There were indications yesterday that after all the brickbats and accusations, the presidency and the National Assembly may have come to terms on the grey areas in the N189.2 billion 2019 election budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). President Muhammadu Buhari had in July this year sent N242 billion estimates to the National Assembly for approval as budgetary provisions for INEC and security agencies. While INEC sought for the sum of N189.2 billion for the conduct of the 2019 general election, the president split the figure required and requested that they be raised separately.
Out of the total N189.8 billion required by INEC for the conduct of the 2019 general election, the presidency divided the source of funding into two, with N54 billion included in the 2019 budget, while N145billion is to be vired from the 2018 budget. LEADERSHIP gathered that the chairman, Senate committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif Gamawa, after getting more explanations on the budget and why it was split into components, assured that the issue would be resolved between now and next week. According to a reliable source in INEC, Nazif said the lawmakers will work assiduously at committee levels to ensure that the final version of the election budget for INEC is ready for harmonisation by a joint committee of the National Assembly for onward transmission to the appropriation committees.
It was learnt that the chairman of the House of Representatives committee on INEC, Hajiya Aisha Dukku, also agreed with her Senate counterpart that they should work on the INEC budget throughout the Sallah holidays since it was a national assignment for which urgency is needed.
The lawmakers were said to have worked on the election budget at the committee levels throughout the Sallah holidays following the resolution of the issues bordering on certain grey areas.
Our source who did not want his name in print noted however that the budget for security agencies is still pending, as the committees are only concentrating on the INEC budget.
“Our concern is the INEC budget. We don’t have any business with the security component. Our committee is INEC. We are not for security. Some of the lawmakers who are members of INEC committees are also members of appropriation committees in both chambers of the National Assembly. The issue has been resolved and INEC will have a budget by next week,” the source told our correspondent on phone.
On how the issue was resolved, the source said, “INEC needs this money before the 2019 elections and the 2019 budget might not be approved before the election. That was the bone of contention. “The difference is that the lawmakers said INEC budget cannot be broken down into components in two fiscal years. The elections will hold in February and the 2019 budget won’t be ready by that time. “So, Udo Udoma now asked the National Assembly to put the total amount in the 2018 budget so that the additional amount be deducted in the 2019 budget. That is how the issue was resolved. The National Assembly wants the budget to be put together in one fiscal year instead of breaking it into two, and that is what the executive conceded to”.
At this point, the lawmakers promised to harmonise the positions at their various committee levels, including the appropriations committees, bearing in mind that the presidency will not put the said figure again in the 2019 budget.
On the way forward, the source said, “Now that it has been resolved that the INEC budget will only be in the 2018 budget, it will be sent to the presidency by next week for signing. So, there is no increment in the budget. We now have about N189.8 billion for the election taken from the 2018 budget instead of taking N54billion in the 2019 budget and about N145billion in the 2018 budget. “INEC needs the total amount to be taken in the 2018 budget instead of waiting until 2019 and we won’t be able to have such money in an election period. The presidency assured the lawmakers that they are not thinking of touching their N101 billion constituency project funds. They were satisfied with Udo Udoma’s response and assured that both committees are prepared to work even during the Sallah break to ensure that the budget for INEC is ready before next week”.
Noting that the election budget for security agencies is still far from resolving, he said, “From our findings and calculations, by next week INEC will have a budget because the differences have been resolved. The only issue that has not been resolved is the issue of the security component.
“The entire budget the president sent to the National Assembly is about N242 billion. The INEC component has been resolved but for that of the security, I am not aware”.
On the election budget for security agencies, another source in the National Assembly confirmed that there is no end in sight.
The lawmaker who spoke on condition of anonymity said, “It is hoped that the National Assembly joint committee may reach a compromise and make its recommendation to the Appropriation Committee next week. “But that is just one aspect of the virement. The other aspect concerns funds being budgeted for the security. The committee on Security is yet to commence sitting before making its report to the appropriation committee. Although all this can be done within a day or two if the legislature and the executive are working in harmony”. He further raised doubt on the possibility of the INEC budget getting ready by next week, citing party politics as it borders 2019 tickets for APC lawmakers. “The unspoken aspect of the delay in the passage of the INEC budget has to do with the APC Senators Saraki has reached out to in the ongoing altercation. They may want resumption of the Senate to be delayed till September 30 for them to see if the APC leadership will live up to its promise of automatic ticket for them to return to the Senate”, he noted.
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