By Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari may not be in a hurry to assent to the 2016 Appropriation Bill as he has noticed that some key aspects of the budget, which have to do with his government’s core infrastructure focus, were removed by the National Assembly, THISDAY has learnt. Buhari had indicated that he would review details of the budget ministry by ministry, when it is received from the National Assembly to ensure that what was passed was in line with his strategic agenda for the country.
The National Assembly on Thursday transmitted the details of the budget to the President and before leaving for China, he directed that the ministers should review the provisions of their respective ministry to fast-track the process. The document was distributed same Thursday to all ministers ahead of Friday’s Federal Executive Council meeting in order to get everything sorted out for the President’s assent. Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, who is the Head of the Economic Team, presided over the meeting. However, at the meeting, the ministers noticed that some key aspects of the budget, which have to do with government’s core infrastructure focus, were removed and the monies slated for them were applied elsewhere. For instance, contrary to the budget proposed by President Buhari for the Lagos-Calabar rail project, the National Assembly scrapped the project which the President had earmarked N80 billion for.
The National Assembly approved the Lagos-Kano rail project, which had a proposed budget of N100 billion, and then took N40 billion from the Lagos-Calabar rail project and added it to the Lagos-Kano rail project to make it N140 billion. The balance of N40 billion was then distributed to projects located in the north, mainly roads – many of which are located in the constituencies of the Appropriation Committee Chairmen in the Senate and House of Representatives, Senator Danjuma Goje and Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin, respectively. While Goje hails from Gombe, Jubrin is from Kano State. This was said to have irked President Buhari as most of the projects that funds were channeled to by the Appropriation committees, were not even viable as feasibility studies had not be carried out on them Most of the members of the National Assembly were not aware of the alterations by the Appropriation committee, and were surprised when THISDAY spoke to them on the juggling of the budget votes. They viewed the Appropriation committees’ action as an abuse of the trust reposed in them to finalise the details of the budget without reverting back to them. A source at the FEC meeting held on Friday said, “We noticed that some very key aspects of the budget, which have to do with President Muhammadu Buhari’s core infrastructure focus, were removed.
One of which is the subject of the President’s trip to China – the Coastal Railway project – for which a counterpart funding was provided, but which was completely removed by the National Assembly. ‘’The executive is working on two major rail arteries, among other rail projects, to service the northern and eastern part of the country – the Lagos-Kano line and the Calabar-Lagos line. While the Lagos-Kano provision was left untouched, the Calabar-Lagos line was removed. The projects are to be funded jointly between the governments of China and Nigeria. It is one of the main reasons for the President’s scheduled trip to China.’’ THISDAY also gathered that the amount proposed for the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail project, which was said to have reached an advanced stage was reduced by N8.7billion, a development which according to the source, would make it difficult for the project to be completed. ‘’The other fundamental area noticed was in respect of completion of on-going road projects. While the executive had provided for the completion of all major road projects across the country, the National Assembly reduced the amounts provided and instead included new roads on which studies have not even been conducted’’, the source added.
‘’The amounts provided by the National Assembly for the projects can neither complete the on-going road projects nor the new ones proposed. At the end of the year no significant progress would have been made.’’ In the health sector, the proposals made for the purchase of essential drugs for major health campaigns like polio and AIDS were also removed and the funds allocated to provision of ambulance, which the Ministry did not ask for. The Federal Executive Council meeting also observed that certain provisions made in the areas of agriculture and water resources to further the federal government’s diversification project were either removed or reduced while the funds were moved to provision of rural health facilities and boreholes, for which provisions had been made elsewhere.
THISDAY gathered that because of these observations, Buhari was said to be engaging further with the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve them and hoped that it would be resolved for his assent by the time he returns from his trip to China. ‘’The President is desirous of signing the bill into law so that implementation of the provisions could begin in earnest for the benefit of the people. That is why the moment he received the document on Thursday, a meeting was convened for Friday to immediately start work on it,’’ the source added. Earlier, Senator Mathew Urhoghide in an interview with THISDAY said the National Assembly was constitutionally empowered to tinker with the budget in the interest of the people. He said the budget presented to the National Assembly by the executive was badly done, including the narrative of the budget. He added that what the lawmakers did was to fine-tune the bill.