President Muhammadu Buhari has raised concern over the National Assembly’s injection of strange projects and sundry irregularities into the 2018 budget.
He made the observation at the Presidential Villa, yesterday, as he signed the appropriation bill of N9.12 trillion into law, after seven months of delay.
At the event witnessed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and members of the National Assembly, Buhari accused the legislators, saying they “made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.”
He regretted: “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed, and will therefore be difficult to execute.”
He also said many of the new projects “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.”
Giving instances of the cuts, the president said: “The provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as counterpart 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 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.
“About 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 National Assembly has cut the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads.”
Buhari also expressed concern over the Assembly’s increase of the provisions for Statutory Transfers by an aggregate of N73.96 billion.
He said “most of the increases are for recurrent expenditure at a time we are 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.”
Notwithstanding the objections, Buhari said he decided to sign the budget “in order not to further slow down the pace of recovery of our economy, which has doubtlessly been affected by the delay in passing the budget.”
He expressed his “intention to remedy some of the most critical of these issues through a supplementary and/or amendment budget”, which he hoped the National Assembly would “expeditiously consider.”
The president praised the successful implementation of the 2017 budget, saying a total of N1.5 trillion was released for capital projects during the fiscal year with significant improvement in the performance of the economy.
He said his administration was set to achieve the laudable objectives of the 2018 budget, while working hard to generate the revenues required to finance the government’s projects and programmes.
“The positive global oil market outlook, as well as continuing improvement in non-oil revenues, make us optimistic about our ability to finance the budget.
However, being a deficit budget, the borrowing plan will be forwarded to the National Assembly shortly.
I crave the indulgence of the National Assembly for a speedy consideration and approval of the plan,” he said.
He explained that the budget provides for aggregate expenditures of N9.12 trillion, which is 22.6 per cent higher than the 2017 appropriation.
But some members of the National Assembly dismissed Buhari’s concerns.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader Bala Ibn Na’Allah told State House Correspondents after the event that the legislators had simply carried out their constitutional duties.
“It’s a very delicate issue. If somebody says he wants N500 million for the maintenance of bridges nationwide, do you expect the National Assembly to say, ‘Okay, that budget is approved,’ just because it came from the executive?
Then we have not done our work. We will be interested in knowing which of the roads you are going to maintain.”
Na’Allah, who represented Senate President Bukola Saraki, blamed Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for the delay in passing the budget, saying they failed to show up with their presentations.
“About the issue of delay, the president is right. But at the same time, if you remember, the president had to order some MDAs to appear before the Assembly for the purpose of defending their budgets,” he said.
But a member of the Senate Appropriation Committee, Rafiu Ibrahim, was more virulent in his criticism of the president.
“Why did he sign? He should have withheld his signature and seen what would have happened. We are no longer interested in all that drama.
He shouldn’t have signed. He should have confronted us with those (insertions), called the leadership of the National Assembly and confronted them. The president is playing to the gallery,” he said.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said: “The leadership of both chambers have directed the chairmen of our committees on appropriations to provide item by item, detailed explanations on all points raised by the President for the benefit of members of the public.”
He said a press conference will be addressed today, adding: “It should, however, be noted that the action of the National Assembly while working on the budget was informed by the provision of the constitution on the need for inclusion, balance and the fact that the first responsibility of government is the security and welfare of all citizens.”
Amid continuing reactions, a renowned economist, who pleaded anonymity, said: “If the president had really hoped to restore the country to the January-December calendar, he would have submitted the budget earlier.
Likewise, if the lawmakers understood the import of the document in development process, they would have accelerated its passage. They are all jokers.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Financial Derivatives Limited, Bismarck Rewane, regretted the delay. The misnomer has only enthroned a slow process of recovery, as some constraints have already set in, he said.
The Centre for Social Justice, a knowledge-based organisation, noted: “A claim to have spent N1.58 trillion in the 2017 capital vote is hanging in the air. Nigerians need the specific details of the projects the money was spent on.”
It will be noted that the Federal Government appropriated about N22.7 trillion in the last three years. The processes, implementations, public finance information and enabling laws involved, however, have remained faulty.
The breakdown is: N6.06 trillion in 2016; N7.4 trillion in 2017, and N9.3 trillion in 2018.
Although the current administration has recorded the highest level of capital vote and claims of cash-backed implementations, these have remained controversial due to obvious lack of information.
Consequently, the capital expenditure component has not performed fully, as with previous administrations.
This has been due to delay in budget passage and cycle, which has remained the same.
Submitting the 2018 budget estimates November 7, 2017, fell short of eagerness to restore the budget calendar.
The legislature under the circumstance had about one functional month to conclude the appropriation process and come out with a clean copy of the budget.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) mandates the executive to prepare the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and have it endorsed by the Executive Council of the Federation before the end of the second quarter.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
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