•Reluctantly signed, says budget’ll be difficult to implement
•Accuses NASS of cutting N347bn from 4,700 critical projects
•Seeks supplementary budget soon; We‘re not rubber stamp —NASS
ABUJA — PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari yesterday signed the N9.12 trillion 2018 Appropriation Bill into law, and lamented that it would be difficult to implement because the budget figures have been tampered with by the National Assembly.
The President accused the National Assembly of cutting N347 billion from 4,700 critical projects and injecting 403 unnecessary projects at the cost of N578 billion, stressing that the proposals introduced by the lawmakers were neither properly conceptualized, designed nor costed.
President Buhari noted that the projects were supposed to be carried out by states and local government areas.
The President, who did not hide his reservation on how the budget was handled by the National Assembly, said he was compelled to sign the budget in the interest of Nigerians and in order not to shut down the recovery of the economy which has been affected by the delay in passing the budget.
However, the leadership of the National Assembly claimed that the power of appropriation belongs to it and that what its members did with the budget was to ensure that all the six geo-political zones of the country were evenly treated.
However, the President indicated his intention to send to the National Assembly a supplementary budget to cover the projects cut off which, according to him, are very important to the government.
He lamented that while the National Assembly cut some of the critical projects and smuggled in some personal projects, the lawmakers also went ahead to increase its budget with N14.5 billion from the initial N125 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the Executive.
We’ll work for Jan-Dec budget cycle — Buhari
The President said: “I would like to thank the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as well as all the Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members, for passing the 2018 Appropriation Bill, after seven months.
“When I submitted the 2018 Budget proposals to the National Assembly on November 7, 2017, I had hoped that the usual legislative review process would be quick, so as to move Nigeria towards a predictable January-December financial year. The importance of this predictability cannot be over-emphasized.
“While the Federal Government’s budget represents less than 10% of aggregate yearly expenditures in the economy, it has a very significant accelerator effect on the financial plans of other tiers of government, and even more importantly, the private sector, which mostly operates on a January-December financial year.
“Notwithstanding the delay this year, I am determined to continue to work with the National Assembly towards improving the budgeting process and restoring our country to the January-December fiscal cycle.
“I note, with pleasure, that the National Assembly is working on the enactment of an Organic Budget Law, so as to improve the efficiency of the nation’s budgetary process.
“As I mentioned during the presentation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, we intend to use the 2018 Budget to consolidate the achievements of previous budgets and deliver on Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, 2017-2020.
Worry over budget cuts
“It is in this regard that I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented. The logic behind the Constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that, it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me. The National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira.
“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualized, designed and costed and will therefore be difficult to execute.
“Furthermore, many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.
“As it is, some of these projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the states and local governments, and for which the Federal Government should therefore not be unduly burdened.”
According to the President, some of the projects which budgetary allocations were cut include some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project, cut by an aggregate of N11.5 billion.
He was also not happy with the slashing of N7.5 billion from the budget of some ongoing critical infrastructure projects in the FCT, Abuja, especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project.
He said the budgetary allocation for the provision of rehabilitation and additional security measures for the United Nations Building by the FCT, Abuja, was cut from N4 billion to N100 million, noting that this will make it impossible for the Federal Government to fulfill its commitment to the United Nations on the project.
He further stated that the provisions for various strategic interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of N7.45 billion.
Also tampered by the National Assembly was the provision for security infrastructure in the 104 Unity Schools across the country where N3 billion was removed.
President Buhari said it was unfortunate that such was done at a time when securing students against acts of terrorism ought to be a major concern of government.
Other areas he frowned on the deductions of budgetary allocation include the provision for the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme where N8.7 billion was removed.
He said that at a time when government was working with Labour to address compensation-related issues, a total of N5 billion was cut from the provisions for Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment.
Besides, he said N14.5 billion was cut from the budget for the provisions for Export Expansion Grant (EEG) and Special Economic Zones/Industrial Parks, which he said were key industrialization initiatives of the administration.
According to him, “The provision for Construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from N2 billion to N500 million which will further delay the completion of this critical project.
“The Take-off Grant for the Maritime University in Delta State, a key strategic initiative of the Federal Government, was cut from N5 billion to N3.4 billion.
“About 70 new road projects have been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. In doing so, the National Assembly applied some of the additional funds expected from the upward review of the oil price benchmark to the Ministry’s vote.
‘’Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the National Assembly.
“Another area of concern is the increase by the National Assembly of the provisions for Statutory Transfers by an aggregate of N73.96 billion. Most of these increases are for recurrent expenditure at a time we are trying to keep down the cost of governance.
NASS jerks own budget with N14.5bn
“An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by N14.5 billion, from N125 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the Executive.
“Notwithstanding the above stated observations, I have decided to sign the 2018 Budget in order not to further slow down the pace of recovery of our economy, which has doubtlessly been affected by the delay in passing the budget.
Supplementary budget coming
“However, it is my intention to seek to remedy some of the most critical of these issues through a supplementary and/or amendment budget which I hope the National Assembly will be able to expeditiously consider.
“I am pleased with the success recorded in the implementation of the 2017 budget. A total sum of N1.5 trillion has been released for the implementation of capital projects during the 2017 fiscal year. In response to this and other policy measures implemented, we have observed significant improvement in the performance of the Nigerian economy.
“To achieve the laudable objectives of the 2018 Budget, we will work very hard to generate the revenues required to finance our projects and programmes. The positive global oil market outlook, as well as continuing improvement in non-oil revenues, make us optimistic about our ability to finance the budget.
“However, being a deficit budget, the Borrowing Plan will be forwarded to the National Assembly shortly. I crave the indulgence of the National Assembly for a speedy consideration and approval of the Plan.”
He said the signed 2018 Budget provides for aggregate expenditures of N9.12 trillion, which was 22.6 per cent higher than the 2017 Appropriation and that further details of the approved budget will be provided by the Minister of Budget and National Planning.
We balanced the budget among six geo-political zones –N’Allah
But the representative of the Senate President and Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, Bala Ibn Na’Allah said the adjustment made in the budget was in the interest of the people that elected them and to represent equal geopolitical spread.
He said: “The job of parliamentarian is a very difficult one. The way the budget came, if we had allowed it to go that way, we would have been in trouble with those who elected us. You have to balance between the six geo political zones.
‘’It is the balancing efforts by the National Assembly that led to those observations and happily enough, he himself (the President) has said he is coming with a supplementary budget which will be dealt with as quickly as possible. I assure you about that one.”
On the issue of delay in passing of the budget, he held the executive arm of government responsible for it.
“About the issue of delay, the President is right, but at the same time, if you remember, you were here, the President had to order some MDAs to appear before the Assembly for the purpose of defending their budgets.
“It’s a very delicate issue, if somebody said he wants N500 million for the maintenance of bridges nationwide, then you expect the National Assembly to say okay, that budget is approved because it came from the executive, then we have not done our work, we will be interested in knowing which of the roads are you going to maintain so that again, we don’t give another allocation in the next budget. Those observations are correct but in the budgeting process those things are normal,’’ N’Allah said.
Speaking in the same vein, representative of speaker of the House of Representatives and Chief Majority Whip, Ado Doguwa, said: “I think some of these major concerns Mr President has raised are very critical and I am afraid if I should be in a position to respond on behalf of the House.
“But for me as an individual and a member of the House of Representatives, I want to believe that the President is at liberty to raise some of these observations. But the most important thing you have to know is that the budget has been signed and is now a law of the federation and we expect the executive to now implement the law to the letter.
“Should the President however, bring about an amendment or a supplementary budget for the National Assembly to consider, we will also at the same time be at liberty to look at the President’s concerns and those things he wants us to now review and I want to believe the National Assembly is always in a position to work hand in hand with Mr President.
“Certainly you wouldn’t expect us to just rubber-stamp and just bring it back. We have to do the nitty-gritty of budget consideration. Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well and we have done what we think is the right thing to do to deliver on the expectations and the mandate bestowed on us by the people of our constituencies. Those observations are correct but in the budgeting process those things are normal.
We appreciate Buhari’s concerns, but….— REPS
Supporting the speaker’s position, the House of Representatives in a statement signed by the spokesperson, Abdulrazaq Namdas, last night, said: “The House of Representatives is appreciative of President Muhammadu Buhari in signing the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law and wish to make the following observations:
“That the budget is usually a proposal by the Executive to the National Assembly, which the latter is given the constitutional power of appropriation to alter, make additions, costs or reduce as it may deem necessary.
“The Legislature is not expected to be a rubber-stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable.
“We are on the same page with Mr. President in his desire to return our budget cycle to January-December. By the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, the budget estimates should be with the National Assembly around September of the year.
“In the case of the 2018 budget, the estimates came behind schedule in November 2017, even though this attempt was seen as one of the earliest in recent years. Going forward, we urge the Executive to speed up the reporting time to the National Assembly by complying fully with the FRA.
“Besides, there were delays that should be blamed on the heads of MDAs. Mr. President will recall that he had to direct ministers and heads of agencies to go to the National Assembly to defend their proposals.
“This came after the National Assembly had persistently raised the alarm over the non-cooperative attitudes of these government officials. On this grounds, the delay in passing the budget cannot be blamed on the legislature.
“New projects in budget. On this aspect, we have to remind Mr. President that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positively. Some of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man.
“National Assembly budget. Before 2015, the budget of the National Assembly was N150billion for several years. It was cut down to N120bn in 2015 and further down to N115bn in 2016. In 2017, the budget was N125bn and N139.5bn in 2018. This means that the budget of the National Assembly is still far below the N150bn in the years before 2015.
“While we commend Mr. President for a good working relationship, we also wish to state that we have a job to do, which requires adequate funding as well. The additional costs and projects to the budget were done in good faith for the sole purpose of improving the lives of Nigerians.
“Finally, we welcome the proposal by Mr. President to forward a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to address other areas of pressing demands and commend the President and the entire executive arm for a cordial working relationship.’’
What Presidency is vexed about in budget
Vanguard gathered last night that some of the projects the President complained about as being responsibility of state and local governments include supply of industrial sewing machines, building of fish feed mills in some locations, supply of tricycles and motorcycles for youths and women in some communities for empowerment.
Others are supply of Volkswagen Golf cars for youth empowerment, purchase of grinding machines for women and youths and provision of boreholes in some rural communities, which have little or nothing to do with federal budget.
Other items introduced into the budget by the lawmakers, Vanguard gathered, are training and empowerment of non-violent ex-agitators, which is currently being handled by the Presidential Amnesty Programme, purchase and distribution of drilling hand pumps in some local communities, provision of medical services outreach for aged, displaced persons and supply of generators, sewing machines and clippers for youth empowerment.
Others are purchase and supply of utility vehicles for Ideato Youths, provision of complete set of grinding machines, construction and installation of solar street lights in some rural communities, erosion control works in some rural communities, training of youths and women in fishery, piggery and feeds farming in some rural communities, construction of cassava, rice, soya bean processing mills in some rural communities, youth and women empowerment in agriculture in some rural communities.
Also included in the budget by the lawmakers are provision of access roads in some rural communities, building of culverts and drainages across some rural roads, upgrading of pathways and driveways in some unnamed housing estates, provision of entrepreneurship training for some youths in some unnamed rural areas, training of artisans as youth empowerment, supply of transformers for some rural communities among others.