Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Senate wednesday issued a one week ultimatum to ministers, and the heads of departments and agencies of government, to appear before its relevant committees to defend their 2018 budget estimates.
The upper legislative chamber said the attitude of the heads of MDAs, in shunning appearances for budget defence, is responsible for the delay in the passage of the N8.612 trillion national budget bill into law.
The Senate warned that the failure to adhere to its ultimatum would cause it to adopt the proposal submitted for such MDAs by the executive arm of government.
President Muhammadu Buhari, who laid the budget on November 7, 2017, had urged the National Assembly to pass the budget bill by January 2018.
This is in a bid to restore the budget cycle to January to December of every year.
The Senate, on at least two occasions, had raised the alarm that the ministers and heads of agencies do not honour invitations of its committee on the grounds that they are outside the country.
The matter was again discussed at plenary yesterday when Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, sought an update on the status of the bill, from the Appropriation Committee.
The Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji (Imo APC), said most sub-committees have been complaining about the attitudes of the MDAs, who have failed to properly defend their budget estimates.
â€œSince January, the Appropriations Committeeâ€™s doors have been opened to receiving reports from the sub-committees, but most of the sub-committees have a huge challenge with the MDAs because majority of the MDAs are not coming forward to interface with them,â€
â€œSome of the ministers will tell you that they are going outside the country and because of that, the MDAs are not fully ready. So, we donâ€™t have the reports yet,â€ Ogbuoji told the Senate.
â€œWe believe that it is when the MDAs come forward, that our colleagues will be able to finish with their work. Some of the committees are unable to do their work. When the committees screen what the MDAs have brought, they will ask them to go back and work on them budgets and come back. But they donâ€™t come back, and that is delaying the work on majority of the MDAs,â€ the senator added.
Saraki, in his remarks, said the impression being created in the public space is that the passage of the budget bill is being delayed by the Nâ€™Assembly.
He however noted that officials who have refused to appear to defend their budgets cannot hold the country to ransom.
â€œWe are giving them till the end of next week. I appeal to all these ministers and heads that keep on travelling. This is the time for them to sit on the ground and ensure that we can finish with these reports, so that these reports can be completed and submitted,â€ he said.
The senate president added that the upper legislative house intends to pass the national budget bill alongside the budgets of the 64 revenue generating agencies.