The National Assembly finally passed the 2017 N7.44 trillion budget last week, with the highlight being the opening of its own N125 billion budget to the public. Damilola Oyedele reports
Almost five months after it was laid before it at a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate and the House of Representatives on Thursday passed the N7.441 trillion spending bill concurrently. The document was also transmitted to the presidency same day, for presidential assent, which would effectively make it law.
The passage, however, came with an increment of N143 billion inputted by the National Assembly, deploying its powers of appropriation, from the proposal of N7.298 trillion. The lawmakers increased statutory transfers to the sum of N434.4 billion from N419.02 billion proposed by the Executive, while the appropriation for debt service was increased to N1.841 trillion from N1.66 trillion.
Sinking fund for maturing bonds was retained at N177.4 billion, while non-debt recurrent expenditure was increased to N2.99 trillion from N2.98 trillion contained in the budget proposal. The National Assembly appropriated N2.174 trillion for capital expenditure, which is exclusive of capital expenditure in statutory transfer, “for the year ending on 31st December 2017”. The executive had proposed N2.24 trillion for capital expenditure inclusive of capital in statutory transfer.
The Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing received the lion share of the budget with N586,535,786,168, followed by the Ministry of Interior with N472,597,817,561, and the Ministry of Education with N455,407,788,565.
Opening with Own N125bn Budget
The legislature has constantly faced a barrage of criticism for its decision to keep its budget closed to the public, usually preferring to present a single line item in the federal budget. The last time the public was able to scrutinise the legislative budget was in 2010. Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara finally bowed to sustained pressure and provided details of the budget. The legislature’s total N125 billion budget, increased by N10billion from the proposed N115 billion, was summarised in 10 line items.
Even though the National Assembly made its budget public, it did not provide the Senate and House overhead costs, or the budgetary sub-head for overheads, fuelling suspicion that this is where the lawmakers get paid the quarterly running cost for each of their offices. The 33-page document containing the line by line details of expenditure for the Senate was made available on the twitter handle of the Nigerian Senate, @NGRSenate.
The Management of the National Assembly is allocated N14.9billion with N6.7billion for personnel cost, N6.2 billion for overhead and N2 billion for capital budget. The Senate budget is N31.4 billion with N1.856 billion for personnel, translating to N17 million per annum as salary for each Senator. The Senate also got N25.1 billion for overhead costs and N4.4 billion for capital projects. The House of Representatives got a total of N49 billion, with N4.9 billion for personnel cost (N13.7 million per member per annum), N39.6 billion for overheads and N4.5 billion for capital projects.
A total of N2.4 billion is proposed to the National Assembly Service Commission with N961 million for personnel costs, N1.1 billion for overhead and N310 million for capital, while legislative aides office was proposed the sum of N9.6 billion with N8.9 billion for personnel cost, N535 million for overhead and N150 million as capital component.
The sums of N119 million and N142.7 million were proposed for the Public Accounts Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives respectively, while the sum of N12.6 billion was proposed for general services with N11.7 billion for overhead and N817 million for capital. The National Assembly Legislative Institute received a proposal of N4.3 billion with N416.5 million for personnel costs, N1.2 billion for overhead and N2.72 billion as capital. The sum of N391 million was budgeted for service wide votes.
The N143bn Increment
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje explained the increase of N143 billion to the executive proposal. He noted that the crude oil benchmark was increased to $44.5 dollars per barrel while the 2.2 million bpd benchmark was retained.
“We were in contact touch with the Executive. When we raised the benchmark by $2, the executive contributed, because all three tiers of government have to benefit from this increase. It is the federal government share of N131 billion that was applied to the federal budget,” he said.
Goje also noted that the National Assembly made some interventionist inclusions into the budget. These include the sum of N10 billion for the take-off of a second runway at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, N10 billion for the resumption of work on the abandoned Alhaji Bwari-Delta (FCT) railway line, and N5 billion for the completion of work on the abandoned Baro Inland Water Port, Niger.
Other inclusions are the addition of N10billion to the N65 billion proposal for the amnesty programme, N4 billion for the upgrading of the Abeokuta airport to make it a viable alternative to the Lagos airport, N25 billion to the budget for roads construction and rehabilitation, and N2.5 billion for the Economic Recovery Plan.
Goje said the budget for the commencement of work on a second runway at the Abuja airport is not expected to finance the whole project.
“We added to the Amnesty budget to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the Niger Delta region,” he added.
The Chairman also absolved the legislature of the blame for the delay in the passage of the budget. He explained that the document was submitted two days before the lawmakers embarked on their annual recess.
“So, we did not touch it until we came back. In line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, it should be submitted about four months before. It means even the constitution envisages that it would take about four months for a thorough job to be done. So, if it is submitted in September, then we would pass it by December or January,” he said.
Senate spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi said some increments were made to the budget corp members’ allowances.
“There were some deficits regarding personnel costs. During budget defence, many MDAs heads had complained about this. These are some of the interventions because this is the essence of the budget in the first place. It is people centered and it is pro-poor, and we included items that would support economic recovery,” the Senator said.
The 2017 budgetary process went on with little hitches and more co-operation between the Legislature and the Executive arms of government. This was unlike the process of the 2016 budget, which culminated in the refusal of President Buhari to assent to the document, delaying the process, with allegations of abuse of the budgetary process.
It is, therefore, hoped that the presidency would give assent to the 2017 budget ahead of the June 5 constitutional expiration of the lifespan of the 2016 budget, to avoid a constitutional crisis.