April 21, 2010

Jonathan, NASS in crucial talks over budget

By Daniel Idonor

 ABUJA—FOLLOWING discrepancies noticed by the presidency in 2010 Budget as passed by the National Assembly (NASS), the Acting President last night resumed dialogue with the leadership of the NASS aimed at finding a solution to the looming face-off between the two arms of government. The crucial talks which began at about 9:00 pm did not end until 10:30 pm, this is even as the Acting President left the meeting allowing members of his Economic Team led by the Finance Minister, Mr Olusegun Aganga to continue the meeting with the NASS leadership. 

But when the meeting eventually ended none of those in attendance agreed to talk, an indication that both parties to the talks may have been unable to strike a major deal on a possible way out. 

Those at the late night meeting which took place in the official residence of the Acting President, Aguda House, included the members of the yet to be inaugurated National Economic Team (NET), led by Jonathan, top echelons of the Senate led by their president, Senator David Mark and the embattled leadership of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole. 

The meeting is a follow up to an earlier one staged Monday in Aso Rock which was convened by the Acting President, with the Ministers of Finance, Dr Olusegun Aganga, his State counterpart, Mr Remi Babalola, Head of Service of the Federation, Mr Steve Oronsaye, Director-General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), Engr Emeka Eze, and the Director-General of the Budget Office, Mr Okuogo, among others in attendance. 

Vanguard had yesterday reported that there were strong indications that the Acting President does not have immediate plans to sign into law the 2010 Appropriation Act due to sharp disagreement between the executive and the legislative arms of government. 

The Ministry of Finance and the Federal Budget Office had discovered some critical alteration allegedly made by NASS which were immediately communicated to Aso Rock, which has informed the seemingly delay by the Acting President to assent to it. 

It was gathered that the presidency uncovered a widespread anomalies and changes in the fiscal document which are very conspicuous and despite the series of closed door meetings which were initiated among officials of the executive arm there appear not to be a way out. 

Vanguard was told by an official who preferred anonymity that some key projects which contracts have been duly approved by the Bureau of Public Procurement, and awarded by the Executive Council of the Federation (EXCOF) were unconditionally removed from the budget, without notice to the affected ministries, a development that place government in dilemma. 

As a result, unless ongoing talks by stakeholders yield positive results, it might just be concluded that the 2010 budget may be returned to NASS, where the “unacceptable changes” in the document have been traced to. 

It was further leant that another round of meeting has been scheduled for today in the office of the Acting President as part of deliberate efforts to strike a balance between the two arms of government; even as it was discovered that the alleged offences in the budget cannot be swept under the carpet. 

The Executive arm, through the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba Aji, in the company of the Special Assistant to the President (Senate) Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, had on November 24, 2009, presented a budget proposal of N4.07 trillion for the 2010 fiscal year to the National Assembly. 

However it was not passed until after four months, precisely March 24, 2010, that the country’s planned spending for this year was raised to around N4.3 trillion ($30 billion) from an initial N4.079 trillion by the federal lawmakers without recourse to its workability.