By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru, Joseph Erunke & Rotimi Ojomoyela
ABUJA —The two arms of the National Assembly, NASS, declared, yesterday, that the 2016 budget was full of errors, saying the document could no longer be passed on February 25 as earlier promised.
This came on a day the Senate Committee on Gas Resources rejected the N200 million allocation demanded by the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources in the budget for the treatment of Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, and another N200 million for a review of Nigeria Gas Master Plan.
Similarly, Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, yesterday, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to save the country the national embarrassment being caused by the 2016 budget he presented to the National Assembly by formally withdrawing and representing it.
Budget can’t be passed, say Goje, Jibrin
Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, and his House of Representatives counterpart, Jibrin Abdulmumin, who disclosed this at a briefing, said the budget was fraught with too many errors, which had made its passage into law impossible.
Senator Goje noted that the Presidency had also admitted that there were errors in the budget, explaining that it would be inappropriate to give a new date now due to the errors that they would have to work on.
He said: “We are here in connection with the ongoing processing of the 2016 Budget because these two committees are the ones saddled with the production of the final copies of the budget that would be passed by the National Assembly for onward submission to Mr President for his assent and subsequent implementation.
“We want to remove all ambiguities, we want to remove all paddings. We want to produce a budget that is in line with the constitutional provision. During the budget defence, a lot of issues based on the padding of the budget, arising from over-bloated overheads and in some instances cases of over-bloated personnel cost.
“But generally, there has been a lot of issues. The appropriation committee would look at these issues after the whole budget defence and do a very thorough work aimed at doing a proper clean-up of the budget.
“So in summary, the time-table for passage of the budget is no longer realistic because as appropriation committees of both chambers of the National Assembly, we need additional time to do a thorough job for the 2016 budget.”
On his part, the House Chairman on Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin, agreed that the two committees would have to do a proper clean up of the budget.
He said: “So we can pass a budget that is implementable and also acceptable to Nigerians. It is no longer realistic because we need sufficient time to pass a comprehensive budget.
“The President is an individual, the budget runs in thousands of pages, the President will not be able to go through it page by page.”
He explained that once the budget is passed into law, the life span of the budget would be counted to ensure that Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, implement it.
Asked to react to a threat made by the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, that he would withdraw his budget, Jibrin said the withdrawing of a budget by the executive would not be tolerated by NASS.
Both chairmen also denied that the sudden shift in date had political colouration, adding that the shift was because of the many errors discovered in the budget.
Senate rejects N200m on PIB
The Senate Committee on Gas Resources also yesterday, rejected the N200 million demanded in the budget by the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources for treatment of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.
The committee also rejected request for allocation of additional N200 million for a review of the Nigeria Gas Master Plan.
The ministry, while defending its 2016 Budget before the committee, had said it needed N200 million for the passage of the PIB in the National Assembly.
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Jamila Shuaru, while making presentation at the committee’s sitting, insisted that the amount was needed for the treatment of the petroleum bill.
But Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, chairman of the committee, backed by other members, said the allocation was not necessary because, according to him, the bill is already with the National Assembly.
“This bill is already with the National Assembly. So what do we need the money for? I don’t think you need the money. This could be one of the reasons we have so much deficit in this year’s budget. Unless you can justify this expenditure, we need to do away with this,” Senator Albert said.
The committee members who spoke at the meeting, concurred with the chairman that the bill did not need additional funding for it to be passed.
The committee also disagreed with the ministry officials over the N200 million proposed in the 2016 budget for a review of Nigerian Gas Master Plan.
The committee said it discovered that funding request for the plan had been a recurring figure in previous budgets.
“You cannot be asking for funds to review what you have not even implemented,” Senator Albert said, adding that the only problem with the PIB was that there was no law backing it up.
Briefing the committee further, Dr. Jamila Shuaru said the country could not meet its gas needs because, according to her, many exigencies worked against the success of the programme.
One of the exigencies, she said, was the $8 billion court judgement procured against the ministry by an investor whose identity she did not disclose.
Save us this shame, by Fayose
On his part, Ekiti State governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to save the country the national embarrassment being caused by the budget he presented to the National Assembly by formally withdrawing and representing it.
The governor in a statement issued by his Special Assistant on Pubic Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, said: “The President should admit that there were avoidable errors in the budget and since he is human and not immune to errors, he should simply do the needful by presenting a new and credible budget to the National Assembly.”
Governor Fayose described the revelation by Health Minister, Isaac Adewole, that the proposal drawn up by the ministry and submitted to the budget office had been doctored and that “foreign” appropriations, different from what was submitted, had been sneaked in as the height of national embarrassment.
While addressing the Senate Committee on Health during its budget defence session on Monday, Professor Adewole had stunned senators when he said details of the budget were not what he submitted to the Senate.
Fayose said: “Last week, we were told that the Senate discovered a sum of N10 billion questionably smuggled into the budget of the Ministry of Education for an allegedly questionable sub-head.
“Also, we were told of the existence of a budget mafia in the Presidency that was said to be responsible for the embarrassing allocations in the budget.
“Before now, we were told that a total of N3.87 billion was allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic alone, over N700 million more than capital allocation to all the 16 federal teaching hospitals combined.
“Now, a whole minister has come out to say that budgetary provision for his ministry was forged!
“If under a President that says he is fighting corruption, the budget of the country got missing and we are now being told that the budget being considered by the National Assembly has been forged, one cannot but be afraid that there is possibility of Nigeria being forged one day, after the original must have gone missing.”
Budget well structured, says Ministry official
The Ministry of Budget and Planning says that the 2016 Budget proposals submitted to the National Assembly (NASS) by President Muhammadu Buhari, were very well structured and targeted at reviving the economy, notwithstanding the fall in the oil price.
The ministry was reacting to different opinions trailing the 2016 budget proposal. It said that some errors were not unexpected in the changeover to the new Zero Based Budget, ZBB, approach.
In a statement, issued yesterday by the Director of Information, Mr. Charles Dafe, the Ministry said the Budget staff in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, as well as those handling budget issues in all Ministries and Extra Ministerial Agencies (MDAs) were already grappling to master the technicalities in the ZBB template to address all irregularities in the budget.