•As President signs 2018 appropriation Act
•It’s our constitutional right to alter bills – NASS
By Lawrence Olaoye & Umar Muhammad Puma
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday signed the N9.12 trillion 2018 Appropriation Bill into law in a short ceremony with the leadership of the National Assembly represented.
The President, in his speech, accused the lawmakers of padding the appropriation bill he submitted to them by cutting down his original estimates by N347 billion in his allocations to 4700 projects for their consideration.
According to him, the lawmakers introduced another 6,403 projects into the budget on their own and allocated the sum of N578 billion to same.
He said he resolved to sign the budgets despite the irregularities so as not to further slow down the pace of the nation’s economic recovery which had already suffered from the delay in the budget passage by the lawmakers.
He, however, said that he would seek redress of the noted anomalies by presenting a supplementary/amendment budget which he hoped would be expeditiously considered by the National Assembly.
On the perceived irregularities in the budget, Buhari observed that the lawmakers unilaterally increased the budget of the National Assembly by N14.5 billion without consultation with the executive.
He accused the National Assembly of raising its budget from N125 billion to N139.5 billion.
While accusing the lawmakers of frustrating his administration’s target of returning the nation’s annual fiscal cycle to January-December, Buhari expressed deep concerns at changes that were made to his original estimates by the lawmakers.
He said, “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.
“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.
“Such examples of projects from which cuts were made are as follows: The provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as Counter-part 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 were cut by an aggregate of 11.5 billion Naira.
“Similarly, provisions for some ongoing critical infrastructure projects in the FCT, Abuja, especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project, were cut by a total of 7.5 billion Naira.
“The provision for Rehabilitation and Additional Security Measures for the United Nations Building by the FCT, Abuja, was cut by 3.9 billion Naira from 4 billion Naira to 100 million Naira. This will make it impossible for the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfill its commitment to the United Nations on this project.
“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 7.45 billion Naira.
“The provision for security infrastructure in the 104 Unity Schools across the country, were cut by 3 billion Naira at a time when securing our students against acts of terrorism ought to be a major concern of government.
“The provision for the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme was cut by 8.7 billion Naira.
“At a time when we are working with Labour to address compensation-related issues, a total of 5 billion Naira was cut from the provisions for Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment.
“The provisions for Export Expansion Grant (EEG) and Special Economic Zones/Industrial Parks, which are key industrialization initiatives of this Administration, were cut by a total of 14.5 billion Naira.
“The provision for Construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from 2 billion Naira to 500 million Naira which will further delay in 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 5 billion Naira to 3.4 billion Naira.
“About seventy (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 73.96 billion Naira. Most of these increases are for recurrent expenditure at a time we are trying to keep down the cost of governance.”
The President expressed delight at the level of implementation of the 2017 budget stressing that a total of N1.5 trillion was released for capital projects in the fiscal year.
He gave the assurance that his administration would work hard to generate the required revenues to finance its projects and programmes, especially with improvements in the global oil price and increase in internal generated revenues (IGR).
He promised to forward the government Borrowing Plans to the National Assembly for speedy passage while acknowledging that the 2018 budget was 22.6 percent higher than that of the 2017 fiscal year.
Reacting to President Buhari’s lamentation, the legislators said they have the constitutional powers to appropriate, alter and make additions, costs or reduce the budget proposal as it may deem necessary.
The House of Representatives, in a statement issued yesterday by chairman House committee on media and publicity. Rep Abdulrazak Namdas, first commended Buhari for signing the budget but said the National Assembly has the constitutional power to alter, make additions, costs or reduce the budget as it may deem necessary.
According to the statement, “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.
The House blamed the heads of MDAs for the delay in the passage of the 2018 appropriation, saying, “The 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 these grounds, the delay in passing the budget cannot be blamed on the legislature.”