Says Lagos-Calabar rail was a big omission
Charles Onyekamuo in Awka
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, has dismissed elements of distrust between the executive and the legislature over the 2016 budget, saying the budget mess was essentially a creation of some bureaucrats, technocrats and civil servants, who tampered with the document out of mischief to feather their nests.
Speaking exclusively with THISDAY in an interview, Ngige, who gave detailed analysis of the budget process, especially the way it works in the legislature being a former senator, however, described the controversial Lagos-Calabar Rail Project as “a very big omission” from the budget, adding that the error has since been admitted and rectified accordingly.
“First of all, I do not want to say there is suspicion. Yes there could be misunderstanding earlier on during the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly, and that misunderstanding arose from the fact that the president decided to play neutral, and having played neutral, the tendency is that you will not be anybody’s friend because no one will agree that you did not help the other person, but we who are in the APC party structure and belong to the highest organ of the party know that we enjoy good relationship with them.
“However, on the 2016 budget, people should look at it and look at the genesis of the problem. The genesis of the problem arose from the fact that when the calls for budget were done, some bureaucrats, some technocrats, some civil servants tampered with the budget out of mischief, just to feather their nests. Some other group of civil servants, out of carelessness or ignorance missed out vital items in the budget. So, the budget that first went to the National Assembly had a lot of omissions, and corrections were done. And details were not in the aggregate sum of the budget.
“So, the budget was actually returned and the national planning commission that was in charge of budget to ettet the corrections and omissions and send back. It’s the ministries that detected these omissions and applied to the planning commission for corrections.
“At the same time, the ministries were doing this they were supposed to be going to their various committees in the National Assembly to defend their budgets. Therefore, in a two way double pronged attack, as they were sending to the budget office, national planning commission and budget, they were also taking advantage of their budget defence to defend those corrections they had made,” he said.
Breaking down the budget making process, he noted that the process “starts at committee level and nothing stops a minister, who has gotten clearance of omission or an error from the budget office and national planning from tendering same to his committee. I was a deputy chairman of committee, I have gone through budget cycles, I did five budget cycles; a budget supplementary cycle in 2011, and I did four other ones, making five.
“I was a chief executive of a state too, I sent budgets to my House of Assembly, and I know also what is involved. Nothing says a minister cannot take a correction or omission that has been accepted and formalised at our budget office into the committee for defence. As a matter of fact, the committee is better guided if such a minister detects this at that particular level. It is after the committee level that it now goes to the appropriation committee of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
“These places are collation points. After their collation; the senate will collate and the House of Representatives will collate and then there is a joint sitting of both houses, and thereafter, they will send them to their respective houses as harmonised versions. We operate a bicameral legislature and that is why we have bicameralism, because two heads are better than one. So, it is after that, that the respective houses now pass and send to the president for assent, and for as long as the president has not assented, appended his signature, it is still a bill.”