N/Assembly to Buhari: New Projects Included in Budget to Address Imbalances

  • Budget was distorted, insists Presidency; says lawmakers raised constituency allocations from N100bn to N270bn

By Deji Elumoye, Omololu Ogunmade and James Emejo in Abuja

The National Assembly yesterday justified its inclusion of new projects in the 2018 budget, saying it did this to address the geo-political imbalances in the spread of capital projects in the 2018 appropriation bill.

While signing the budget on Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari had disclosed that the National Assembly made budget cuts to the tune of N347 billion originally meant to execute 4,700 projects and smuggled fresh 6,403 projects with N578 billion allocations into the budget.

Presenting a 22-page reaction to Buhari’s alleged budget distortion by the National Assembly, the legislature argued that the number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geo-political zone of the country and to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and national loyalty.

The Presidency reacted immediately in a press statement, insisting that the budget was distorted by the lawmakers and further alleged that they raised constituency allocations from N100 billion to N270 billion.

At the joint press briefing by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, alongside his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, the lawmakers appealed to all executive appointees of Buhari to ensure that he’s properly briefed with the truth and facts of their engagement, “so as to promote healthy and harmonious relationship between the executive and the legislature.”

The legislature said the concerns raised by the President during the signing of the 2018 budget, where he had criticised the parliament for unilaterally increasing the budget by introducing new projects not captured in the initial proposal, wouldn’t have arisen if he were properly educated by his aides. 

“It is therefore inevitable for the legislature to give members of the public an insight into what transpired during the appropriations process and how we arrived at the decisions that are contained in the 2018 budget,” said the lawmakers.

They said the increases affected in the budget were mutually agreed to by both the executive and legislature, and wondered why it should be an issue with the president, if he was duly educated on the development.

Abdullahi said: “The introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of Federal Character as contained in Section 14, subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, which states that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria.

“The number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geo-political zone of the country to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command national loyalty.

 “Within the context of the provisions of Sections 4, 80 and 81 of the Constitution, everything that the National Assembly has done is within its powers.”

On Buhari’s criticism of the National Assembly for passing the Appropriation Bill, seven months after it was laid before a joint session of both chambers, the spokesmen said: “It is necessary to remind Nigerians that although the budget was submitted in November, as at March 15th 2018 (5 months and 8 days after the budget submission), Mr. President was still directing the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to compel the Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government to appear before the committees of the National Assembly to defend their respective budget.

“In addition, up till April (6 months after the budget submission), the Executive was still bringing new additions to the 2018 budget, which the National Assembly in good faith and in the spirit of collaboration and harmonious working relationship accepted.

“More importantly, the 2017 budget was signed into law on June 5, 2017 and by the provisions of Section 318 of the Constitution, which defines the Financial Year as “any period of 12 months beginning on the first day of January in any year, or other date as the National Assembly may prescribe” – the 2017 budget lapsed on the 5th of June 2018. This same provision is replicated in the 2017 Appropriation Act.

“It is important to also note that if not for the fact that the 2017 budget elapsed on the 5th of June 2018, the federal government would not have recorded notable capital projects for the just ended financial year. This is because it (FG) only started releasing funds for capital projects in December 2017 when the funds from the federal government’s loans were released and disbursed to contractors.”

Continuing,  the lawmakers said: “On the issue of an Organic Budget Law to improve the budgetary process, the proposed law is pending in the National Assembly and cannot be considered without the amendment of Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which gives the President the power to propose “estimates” anytime in the financial year. Nigerians need to know that during the last Constitutional Review exercise, the National Assembly in its wisdom amended this provision and it was approved by over two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly.

“The new Constitutional Amendment requires the President to submit the budget not later than 90 days to the end of the financial year. As of today, the President has not yet signed this Constitutional Amendment Bill which would have helped us to have a proper budget calendar, which shall eventually lead to the realisation of the proposed January to December budget cycle.

“It was stated that the legislature made cuts amounting to N347 billion which were meant for 4,700 projects. Again, these reductions of N347 billion were made from low priority areas to higher priority areas to support the generation of employment for our youth by MSMEs. We took the decision to reduce the funds in some areas in order to ensure balance and equity in the spread and utilisation of our national funds. Additionally, the figures given amounts of the reductions made by the National Assembly were unduly exaggerated as we did not make any substantial reduction on any project to the extent of affecting its implementation.

“To give the exact details of the projects where we made deductions, it should be noted that the counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/Ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Express Road and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project, was reduced by only N3,956,400,290 – which represents only 1.78 % of the total N222,569,335,924 submitted by President Buhari. This left these projects with N218,612,935,634 which cannot negatively affect their implementation. This obviously contradicts the claim that these projects lost “an aggregate of N11.5 billion.”

The spokesmen also accused the Executive of awarding 15 road projects in 2017 without financial backing and decided to make necessary financial for the execution of the projects in 2018 budget.

According to them, “realising the importance of these projects, National Assembly decided to spread part of the saved funds to facilitate the take-off of these projects that included the rehabilitation of Ikorodu-Shagari Road in Lagos State; the rehabilitation of 9th Mile-Orakam to Benue border and the general maintenance of Pankshin-Ballang-Nyelleng-Sararele-Gindiri road in Plateau state among others. These are the projects purported to be projects without conceptualisation.”

The National Assembly also clarified the reported slashing of the N2 billion earmarked for Enugu Airport Terminal Building to N500 million. 

“The National Assembly during the budget defence and oversight processes discovered that out of the N2 billion contract for the Enugu Terminal Building, N1.7billion had already been paid to the contractor and what is left to complete this project is just N300million. Hence, the National Assembly approved N500 million for the project- which is even N200million more than was required.

“We refer Nigerians to a publication in THISDAY Newspaper published in April and titled- Giving Enugu Airport a Facelift-and written by the newspaper’s Aviation Correspondent, Chinedu Eze where the Minister of State (Aviation), Mr. Hadi Sirika, was quoted as saying: “We just last week released N1.7billion to the contractor and hopefully also within the shortest possible time we will release another N300million for him so that they can quickly finish the airport terminal. This will bring the airport to its desired standard “, the National Assembly further explained. 

Presidency: How N’Assembly Distorted 2018 Budget

The Presidency in its reaction yesterday night unveiled how the legislature allegedly distorted budget 2018.

A release by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the National Assembly’s decision to justify alleged distortion of the 2018 budget had compelled the presidency to further reveal the perceived misdeeds of the lawmakers.

Adesina disclosed that in addition to N100 billion contained in the original proposal for the implementation of constituency projects, the lawmakers proceeded to allocate additional N170 billion for more constituency projects, thus bringing the total allocations for constituency projects to N270 billion.

The president’s spokesman, who also disclosed how the lawmakers allegedly had prior to the passage of the budget, accosted the executive, seeking its understanding to raise the earlier proposed oil benchmark from $45 to $50, added that they told the executive that they wanted to use $2 of the increase of $5 for their selected projects.

He said the president consented to the decision to increase the benchmark to $50, but with understanding that $1.25 of the remaining $3 increase left for the executive should not be appropriated but to be earmarked for reduction of deficit in the budget.

However, he said the National Assembly went beyond the agreement to raise the oil benchmark to $51 to accommodate more health and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) projects.