Fresh controversy of budget as Buhari disowns budget over distortions by NASS
THE Presidency has confronted the leadership of the National Assembly, NASS, with details of distortions orchestrated by the lawmakers in the 2016 budget and asked them to urgently address them in the interest of the nation. The Presidency handed down the plea at a crucial meeting summoned by President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday night with the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and ministers in attendance. Sources close to the meeting, which took place at the Presidential Villa, told Vanguard that the President used the opportunity of the meeting to review the budget with the leadership of the NASS and highlighted the areas of concern to his administration. However, the House of Representatives insisted that what it did was in tandem with President Buhari's change agenda. In particular, the president complained to the leadership of the legislature that the huge sums of money the lawmakers removed from key areas of infrastructure, agricultural and socio-economic development and added to non-essential areas would derail the agenda of his administration. The president was said to have expressed regret that it amounted to a slap on his change agenda for the money meant for the strategic Calabar-Lagos Coastal Railway project and major agricultural projects to be removed by the lawmakers when the administration was trying to open up the country and provide mass transportation scheme for goods and services. The meeting was called after ministers had spent the night to rush through the details of the budget which the lawmakers transmitted to the Presidency only last Thursday. The ministers, it was learned, came to the conclusion that their budget had been significantly distorted and that it would be impossible for them to make the needed change if the budget was accepted the way it was given to them by the NASS. For that reason, the presidency has asked leadership of the NASS to take back the document and rework it to accommodate the key national projects, which they removed and to eliminate the ones inserted by them to enable the president assent to the budget. Alternatively, the president would sign the budget as a formality and introduce a supplementary budget to remove the offending items and to reflect his wish for Nigerians. The distortions Among the offending discoveries in the budget details, which the President is uncomfortable with are the huge sums of money taken away from key projects and added to constituency projects of the lawmakers, most of which were never discussed or proposed by the executive. Other infractions noticeable in the budget details are: * N4 billion removed from Ministry of Health budget and added to Code of Conduct Tribunal * Cost of 80 illegal roads without designs added to Works budget, 30 of them not Federal * Money meant for Works, power transmission, diverted by lawmakers for tricycles, town halls, boreholes in their constituencies * 73 illegal projects added to Education budget – no designs available for the projects, and no tenders conducted * Lawmakers slashed money for poor students by 50% in Education budget and added same to their states constituencies. Vanguard learned that although the N60 billion meant for the Calabar-Lagos rail budget was not in the original budget, the Budget and National Planning Minister, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, successfully defended and got it included in the amended budget. President Muhammadu Buhari, who left Abuja for Beijing, China, last night, to press for more financial support for the country, was said to be working on the premise that the NASS would rework the budget to meet his expectation for assent upon his return within the week. Lawmakers, especially those who were schemed out by the leadership in the sharing of the constituency projects are upset by the discovery and are likely to confront the beneficiaries as they resume today for plenary. Meanwhile, some Senators and members of the House of Representatives were divided, yesterday, over refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Budget. For instance, Senator John Enoh and Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmunin Jibrin, disagreed over the inclusion of the rail project in the budget. While Enoh said it was included and wondered who removed it, Jibrin said the Lagos-Calabar rail project was never included. Our action in line with Buhari's policy thrust – Reps This is as many lawmakers from both chambers shared different thoughts with the House of Representatives insisting that the budget was in tandem with Buhari's change agenda. The House of Representatives insisted that whatever it did was in line with the principles of the constitution and the policy thrust of President Buhari's administration. Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas told Vanguard that though the National Assembly had the constitutional powers to appropriate, what was sent to the presidency was not intended to offend anybody. Namdas, who said that he was not going into the specifics until tomorrow when the House will resume for sitting, maintained that what was done was in line with the cardinal thrust of the administration. Commenting on the development, a member of the Appropriation Committee and member representing Esan Central/Esan West/Igueben Federal Constituency of Edo State, Joseph Edionwele, said any omission will be corrected. According to him: “It looks as if we are working at cross-purposes with the executive, no, the success of Mr. President is our success. If there is anything like that, it is something that we can rectify. He said that the National Assembly should be commended instead of being vilified, stressing that the budget document was very 'dirty' and full of errors which they painstakingly tried to make implementable for the good of Nigerians. The member representing Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency Cross River State, Bassey Eko Ewa, expressed surprise that the Lagos-Calabar rail project that will benefit the people was removed from the budget. “I am so surprised to hear this. How will it not be in the budget? The money that was appropriated to it, where is it?” He, however, said that if the allegation was true, it may have happened at the compilation stage without the knowledge of the leadership of the House, even as he promised that lawmakers from Cross River State will take it up with the leadership. Enoh, Bassey disappointed Speaking on the missing rail project, Enoh representing Cross River Central Senatorial zone said: “Well, you know the National Assembly cannot remove it. If anything like that has happened,then I think the people to answer to that should be the appropriation people. And I think that is one of the problems with, perhaps our procedure of not insisting on our own to look at the details before it is transmitted. FG to borrow N1.884trn—DMO Meanwhile, the Director General of Debt Management Office, DMO, Dr Abraham Nwankwo has said that the Federal Government would be borrowing N900 billion and N984billion from the external and domestic markets, respectively to finance the 2016 budget. He also said the external and domestic borrowings are to re-balance total public stock in favour of less costly external funds. Nwankwo further noted that the utilization of the borrowing proceeds would be on capital projects to support the growth of productive capacity. He said this at a one-day workshop on Debt Sustainability and the Challenge of Financing Economic Recovery organised by the DMO for the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, in Abuja. Calabar-Lagos rail project not in budget – Jibrin However, Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmunin Jibrin, denied that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included in the 2016 Budget. Speaking on his tweeter handle, he said the Lagos-Calabar Rail was never included. “How could NASS have removed what was not there? But the nation is being misled. All they, and those spreading the false information needed to have done is check the initial document sent by the Executive. Executive seems to favour a top-down approach. But this is not enough reason to mislead Nigerians on the role of NASS on the budget.” Nothing unusual — Ali Ndume Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, said there was nothing unusual or extraordinary if President Buhari returns the 2016 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly for necessary correction or amendment before assenting to it. Speaking with Vanguard, Senator Ndume, who noted that former President Goodluck Jonathan had done same in 2014, said that the present government of the APC was that of change, adding that as a new government, delay must be expected, if the mistakes of the past must be corrected. Action exposes APC's depth of ignorance – Senator Ogbuoji On his part, Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Sunday Ogbuoji, said the allegation that the National Assembly mutilated the 2016 budget exposed the height of ignorance of governance by the All Progressives Congress, APC-led federal administration. Ogbuoji, while reacting to alleged veto of the budget by President Buhari on account of removal of certain projects, Senator Ogbuoji, who represents Ebonyi South, said both the Senate and the House of Representatives would take decision on plenary on the issue, upon resumption,Tuesday. He added that the decision the National Assembly would take on the issue will be to the best interest of the country. The legislator said: “That is the matter that will be discussed at plenary, it is not an appropriation committee duty. It is the National Assembly as a whole that will determine that. The National Assembly will take a decision on that, it is not something which you can say one person or committee should decide, it is the National Assembly as a whole.” On what he think was the best decision the two chambers could take, he said: “For me as a person,what I would like the National Assembly to do is to do what is in the best interest of Nigeria. And what it should do for the best interest of Nigeria is to stop this mischief that the APC- led government has continued to give us. At all point in time,they are looking for excuses on unnecessary issues and blaming others for their ineptitude and non-performance. “I read in some papers that they said the National Assembly mutilated the budget and the question should be, who is the owner of the budget?Is it the executive or the National Assembly? Where does any member of the executive including the president have the capacity to determine that a budget is mutilated? “That word “mutilated” is very painful and insulting because the constitutional framework upon which the National Assembly is built is the same framework in which the executive exists… The National Assembly, in accordance with international best practices, gives opportunity to ministries, departments and agencies to come and defend their proposals so as to be able to determine which budgets are practicable.. So, for anybody to now turn around and say that the National Assembly mutilated the budget, I think is not just an insult to the National Assembly but it also exposes the depth of ignorance on the part of those people who say they are ministers. That shows that they know nothing about what is called budget. Budget is an exclusive right of the National Assembly and the constitution makes it very clear.'' Blaming the executive for the problem, he said: “If they communicate to us and tell us their decision, then the National Assembly will know what to do appropriately,” adding “they had every opportunity to tell us what they needed during the budget defence but if they failed in doing certain things before now, the National Assembly should not be blamed.” Buhari must stop fighting his children – Rep Uzoma To the Chairman of the House C'ttee Chairman on Public Petitions, Rep Uzoma Nkem-Abonta (PDP, Ukwa East/West, Abia), President Buhari is at liberty to present a supplementary budget to correct any perceived error in the submitted budget. “By doing this, the nation will have a budget to look at and restore the confidence of the private sector that is eagerly waiting for the budget to become fully operational. As an elder statesman Buhari should use wisdom and stop fighting his children because he is a man that has integrity”. Buhari has a right to refuse assent but… Rep Ogor Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, PDP, Isoko Federal Constituency, said “the president has a right to withhold assent if he is convinced that the budget does not reflect his economic policies that will benefit the citizenry, ''but he must convince us beyond all reasonable doubts on why such a change should be effected and Section 80 gives the National Assembly the power to appropriate.” It' ll be wrong to remove rail project – Egoh Rep Oghene Egoh, PDP, Lagos, said the removal of the the Lagos-Calabar rail line was wicked and uncharitable if it is true because “we provided for both Kano and Lagos rail lines in the budget but I'm shocked that Lagos that is the business hub in Nigeria was removed. To me, we must probe deep into why it was removed because it connects all the oil producing states in Nigeria”.