, had earlier said Buhari would visit China from April 11-15 to sign 'cooperation agreements' and attend a business forum.

When the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, visited China in February, a Nigerian government official said the loan deal she agreed on could be signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.

'The Finance Minister, in the company of the Central Bank Governor, is scheduled to be in China sometime next week to conclude negotiations on the $2 billion loan,' the official said.

Adeosun had earlier said the country was looking for a loan with about 1.5 per cent interest.

'We looked at our debt profile and we recognised that one big problem is interest rate. So, we are going to try and borrow as far as possible externally.

'We are borrowing at the cheapest rates. So, multilateral loans are the cheapest. If someone offers me 1.5 per cent over 20 years, I think I should take it.

'That is why we are going to the multilateral agencies first and, thereafter, concessional borrowing and also tap into the Eurobond market,' the minister had said at a KPMG forum in Lagos.