President Goodluck Jonathan
By Festus Akanbi
The Presidency and the National Assembly at the weekend resolved their differences over the 2013 budget, raising the prospect of the signing of the appropriation bill by President Goodluck Jonathan anytime soon.
A competent source involved in the negotiations to resolve the budget impasse confirmed that the Presidency and National Assembly had settled their differences, noting that what is left is to tidy up the agreements on the budget before the President appends his signature.
Although the grace period for signing the budget is due to lapse on Wednesday, the source emphatically said the issue of vetoing the budget would not arise, saying both the lawmakers and President Jonathan are now on the same page as far as the 2013 budget is concerned.
“After the disagreements are resolved, what the National Assembly is doing is to tidy up the budget which will be over by this weekend so the president could go ahead and sign the document this week. The presidency and lawmakers are now on the same page as far as the 2013 budget is concerned,” the source said.
He said the budget would have been signed since last Wednesday while the lawmakers continued to tidy up the document, but the president had reasoned that if he had done so, the lawmakers might not see the need to tidy things up any longer.
Notwithstanding the agreement, THISDAY learnt the National Assembly was not going back on the adoption of the $79 oil benchmark price the budget is predicated on and the zero allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The source said the main disagreements were in the areas of overhead cost and virement of funds.
The National Assembly had frowned on the huge overhead costs following the alarming number of ghost workers discovered in the system.
Consequently, the lawmakers had moved to withhold such funds deemed to be going into the payment of salaries to ghost workers from the budget, which the presidency feared could lead to problems in the payment of salaries to staff.
The House of Representatives had a fortnight ago set up an ad hoc committee to probe a recent report by the executive that it discovered some 45,000 ghost workers in its Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and recovered a whopping N100 billion.
The lawmakers want the ad hoc committee to determine the exact amount of monies lost, the exact figure of monies saved or recovered and what the monies were used for.
Sponsor of the motion, Hon. Idris Ahmed (ACN/Plateau) recalled that at a recent Federal Executive Council meeting, the Federal Ministry of Finance had revealed that in the course of implementing its Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS), a total of 45,000 ghost-workers were discovered during the implementation of the scheme in 251 federal government’s MDAs.
According to Ahmed, the discovery was made when the Ministry of Finance screened a total of 153,019 workers in the 215 MDAs in January 2013.
On its part, the presidency was said to have taken exception to the administration of lawmakers’ constituency projects as some of them were alleged to have diverted funds meant for some sub head to the others, a move which the executive feared might affect the initial vision of the president as contained in the budget.
In his defence of the National Assembly over the controversy trailing constituency projects, Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. John Enoh, told THISDAY that the action of the lawmakers was informed by the need to save some projects from total abandonment.
He said: "We had discussions with our standing committee chairmen and they made explanations on why they did what they did.
"If in the last three to five years, some particular projects have since been abandoned, in the wisdom of our standing committees, they can take some monies from other areas of the budget bill and try to make sure that they save these particular projects from their abandoned status.
"I do not think you are going to call this padding of budget. Rather, what has happened is that work has been done on the Appropriation Bill by different sub-committees; the product of that have all been brought back to the Appropriation Committee and the Appropriation Committee has been able to make a bill out of it which has been passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly. I do not think that what has been done is outside the constitutional powers of the National Assembly.
"The issues of the budget being overburdened by constituency projects that are un-implementable are actually matters that have always been there. I think that what the House is lacking really is the will to want to do what it should do. I think that it has to do with the lingering argument on who has the powers over the budget.
"If you are talking about the constituency projects, it depends on what a particular member of the House or senator wants to put as a constituency project. There is a certain provision that is contained in the president’s proposal to the National Assembly of a certain sum of money that is devoted for that purpose. These are shared across the different zones and in the different zones, members and senators are given a share in order for them to contribute to the project that they want. If for example, the challenge of my constituency is to provide classroom blocks here and there, or let’s say our challenge is power, and the amount provided is a hundred million naira and I think that most of these projects have been there year in and year out. I expect that the implementing agencies of government should have developed a template for their implementation by now."
The Presidency recently explained that the delay in the signing of the 2013 budget was to allow the executive and the legislature to clarify all the grey areas in order to ensure that the budget serves the interest of the people.
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, said there were no conflicts or disagreements between the two arms of government.
He said once the grey areas in the budget are resolved, it would prepare the ground for the president to sign it.
Abati said: “On the issue of the budget, the position remain the same as articulated previously by the minister of finance that there are grey areas in the document that are being discussed by the executive and the legislature and that once these are clarified, the budget will go to the next stage, so I see there is no problem.”
“Where there are two arms of government involved in something as strategic as the budget, there will be need for clarifications and consultations to ensure that the overriding objective is achieved.
“The overriding objective is that the budget should be in the best interest of Nigerians, to ensure that what comes out is a budget that serves our interest, this is not about conflict or territorial fiction, it is all about making sure the best is done in the interest of Nigerians,” Abati said.