- Â House: MTEF must be treated before Appropriation Bill
Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has formally notified the National Assembly of his readiness to lay the 2018 Appropriation Bill before the parliament next Tuesday.
This came just as the Senate Thursday gave reasons why the target set by the executive to get the 2018 budget passed in December and return to the January-December budget cycle might be a pipedream, saying doing so would amount to doing a shoddy job.
Answering questions from State House correspondents in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, suggested that the insistence on getting the budget passed next month in pursuit of a return to the January-December budget cycle might amount to being unpatriotic.
Lawan said the National Assembly has a responsibility to pass a Budget Bill that is implementable, where equity, fairness and justice in project distribution across the country are guaranteed.
According to him, getting the budget passed in December must not be â€œat all costâ€ but must be predicated on benefits derivable from it, pointing out that it was more important to ensure that the 2018 budget is well implemented in such a manner that it provides succour to the generality of Nigerians.
Lawan also reasoned that if the 2017 budget, which was passed into law in June, is done away with in six months, all in a bid to return to the January-December budget cycle, it might have dire consequences for the country.
â€œWell, it depends on how it goes. You know we are supposed to be working on the same page, working for the same people of Nigeria and we will like to see the National Assembly working in tandem with the executive arm of government.
â€œYou know these things will be determined by what the budget looks like â€“ the estimates presented to us â€“ because naturally, we always try to do a very thorough job, a very patriotic job to ensure that the budget is implementable; to ensure there is equity, there is fairness, justice in the distribution of projects across the country.
â€œWe would like to see that done but we shouldnâ€™t just do that at all cost. We should be looking at the benefits that could accrue from doing that and whether it is possible to just do it at once or maybe reduce the period in two phases or even more.
â€œThe 2017 budget took effect from June this year. If it is possible for us to complete the implementation of the budget in six months from June, so be it, but that also requires that we implement the budget properly because these are projects that are supposed to bring development, relief and succour to Nigerians, and if it is not possible, we shouldnâ€™t force it on ourselves that we must terminate it, regardless of what happens.
â€œWe should look at the potential consequences of terminating it in December or whether we need to extend it a little bit more into March, for example, but these are issues that when we debate between ourselves â€“ the executive and the legislature â€“ we will be able to sort them out for the benefit of Nigerians.
â€œWe are still working to ensure that the implementation of the 2017 budget continues. So far, it hasnâ€™t been implemented the way we thought it would.
â€œYou remember that there are certain things that you donâ€™t just get to happen at once. Some processes must take place before you finally have projects kicking off.
â€œSo I believe between now and when the 2017 budget cycle will be completed, much would have been done and achieved,â€ Lawan stated.
Buhari Writes Nâ€™Assembly
But as the Senate expressed its reservations about getting the 2018 budget passed next month, the president formally notified the National Assembly of his preparedness to lay next yearâ€™s Appropriation Bill before the parliament on Tuesday.
In his letter addressed to the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, and read at plenary in both chambers Thursday, the president said he intended to lay the budget proposal by 2 p.m.
The correspondence dated November 1, 2007, did not however allay concerns over the presentation of the bill, as the October deadline set by executive for its presentation, was not met.
Buhari, pursuant to Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution, craved the indulgence of the parliament to address a joint session of the Senate and the House.
There was an incident, however, when the Speaker read â€œ2017 budgetâ€ and instead of 2018, drawing an immediate reaction by members.
But Dogara quickly corrected the error.
Nonetheless, members gave a thunderous â€œnoâ€ to the time chosen by the president to lay the budget.
They felt that the president ought to have approached the National Assembly, which would in turn give him the appropriate time to lay the budget instead of suggesting the time as contained in the letter.
From their response, members showed a preference for 11a.m. instead of 2 p.m. as proposed by the president.
Nevertheless, House spokesman, Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, told journalists at the weekly briefing that the National Assembly was prepared to receive the president on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
He further clarified that while the president has a constitutional right to lay the budget even when the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) had not been passed, the National Assembly will first pass the MTEF and FSP before commencing legislative work on the 2018 budget.
He said there was no way the budget could be passed without first approving the MTEF.