- Presidency, Udo Udoma applaud legislature for its passage
Ndubuisi Francis, Omololu Ogunmade and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
After a three-month delay, the National Assembly wednesday passed the 2016 budget of N6.060 trillion, the first that will be implemented from scratch by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, thus laying to rest the numerous controversies which trailed its presentation by the president last December.
The budget that was passed by the legislature had a reduction of N17 billion from the N6.077 trillion proposed by the executive.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, while presenting the budget report to the Senate, said never in the history of the National Assembly since 1999, has an annual budget witnessed more cuts as was the case with this year’s budget.
He blamed the budgetary cuts on the country’s economic challenges, explaining that cuts were made in recurrent spending, the budget deficit and borrowing plan.
While some senators expressed concern about the reduction in recurrent expenditure, saying it may affect the payment of salaries, Goje explained that provisions had been made under service wide votes to take care of the federal government’s wage bill.
The budget as passed wednesday, contained N2.646 trillion for recurrent (non-debt) expenditure; N1.587 trillion for capital expenditure; N351.3 trillion for statutory transfers; Nl.475 trillion for debt service and N500 billion for social intervention.
The budget was also predicated on oil benchmark of $38 dollars a day, crude oil production volume of 2.2 million barrel per day crude, exchange rate of N197 to $1, a N2.204 trillion fiscal deficit, and a gross domestic growth (GDP) growth rate of 2.14 per cent.
Under the capital spending plan, the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing got the lion share of N422. 9 billion, this is followed by the Ministry of Transportation with N188.6 billion.
Other allocations are N130.8 billion for the Ministry of Defence; N61.7 billion for Ministry of Interior; N46.1 billion for Ministry of Agriculture, and N35.4 billion for Ministry of Education.
Under recurrent expenditure, the Ministry of Interior got the highest allocation of N451.9 billion, followed by education with N367.7 billion. Other notable allocations are N312 billion to defence and N221.4 billion to health.
While presenting the report, Goje read some provisions of the Appropriation Act including the stipulation that “the Accountant-General of the Federation shall forward to the National Assembly full details of funds released to the government agencies immediately such funds are released”.
The Senate also observed that the budget was presented very late in violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 and advised the executive arm to desist from late presentations of the budget in subsequent years.
It also advised the executive arm to properly engage all its agencies during subsequent preparations of annual budgets to prevent a recurrence of the inconsistencies that characterised the 2016 budget process.
The Senate also advised the federal government to increase and diversify revenue generation streams in view of the noticeable gaps between collectible revenues and actual collections.
It also approved the report of the Conference Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) which recommended the approval of N150 billion as fuel subsidy for 2016.
The parliament also approved the continuation of the federal government’s policy on the treasury single account (TSA).
Similarly, in the House, the lower chamber considered the report of the Committee on Appropriation on the 2016 budget and passed the N6.06 trillion Appropriation Bill into law.
The report also directed all accounting officers of ministries, departments and agencies who control heads of expenditure, to furnish the National Assembly with details of all internally generated revenue, and detailed information on all foreign and domestic assistance received from any agency, person or organisation in any form whatsoever, on a quarterly basis.
House Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, however, during the consideration of the report said the total allocation of N188 billion to pensions and gratuities may be inadequate.
But the Chairman of the House Appropriation Committee, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin explained that the figure was a harmonised one with the executive.
“They assured us that it would take care of the pension needs,” he said.
Hon. Herman Hembe (Benue APC) who chairs the House Committee on FCT, also pointed out that about N9 million was reduced from the budget of the FCT for which the sum of N29.29 billion was appropriated.
Speaker Yakubu Dogara however noted that the report being considered was a harmonised one, and any attempt of an alteration would obstruct its passage.
The lawmakers, at the adjournment of plenary, embarked on a two-week Easter break. They scheduled to resume on April 12.
Briefing journalists after both chambers adjourned, Goje and Jibrin advised the executive to be more coordinated in preparation of subsequent budgets, saying situations where ministers disowned their budgets were not healthy for the system.
They described the process as tedious and tough, with Jibrin recalling that in some instances, committee members had to shout at one another while others staged a walkout during meetings.
He added that the budget had been substantially cleared of its errors, padding and duplication, adding that the inconsistencies were not exaggerated because even the executive itself admitted that there were problems with the budget.
The lawmakers also said the figures as presented by the executive were tinkered with, pointing out that the committee, for instance, increased the budget of the armed forces, police and anti-corruption agencies in consideration of their genuine complaints.
Heaving a sigh of relief after all the hiccups that trailed the presentation of the budget proposal, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the presidency yesterday applauded the National Assembly for the passage of the Appropriation Bill.
The minister’s media adviser, Mr. Akpandem James, in a statement yesterday, said Udoma was particularly pleased that the legislature kept the budget within the amount proposed by the executive arm of government, especially as the fiscal deficit was not increased.
“I wish to commend the National Assembly for passing the 2016 budget today. I am particularly pleased that they have kept the budget within the amount the executive proposed and the fiscal deficit has not been increased,” the minister said.
Similarly, the Special Adviser to the President, National Assembly Matters, Sen. Ita Enang, said the expeditious consideration and passage of the bill was laudable.
He further commended the Senate and House Committees on Appropriation as well as the sub-committees, for working hard in ensuring that the budget was passed.
“I followed the entire process and I have seen the industry that has been exhibited by the senators.
“I want to say that we appreciate particularly the fact that in the course of consideration, the committee chairmen, the committee members, and the chairmen of the appropriation committees were in constant touch,” he said.
The president’s aide also commended the legislature for approving the harmonised version of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), adding that they were the parameters for passing the budget.
Enang also extolled the media for its extensive coverage of the process leading to the passage of the budget.