Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate yesterday jacked up the request by President Muhammadu Buhari for the virement of N180 billion with an additional N33 billion, bringing the total figure approved by the upper chamber in the National Assembly to N213 billion.
In contrast, the House of Representatives increased the president’s request for the N180 billion virement to N208 billion. The difference would subsequently have to be harmonised by both chambers of the National Assemply before final approval.
While presenting the report of the Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance on the virement yesterday, its chairman, Senator Danjuma Goje, said the total amount was sourced from the recurrent and capital components of the Special Intervention Programme of the 2016 budget.
He also said the agencies to which the funds would be vired gave enough justification for the request, explaining that some of the agencies told the committee that the amounts proposed by the president were inadequate to meet the shortfalls of their financial obligations.
The committee further reported that in view of its discovery on the needs of the affected agencies, it resolved to raise the request from N180 billion to 208.8 billion.
Beneficiaries of the hike, according to Goje, are the Public Complaints Commission (PCC), which had its original request raised from N1.2 billion to N2.5 billion and another N25 billion approved for the payment of local contractors’ debts.
In summary, the committee approved N169.6 billion as recurrent expenditure and N39.2 billion as capital intervention fund.
But during consideration of the report, the Senate further raised the N208 billion recommended by the committee by another N5 billion which it approved for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) projects in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, thus bringing the total approval to N213 billion.
But during consideration of the report yesterday, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu drew the attention of his colleagues to Section 81(4) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides for the presentation of a supplementary budget before the National Assembly.
According to him, there is no provision for virement in the constitution, describing it as a “military terminology” that is not backed by law and therefore implies a breach of the constitution.
Ekweremadu therefore warned against a repeat of the request for virement.
“Your Excellency, distinguished colleagues, we have been going through the issue of virement which is not known in our constitution. It is a military terminology and it is certainly not in our constitution.
“What is in our constitution, because when they present this virement, nobody makes any reference to any law authorising it, what we do is in respect of the constitution. We swore to an oath to abide by the provisions of this constitution.
“Regarding appropriation, we have either the Appropriation Act or the Supplementary Act. There is nothing like virement. For our guidance and the guidance of the executive, I propose that going forward, if there is any shortfall or there is need to cover any grounds that has not been covered, the appropriate thing is a supplementary appropriation, not a virement because virement is not known to the constitution,” Ekweremadu said.
Senate President Bukola Saraki backed Ekweremadu’s observation and advised the executive to abide by the provisions of the constitution, pointing out that the request should have come as a supplementary budget and not virement.
“I think your observation as far as the constitution is concerned is well noted. I think we are all fully aware of that and that is why I cannot continue to thank my colleagues so much in the way we have been addressing the issue of the economy and we are not looking at it from whichever party we belong to or whatever side.
“If we stick to the constitution, you are very right and it’s part of our support and cooperation with the executive and Nigerians to move things forward. As you rightly said, this should come as a supplementary budget but in an attempt to make this move and incorporate it and ensure that we give the support, the executive should also take note,” Saraki said.
But Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West) differed on the positions of the two presiding officers, saying even though the constitution does not provide for virement, the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 does so and hence remains a valid action.
He said: “Nobody in his senses will doubt or contest the very clear provisions of the constitution. However, there is a Fiscal Responsibility Act. Section 24 provides for virement. While we accept the intervention, we don’t want to create the impression that it meant a wrong thing in totality because there is a Fiscal Responsibility Act which is recognised by the constitution.”