*Blames executive for late passage, insists on Sept submission to parliament
James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives yesterday reacted to complaints by President Muhammadu Buhari, who had during the signing of the 2018 budget criticised the National Assembly for unilaterally increasing the estimates and delaying for about seven months before passing the appropriation bill.
But in a swift reaction, the House insisted that the parliament was not a rubber-stamp not to have exercised its constitutional powers to properly vet the budget proposal as presented to it by the executive.
Spokesman for the House, Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, in a statement, said:â€We have to remind President Muhammadu Buhari that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positivelyâ€.
â€œSome of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man. The budget is usually a proposal by the Executive to the National Assembly, which the latter is given the constitutional power of appropriation to alter, make additions, costs or reduce as it may deem necessary. The Legislature is not expected to be a rubber-stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable,â€ the House said.
The House said the additional expenditure introduced in the budget, which Buhari particularly frowned at, were justifiable.
The lower chamber, further charged the president to ensure that the budget is submitted early enough to the National Assembly since he so desired to return the budget cycle to January-December, adding that both the 2017 and 2018 estimates came behind schedule to the National Assembly.
â€œWe are on the same page with the president in his desire to return our budget cycle to January-December. By the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, the budget estimates should be with the National Assembly around September of the year. In the case of the 2018 budget, the estimates came behind schedule in November 2017, even though this attempt was seen as one of the earliest in recent years. Going forward, we urge the Executive to speed up the reporting time to the National Assembly by complying fully with the FRA,â€ the House said.
â€œBesides, there were delays that should be blamed on the heads of MDAs. Mr. President will recall that he had to direct ministers and heads of agencies to go to the National Assembly to defend their proposals. This came after the National Assembly had persistently raised the alarm over the non-cooperative attitudes of these government officials. On these grounds, the delay in passing the budget cannot be blamed on the legislature,â€ the House added.
The green chamber further justified the National Assembly budget in the current year, stressing that it is lower than previous estimates.
â€œBefore 2015, the budget of the National Assembly was N150 billion for several years. It was cut down to N120 billion in 2015 and further down to N115 billion in 2016. In 2017, the budget was N125 billion and N139.5 billion in 2018. This means that the budget of the National Assembly is still far below the N150 billion in the years before 2015.â€
He said:â€While we commend Mr. President for a good working relationship, we also wish to state that we have a job to do, which requires adequate funding as well. The additional costs and projects to the budget were done in good faith for the sole purpose of improving the lives of Nigerians,â€ Namads said.
â€œFinally, we welcome the proposal by Mr. President to forward a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to address other areas of pressing demands and commend the President and the entire executive arm for a cordial working relationship,â€ Namads added.