2016 Budget: Twists And Turns As NASS Opts For More Time

BUHARI-SARAKI-DOGARA

With the brouhaha on the proposed 2016 Budget yet to be over and the development compelling the Senate to suspend its plenary for one week to create more time for the budget defence, BODE GBADEBO examines the many sides to the budget debacle.

Dissatisfied with the shabby manner in which ministries, departments and agencies made their presentation at the committee levels, the Senate yesterday suspended its plenary for another one week to create more time for continuation of the 2016 budget defence. This followed the interim report by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje in which he said most committees could not finish interacting with the MDAs on the budget.

“Because of the errors, padding and confusion around the budget, most committees could not finish their work. We propose that another one week be given to enable the committees complete their hearing”, Goje stated. Giving his nod to it, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki asked his colleagues to make sure that the budget defence is completed within the time frame. “Kindly ensure that all engagements and discussions are done within a week. We should be very strict and ensure that a thorough job is done”, Saraki said.

In the House of a representatives, it was however different. Chairman of the House appropriation committee, Abdulmunin Jibrin noted in a statement that in a bid to ensure that the 2nd week of March deadline is met, all committees were “expected to submit their budget report and defend same before the House committee on Appropriation latest by Friday this week.

“This development is to allow Appropriation committee extra time to work on the budget and guarantee an error free budget and make a good delivery to Nigerians at the end of the day. The following committees: Foreign Affairs, Road safety, Local Content and FCT made very powerful presentations and others are expected to deliver between today and Friday. The primary objective of this is to eliminate errors and wastes that may be associated with the 2016 budget”, he added.

Keen observers of the budget controversy say they doubt whether the one week additional time frame given by the Senate would be enough to conclude work on the fiscal document at the committee level. Their worry is that many conspiracy theories have been adduced for the current controversy surrounding the 2016 Appropriation Bill. They range from the factual reasons to the hearsays but what remain incontrovertible is the fact that the budget under consideration by the National Assembly is a faulty fiscal document.

With the introduction of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) at the federal government level by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, many believe that the idea does not go down well with some civil servants who have unduly benefitted from the status quo. It is said that these dissatisfied top level bureaucrats had to resort to padding of the budget in order to regain what they would have lost through the streamlining of government’s revenues into a centralised source known as the TSA.

But another account has it that the brouhaha over the inaccuracies of figures in the document and repetitions of line items was exaggerated by the National Assembly in order to get even with Buhari. The proponent of this second account argue that Buhari is hell-bent on prosecuting the Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over alleged false assets declaration.

This speculation became more rife last week when the relevant committees of the National Assembly saddled with the final work on the budget told a joint press conference that the February 25 passage date was no longer feasible owing to the widespread errors and inflation of costs in the budget.

The chairmen of the Appropriation Committees both in the Senate and House of Representatives, Senator Danjuma Goje and Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin respectively, who addressed journalists, said there was the need to do a better job on the Appropriation Bill 2016 in order for the country to have an acceptable and implementable budget at the end of the day.

Conscious of the implication of their action in the court of public opinion, which may be construed as sabotage, the lawmakers also used the avenue to deny any rift between the Executive and the Legislature, adding that their action was in national interest.

The National Assembly has since been vindicated by some dramas that played out at the ongoing budget defence both in Senate and the House of Reps wings, which started two weeks ago.

For instance, in some cases, the Federal Budget Office submitted different versions of budget proposals for some ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs) to the Standing Committees only for the MDAs to show up with a different version at the budget defence exercise.

And on several occasions, lawmakers had to turn down the consideration of such duplicated budgets until harmonisation is done, hence not a few MDAs are as at today are yet to defend their 2016 budget estimates.

A couple of days ago, another twist was added to the melodrama when a civil society organisation, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) led by Eze Onyekpere announced that it has discovered the padded figures in the budget to the tune of over N668.8 billion, adding that if reviewed again, it might be around a N1 trillion.

The group made the disclosure in Abuja on Monday while unveiling a report that analyses the 2016 budget. CSJ Lead Director, Onyekpere, who presented the report under Citizens World Platform (CWP), however, insisted that the budget should be reviewed in order to remove all the expenditures that are of no value to the generality of Nigerians.

He said it had become a tradition among MDAs to allocate huge sums of money for expenditures that are unclear in the the annual budget. Some of the questionable line items, the group uncovered, are “purchase of motor vehicles, welfare packages, software, computers, uniforms and clothing, refreshment and meals, and subscription to professional bodies.

“Others are maintenance of office building/ residential quarters, budget preparation, residential rents, absence of price database among others,” it added.

For instance, Onyekpere cited the example of N3.91billion which was allocated for annual reporting maintenance of Aso Villa facilities and the N618.6 million budgeted for installation of electrical fittings.

Other expenses that the group considered as wasteful are N272million for upgrade of mechanical power line, N322.4million for linking of cable to drivers’ restroom at the Presidential Villa and N213.8 million for linking of cable from guest house to generator house in the same premises.

Commenting on the development, the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, absolved the Presidency of any wrongdoing, blaming the mess on the civil servants, who prepared the estimates.

“First of all all, I’m gonna absolve the President, but am not gonna to absolve the people that did it. Why I must absolve the President I will tell you. The job was done by civil servants, it has always been done by civil servants. The president does not sit in a ministry, he doesn’t know what’s going on in a ministry or what they need or do not need.

“The argument can be that the buck stops at his desk. I agree with that. He must take responsibility. But, the point is that, he delegated. Under the Constitution he has the right to delegate his work to ministers. And he delegated the issue of budget and planning to the Minister of Budget and Planning,” Gbajabiamila said.

At about the same time the CSJ group was reeling out the alleged padded figures on Monday, President Buhari sacked the director-general of the Budget Office of the Federation, Aliyu Yahaya Gusau, who was appointed in August, 2015 and replaced him with Tijjani Abdullahi following the widespread irregularities detected in the 2016 budget.

Gusau was said to have gotten the boot having failed to deliver on the mandates of his former office.

All eyes is now on the National Assembly as to what will be the final outcome of its various committees’ sectoraly vetting the of budget proposals. Will the cost of the budget reduced from N6.07 trillion if the paddings are found to be true or the money will add up to other sectoral allocations? Only time will tell.

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