Four months after the proposed 2018 budget was laid before the parliament, it took an evening meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly to pave way for passage of budget, writes ADEBIYI ADEDAPO
When President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly on 7th November 2017, it was crystal clear that the Executive arm of government had an axe to grind with the lawmakers.
Although, the annual tradition would have been an embarrassing outing for the President as lawmakers in the opposition People’s Democratic Party ( PDP) planned to demonstrate against presentation of the budget, the action was averted at the last minute by the leadership of the National Assembly. Nevertheless, lawmakers across political party divides were readily poised to be thorough in considering the budget proposal.
Some of the lawmakers had blamed the alleged shoddy implementation of the 2016 and 2017 on inadequate legislative scrutiny of the 2017 budget before it was passed as well as ineffective oversight functions.
But these factors, if they are anything to go by, cannot be considered as an error. Some analysts opined that lawmakers at different committee levels seldom care about relevant details, once they believe their interest had been adequately accommodated.
The term ‘thorough scrutiny’ will then occur when certain individuals feel left out in the budget implementation.
However, contrary to speculations, the National Assembly is also not interested in delaying passage of the budget, they are as well not going to compromise their legitimate functions for nothing , since the Executive – Legislature relationship seem to be degenerating from bad to worse.
Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas, in a chat with LEADERSHIP said it was the wish of the House to pass the budget by the end of March 2018.
Namdas insisted that the delay in consideration of the budget is largely due to lapses on the part of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.
“It is possible to pass the budget before the life of 2017 budget terminates, in fact, it is the wish of the House and the National Assembly in general to pass the 2018 budget by the end of this month of March, “ he said.
He stated further that if the budget was not passed in the month of March, it then means that the MDA’s did not cooperate with the National Assembly, as expected.
“Let me tell you, if the agencies had cooperated with us, I will confidently say it will be passed, however, we are still optimistic about it. But in the eventual situation that it is not passed by the end of the month, it will definitely be passed in April, which is still within the life of the 2017 budget, since the last budget was passed in May 2007,” Namdas said.
Similarly, the Senate recently asked 63 agencies and parastatals under the Federal Government to submit details of their proposed 2018 budgets within one week or risk sanctions.
Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, said only one out of 64 agencies had submitted its budget details.
“I came on this particular order because of the budgets of agencies of the Federal Government. The President submitted the national budget as well as the summary of the budgets of the agencies. By so doing, he has completed his work. What is required of the agencies is for them to present the details of their agencies,” he stated.
Lawan who said his office had worked closely with the Office of (Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters — Senate) Senator Ita Enang, insisted that the details of the budgets of the agencies must be presented to the Senate, so as to enable them compare and consider with the main budget.
According to him, “So far, only one (of them) has submitted. I want this Senate to recognise that the Nigerian Communications Commission presented and submitted what was required. It is a very good example of what we are asking for.
“I want this Senate to give an ultimatum of one week to all the remaining agencies within which to submit the details of their budgets for our committees to consider the appropriations for 2018. I believe that it is possible and it not supposed to be difficult.”
Sequel to Lawans lamentation, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, condemned the agencies for their non-cooperation with the lawmakers.
He said the parliament would be forced to move against the bodies if they failed to meet up with the deadline.
“This has been a matter that we’ve been talking about for a very long time and these agencies continue to have total disregard for due process.
“I really find it difficult to understand where the head of the Executive arm, Mr. President, is doing things properly, and agencies underneath just do things in the wrong way.
“The SA to the President has even gone far to put an advert in the paper. So, I think it is very clear that we give them the mandate; we give to them one week.
“It is not that we don’t know what to do. Some of our cooperation should not be misread as weakness or not knowing what to do, because definitely we can mandate the Ministry of Finance to ensure that they do not make further releases because they (the agencies) are breaking the law.
“We will give them one week and after that one week, if they don’t comply, then we will take the necessary actions to show that they need to comply with the law that guides them,” Saraki stated.
But in sharp contract to the position of the National Assembly, the Budget Office of the Federation has debunked claims that the 2018 budget has not been passed because some details required for its passage were not submitted.
Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, in his reaction noted that media reports suggesting that the 2018 Budget was submitted to the National Assembly without details for some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were inaccurate.
Akabueze said that on November 7, 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari laid before the National Assembly (NASS) the Executive budget proposals for 2018 , it had “all the usual details required by the National Assembly to process the budget.”
These details, the he said, included that of the budgets of all federal MDAs based on the Government Integrated Financial Management Information System (GIFMIS) budget templates.
He noted that in the course of its review of the budget proposals, the National Assembly normally invites the MDAs to appear before them to defend the President’s budget submissions.
“Given the seriousness the Presidency attaches to getting the 2018 budget passed so it could earnestly focus on achieving the goals set out in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-20 (ERGP), which formed the basis of the budget, it had directed heads of ministries and extra-ministerial agencies to attend to any requests for meetings/information by the National Assembly (NASS) with despatch,” Akabueze said.
On complaints about additional information with respect to the budgets of Government Owned Agencies (GOEs), Mr. Akabueze said the issues are being addressed.
He however pointed out that the Budget is distinct from the budget of Government Owned Enterprises (GOEs) and as such any delay in the GOEs providing additional details on their budgets should not affect the early passage of the Main Budget.
According to him, it is sometimes the case, the respective committees of the NASS which oversight the GOEs may require them to provide additional details to support their budget proposals.
Akabueze said the Budget Office had intervened directly with the affected GOEs to obtain the details in the format requested by the Senate, adding that most of them have since complied with the Senate requirement.
“Whilst any delay in providing these additional details by the GOEs does not affect the early passage of the FGN budget, the Budget Office is following up to ensure that every GOE complies with the directives of the Senate,” he stated.
Meanwhile, in a desperate bid to avert further delay, President Muhammadu Buhari directed all Agencies, Corporations and Government owned Companies to submit details of their 2018 budget estimate to the appropriate Committees of the National Assembly not later than Friday, March 23.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday 15th March held a night meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly behind closed doors.
National Assembly members present at the meeting from the National Assembly included the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; his deputy, Lasun Yusuf; Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan; House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila; Senator Sola Adeyeye, Philip Aduda, House Chief Whip, Al-Hassan Dogowa, and Deputy Whip, Pally Iriase among others.
Aduda was the only member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party that attended the meeting while all others are from the ruling All Progressives Congress.
Principal officers who were conspicuously absent at the meeting include Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Godswill Akpabio-Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha-Deputy Minority Leader and Biodun Olujimi-Deputy Minority Whip.
On the side of the Executive, President Buhari was joined from the Executive arm of government by his Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha; Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina; Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu and Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang.
Although, agenda of the meeting was not made public, it was however believed that the delay in passing the 2018 Budget, the controversial amendment to the Electoral Act and the Peace Corps Bill would form part of discussions at the meeting.
Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha conveyed the directives in a circular to the heads of agencies.
He urged supervising Ministers to ensure timely compliance with the content of the circular. The SGF also ordered the agencies to comply with the provisions of the law and honour invitation to defend their estimates timely. ”It has come to the attention of Government that a number of Agencies, Corporations and Government owned Companies have not fully complied with the provisions of Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007.
“Agencies are reminded that the FRA 2007 provides that consequent upon laying of summary of budget estimates of Agencies listed in the schedule to FRA alongside the National Budget by Mr. President, it is required that details of such budgets be made available to the National Assembly for consideration and passage,” he said.
Consequently, the National Assembly announced that the budget would be passed on the 24th April.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara in an announcement given to him by Deputy Speaker of the House, Yusuf Lasun, stated that harmonised committee of both chambers had proposed to lay the budget on April 19, 2018, to pave the way for its passage on April 24, 2018.
“We are proposing that we are laying the budget finally on April 19, 2018, hopefully we will be passing the budget on April 24, 2018. This is harmonised calendar with the Senate.”
In view of this, Senate President Bukola Saraki mandated chairmen of all standing committees to submit reports of their panels on or before March 29.
This fireworks approach adopted by the National Assembly undoubtedly signals the success of the Aso Rock meeting. It is an indication that the lawmakers have relaxed their conditions.