Ndubuisi Francis in Abuja
Indications emerged at the weekend that the Senate is likely to consider and approve the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) soon after it resumes sitting at the end of Christmas and New Year festivities. The two documents are said to be top on the agenda when the lawmakers resume legislative duties on January 10, 2017. Top level lobbying is said to have been intensified by the executive arm of government, THISDAY gathered yesterday.
The upper legislative chamber had on November 3 rejected the MTEF submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 30, 2016, predicating its stance on the ’emptiness’ of the document. However, despite rejection of the MTEF by the legislature, President Muhammadu Buhari had on December 14, 2016 submitted the 2017 Appropriation Bill (budget proposals) to a joint session of the National Assembly).
Going by the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007, the approval of the MTEF precedes the submission of the budget proposals.
Section 18 of the FRA states: “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Act or any other law, the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework shall- (1) be the basis for the preparation of the estimates of revenue and expenditure required to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly under section 81 (1) of the Constitution. (2) The sectoral and compositional distribution of the estimates of expenditure referred to in subsection (1) of this section shall be consistent with the medium-term developmental priorities set out in the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework”.
THISDAY gathered that a day before Buhari submitted the 2017 budget proposals, the executive arm of government had worked round–the-clock to resubmit a more detailed MTEF.
Despite that move, analysts believe that a major infraction had already been wrought on the FRA so long as the National Assembly did not approve the MTEF in tandem with the requirements of that piece of legislation before the submission of the 2017 budget estimates. During the public presentation of the 2017 budget proposals in Abuja penultimate week, the Lead Director Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Mr. Eze Onyekpere had asked the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma how the 2017 budget proposals were arrived at and presented to the National Assembly when the MTEF was yet to be approved.
In response, Udoma said both the MTEF and the budget proposals (2017 Budget) had been submitted to the National Assembly, expressing optimism that the parliament would opt to approve the former before considering the budget.
A source from the Budget Office told THISDAY yesterday that an intense lobbying of the lawmakers had commenced from both the presidency and the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, to ensure that as soon as parliamentary activities resume on January 10, 2017, the MTEF would be approved. According to the source, it is in furtherance of that lobbying that President Buhari has continued to engage the Senate President, Bukola Saraki. The MTEF and FSP, THISDAY learnt are already being considered by the relevant committees, including Appropriations Committee and Finance Committee.
Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who has not hidden his disdain for the MTEF (2017-2019) as submitted by Buhari on October 4, 2014, had recently assured that the Senate would thoroughly scrutinise the document. Describing the document as ‘empty’, Ndume declared that the National Assembly will no longer act as rubber stamp, noting that that era was already consigned to history. He assured that suggestions and recommendations on the MTEF by civil society organisations, including CSJ will be considered on their merit.