Ndubuisi Francis and Omololu Ogunmade
The fate of the 2016 budget remained up in the air yesterday, as both chambers of the National Assembly again failed to fulfill their promise to lay the document, blaming it on the non-completion of its harmonisation by the joint Appropriation Committees of the federal legislature.
Speaking with journalists on Wednesday, the Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, had assured Nigerians that the budget would be laid yesterday, preparatory to its eventual passage on Tuesday, March 22.
But the promise was not kept, thus making it the third time the National Assembly would renege on its promise to pass or lay the budget in the past six weeks.
The National Assembly had at the commencement of legislative work on the budget in February assured the nation that it would pass the 2016 budget on February 25.
But about a week to the deadline, the Chairmen of Appropriation Committees of both the Senate and House of Representatives, Danjuma Goje and Abdulmumin Jibrin, said its passage on February 25 was no longer feasible in view of the errors and wide-scale discrepancies in the budget.
Subsequently, the two men at another press briefing, announced March 17 as the new date for the passage of the budget.
But 24 hours to the rescheduled date, both chambers again gave excuses on why the bill could not be passed, saying it would only be laid yesterday towards its eventual passage next week.
But much to the disappointment of many, the budget was not slated in the order papers of both houses yesterday.
Briefing the press later, Abdullahi and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, blamed the budget debacle on “data cleansing and integration”.
While giving excuses for not meeting yesterday’s deadline, Abdullahi defended the National Assembly, saying it had not failed. He also failed to make a categorical statement on the budget’s passage next week, claiming that the delay was meant to avoid the passage of an Appropriation Bill that would be un-implementable and appealed to Nigerians to be patient.
“You will recall we promised Nigerians that by today, March 17, we will be able to pass the 2016 Appropriation Bill. Yesterday (Wednesday), I also confirmed to you that today, that same Appropriation Bill will be laid, barring any last minute technical hitches.
“We are here to let you know that as of today, we are unable to lay the 2016 Appropriation Bill and thus we are hoping that next week that process will be completed. When I briefed you, I recalled you were asking if the passage will be done by next week. And we said ‘yes.’
“When you lay the budget, the next thing is for you to discuss the budget and get it passed. The two activities will be carried out next week God willing. And let me pre-empt you because I know you will say perhaps we have failed to keep our promise.
“But as far as we are concerned, we have not failed. What is happening is the seriousness with which we take the 2016 Appropriation Bill. It’s such that we cannot also afford to make errors that will become very costly to this nation.
“We have finished all the necessary work within the context of the various committees. But remember, when you do the paper work, you have to also get people who will sit down and check what we call data cleansing and integration, that is, the two appropriation committees must integrate. That is the essence of what you call harmonisation.
“This is something very technical and tedious and if you recall, this is a very voluminous document. So, in our own understanding, we don’t want to rush just because we want to keep to a promise that today the budget must be passed.
“What we owe Nigerians is a budget that is implementable, a budget that will kick-start the reflation of our national economy. It’s a budget that will help to create jobs and therefore stimulate our economic rebirth.
“So, that is what we have seen as a key objective and I want to assure you that for those of you who know statistics, in everything you do, you must give freedom for a margin of error. And within this context, if next week, we are able to take this, then within that margin of error, the National Assembly is still on course,” he said.
The Senate spokesman asked for the understanding of Nigerians, adding that the National Assembly was as eager as the rest of the country to get the budget passed.
Echoing Abdullahi, Namdas said the decision to avoid costly mistakes was the underlying reason behind the National Assembly’s inability to pass the budget.
He also said that the National Assembly would rather pass a bill that would be celebrated than the one that would not serve the nation’s interest.
Despite the inability of the National Assembly to pass the 2016 Appropriation Bill yesterday as promised, the parliament was still within the timeline it set for itself to pass the budget, a top official in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning said yesterday.
Reacting to the postponement, the official said there was no cause for alarm, as the parliament was still within the timeframe it promised to pass the Appropriation Bill.
“It is not an issue because it is still within the timeframe promised by the National Assembly to pass the budget in March. The National Assembly is doing its work on the budget as required by law. I think that’s what they are trying to do as far as legislative business is concerned.
“It is not an issue since the 2015 capital budget spending is still on till March 31, 2016. Note also that the government can spend a certain percentage of last year’s budgetary provision in the first six months of the succeeding year. So no cause for alarm,” the source told THISDAY by phone.
The 2016 Appropriation Bill, which was submitted to a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 22, 2015 has been fraught with controversies, ranging from the budget’s disappearance to the irregularities contained in the expenditure proposal.
No fewer than 184 top government officials from various ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) of the federal government were last week redeployed in a major shake-up triggered by the controversy over the 2016 budget.
The flaws in the budget proposal have not only led to the delay in its passage by the National Assembly, they also claimed a major casualty when Buhari sacked the former Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Yahaya Gusau, replacing him with Mr. Tijjani Abdullahi.