By Our reporters
ABUJA—THE Senate, yesterday, picked holes in President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposed 2016-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, and Fiscal Strategy Paper, FSP, describing the documents as empty and shallow.
The Senate also asked the Executive to stop what it termed playing games and blaming the National Assembly over the issue and supply the necessary documents needed to work on the proposal.
Also, describing the $29.96 billion borrowing plan as empty, senators stressed that the National Assembly cannot work with the documents, adding that once the Federal Government comes up with the needed information, the Senate will commence discussions.
The Senate took the position when Senate leader, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) drew the attention of the lawmakers to a national newspaper publication of November 2, 2016, where the Senators took a swipe at the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, for blaming the National Assembly over the delay in the presentation of the 2017 budget.
Relying on Order 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules, Ndume, who urged the legislators to call Udoma to order, attributed the delay in the presentation of the 2017 budget to the executive arm, which has not provided the necessary framework.
Stressing that the borrowing plan and the MTEF/FSP were empty and shallow, Ndume said that when the Senate invited Udoma to brief the leadership of the Senate on grey areas of the MTEF/FSP on Tuesday, he refused to show up and did not explain the reason for his non-appearance.
Ndume said: The Newspaper(not Vanguard), Wednesday, on Page 6 had a report with a heading which says ‘Budget 2017: Blame National Assembly for Failure to Meet October Target.’The paper reportedly quoted the Minister of Budget and National Planning of saying that the suspension of the debate on MTEF and FSP, which lays the foundation for the budget, has stalled the Ministry’s plan to lay the 2017 budget before the National Assembly.
“We received the MTEF on 30th September, instead of submitting it according to law by 1st of September. That is not even the problem. I have a copy. The copies have been circulated. I talked to some experts. Even in this chamber, we have people we can call experts.
“If you look at this document that they call MTEF, it is empty, does not contain anything. If you have nothing, how do you consider nothing? Going through and knowing that it is empty, on October 19, I wrote to the Minister of Budget and National Planning. In the third paragraph, I stated: ‘To enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from a holistic fiscal perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, 1st November.’
“But the minister failed to turn up. Before then, I said, ‘you are requested to please send the following documents ahead of the meeting because that is what will make us to have something to consider. I said, (a) the Medium-Term Development Plan (even a draft copy) upon which the 2017-2019 MTEF is founded; a report on the structure/composition of the debt, funding sources, how the borrowed funds are to be spent as well as repayment plan and schedule.’ As I said, up till now, there is no communication as to that.
“Finally, I have here also a copy of the request for approval of the Federal Government’s 2016-2018 external borrowing plan, which was thrown out last Tuesday. We cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with his blame game.
“This Senate is Nigerian Senate. In this Senate, especially, we have opposition that is cooperating with us and we have the majority. It is not like we are working against the government, we know what we are doing and should do it right. When they bring nothing and we ask for something so that we will do it properly, they speak to newspapers to start blaming the National Assembly. I think it is important we discuss this and advise ourselves properly.”
In his intervention, President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, noted that the Minister had denied the newspaper publication and maintained that he was misquoted. He urged his colleagues not to dwell on what may wet the ground for controversies ahead of the consideration of the 2017 budget, adding that the Senate will start discussions when it gets the needed information.
Senator Ekweremadu, who warned against blame game, said: “Now that the statement has either been denied or withdrawn, we need to tell Nigerians the truth. We are here on a full job. We are ready to take the budget presentation anytime. In doing so, the executive must be reminded that everything must be done right. All arms of government must live up to its responsibility. The issue of blame game should be put behind us.”
I didn’t snub Senate – Udoma slams Ndume
Speaking on the issue, Senator Udoma expressed surprise at Senator Ndume’s accusation that he snubbed the Senate by refusing to turn up for a scheduled meeting on November 1, 2016.
Udoma, in a statement signed by his Media Adviser, Mr. Akpandem James, said although he was ready for the meeting, the same Senate leadership put off the meeting to a later unspecified date.
“While acknowledging receipt of the letter from Senator Ndume inviting him to a meeting with the Senate leadership, the meeting was eventually moved by agreement. The minister is surprised why Senator Ndume would go on the floor of the upper legislative chamber to say he failed to turn up, when he was aware that the meeting was rescheduled.
“Senator Udoma is equally surprised that even after the newspaper that published the story, which quoted him as blaming the National Assembly for the delay in the presentation of the 2017 budget, has published that the reporter never spoke with the Minister, Senator Ndume still went ahead to make an issue out of the matter on the floor of the Senate,” Udoma said.
Senate accuses Buhari’s aides of incompetence
The Senate hinged its rejection of President Buhari’s $29.960 billion external loan bid on the incompetence of presidential aides tasked with preparing the proposal. Senate Spokesperson, Aliyu Abdullahi, disclosed this, yesterday, on a Channels TV breakfast programme, Sunrise, monitored in Lagos.
Abdullahi said people entrusted with key responsibilities within the Presidency must do their work, noting that there was a line in the letter that read ‘attached’ but lamented “nothing was attached.”
He blamed the anomaly on officials responsible for helping the President on matters of communication.
South East Reps give condition for support, kick against Sharia
South-East Caucus of the House of Representatives, yesterday, decried the exclusion of the zone in the allocation of projects by the Federal Government in the proposed plan to borrow $29.96 billion for infrastructure despite infrastructural deficit in the zone.
The South East lawmakers, who have been under attack from people of the zone over their alleged silence on exclusion of the zone by the Federal Government on allocation of projects to the six geopolitical zones, as well as the introduction of Sharia law into the Constitution, said details of the terms of the loans, duration, cost and application were unclear.
Chairman of South East Caucus in the House of Representatives and Deputy Minority Leader of the House , Chukwuka Onyema, alongside lawmakers from the area, who briefed journalists in Abuja, said all the geo-political zones should be captured in allocation of projects.
“Details of the loan utilization must be made available to us to ensure geographical spread and relevance to current economic outlook with a view for job creation and inclusive growth for all sectors/ sections of the country. We, therefore, insist that, as a part of this country, the South East infrastructural deficit must be captured to ensure uniform development and inclusive growth.”
On the bill for the introduction of Sharia law in the Constitution, which had passed through second reading, the lawmakers explained that the bill will still be subjected to public hearing before it would become a law.
We’re hopeful NASS ‘ll endorse loan – Buhari’s aide
Meanwhile, Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters, Suleiman Kawu Sumaila, yesterday, said he’s optimistic that the legislators will endorse the borrowing plans sent by the president.
Sumaila, in a statement, said he has been “in constant touch with the leadership of the House of Representatives and the relevant committees since President Buhari forwarded the request for the approval to borrow the sum of $29.9 billion under the Government’s Borrowing Plan (Foreign).
“However, I wish to state categorically that we have identified the need to furnish the 360 members of the House with the detailed breakdown of the borrowing plan to enable them make informed decision on the matter.”
“We are confident that the Senate, which had in a way demanded for the details, would revisit its position on the matter once the details are made available.”
Economic context, IGR our focus in 2017 budget – Saraki
Also, ahead of the presentation of the 2017 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly, Senate President Saraki said the economic context on which the budget was being driven would form its main focus.
Speaking, yesterday, at the 2nd Interactive Session on the Budget between the Senate Committee on Diaspora and Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, the Senate President said in x-raying the 2017 budget, it would be imperative to also go beyond the expenditure side of the budget and pay particular attention on the country’s revenue generating capacity and alternatives.
Describing CSO’s role in the budgeting process as crucial especially in relation to the work of the National Assembly, he said that the 1st Interactive Session helped in establishing a bond between the National Assembly and the CSOs through annual budget hearings, adding, “it is this success which has inspired us to come together again for the 2nd interactive session.’’
The Senate President argued that the present challenge would be how best to ensure that the budget was utilized as an effective policy tool to navigate the way out of the current economic recession since it has become obvious that government can no longer depend on oil for revenues.
“This will require us to look beyond the expenditure side of the budget, and pay particular attention on our revenue generating capacities and alternatives,” he added.