2019 Budget: The Power Game, Intrigues Begin…

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Buhari greets Saraki and Dogara after presenting the 2019 budget

The 2019 Appropriation Bill appears to have been enmeshed in intrigues as the National Assembly leadership foot-drags on the debate of the bill over one month after its presentation by President Muhammadu Buhari, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

The last few days witnessed a beehive of legislative activities in both chambers of the National Assembly following the consideration of the National Minimum Wage Bill and the 2019 Appropriation Bill.

While the House of Representatives made moves to commence deliberations on this year’s federal budget estimate, the Senate appears not ready to debate it as the issue never appeared on the Order Paper for last week and the Senate leadership never brought it up for discussion. This situation led to a ranking Senator accusing the Senate leadership of intentionally frustrating move by members to commence debate on the budget.

Former Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, accused the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, of frustrating moves by the Senate to discuss the 2019 Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari last December.

To Ndume, who represents Borno South Senatorial District, the delay by the Senate to commence debate on the general principles of the N8.83trillion 2019 budget proposals five weeks after presentation by President Buhari was caused by the leadership of the Senate headed by PDP Senators.

According to him, as far as federal lawmakers belonging to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are concerned, the budget proposals can be attended to within a week and passed but the Senate headed by lawmakers on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), seems not to be interested in the consideration of the budget proposals for now.

“Though federal lawmakers on the platform of APC are more in number than their counterparts in PDP but since it is the PDP lawmakers controlling the leadership of both chambers, the speed at which any executive bill, particularly the 2019 Appropriation Bill before us now will take lies with them.

“Those of us in the APC in both chambers have the passion and the will to effect expeditious consideration and passage of the 2019 budget proposals but the required speed for that lies with the leadership, topmost of whom are PDP members,” Ndume said.

But the Senate last Thursday commenced in earnest debate on the National Minimum Wage Bill transmitted to it by President Buhari on Wednesday. For the first time in the history of the 8th Senate, the House Rules were set aside to allow the Bill to be debated, which culminated in the second reading of the Bill.

After a lengthy debate by Senators with Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu presiding, an eight-man ad hoc committee headed by Senate Chief Whip, Senator Sola Adeyeye, was constituted with a mandate to do further legislative work on the Bill within a two-week time frame.

In the House of Representatives, however, it was a different ball game as the leadership appeared ready to commence debate on the budget.

The Speaker, Yakubu Dogara wanted a quick passage of the budget and he acted it out when he failed to listen to Hon. Rita Orji from Lagos, who attempted to bring up the issue of quorum when the budget was brought up for debate. Eventually the second reading of the 2019 Appropriation was stepped down till coming Tuesday.

Dogara has continued to implore his colleagues to expedite action on the budget. Even after errors were discovered in the document, he maintained that the second reading of the budget could proceed in spite of the apparent flaws but that the Wednesday debate should merely look at the general principles of the budget.

According to him, “Even though it is apparent on the surface of the budget that there are so many irreconcilable differences in the figures allotted, basically we are discussing the general principles of the budget by virtues of the provisions of our rules at this time. So, we would talk about general principles at this time.”

However, the reason the second reading of the 2019 budget could not be concluded last Thursday was because some major mathematical errors distorted the figures given therein.

In fact, the lawmakers were prepared to commence their recess that Thursday to enable them embark on their re-election campaigns ahead of next month’s general election, but Speaker Dogara implored the House to sit on Tuesday to conclude work on the budget.

The duo of Hon. Adamu Chika representing Shiroro/Rafi/Munya federal constituency of Niger State and Hon. Ahman-Pategi representing Edu/Moro/Pategi federal constituency of Kwara State had identified irreconcilable errors in the 2019 budget, making the House members to limit themselves to debating only the general principles of the document pending when an error-free document would be presented to enable lawmakers continue work on the document.

While pointing out some of the discrepancies in some of the figures, Chika stated that: “I want to raise some issues, particularly some errors I noticed in the national budget. As everyone knew, the schedule in the budget consists of part A, which is the statutory transfers and part B, which is the debt servicing, part C, which is the recurrent expenditure and part D, which is the capital expenditure.

“I will raise some issues, which have to do, one, with the Ministry of Education, two, Ministry of Finance and three, Ministry of Budget and National Planning and then, one observation with the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).

“When you go to the education ministry, in part C, which is the recurrent expenditure, which consist both the personnel and overhead, you will realise that the budget is N462.2bn, but when you go to the summary of the budget by the MDAs, number 41: 0.5.1.8 personnel now have changed to about N539.6bn and overhead, there is N33.5bm now making it that the total recurrent expenditure when you go by the summary by the MDAs has changed to N539bn. I don’t know why that figure was added at that level.

“When you go to Ministry of Finance, the budget of the ministry in the recurrent expenditure in part C is N10.8bn, however, there is also an error when you go to the summary, which is number 21: 2.2.0, personnel is N7.4bn, which is okay, but when you go to the overhead, it now becomes N2.26trn and therefore that has also changed. Now the total which is now personnel and the overhead is now N2.27trn. That has also changed.

“In the Ministry of Budget and Planning, in the part C is N9.3bn, but however, when you go to the summary by MDAs, which is number 28: 0.2.3.8 personnel in the Ministry of Budget and Planning has now become N66.21bn. Then overhead also changed there; it is now N832.2bn. Then the total, which is personnel and overheard in that aspect has now become N1.49trn.

“The capital also has changed to about N655.9trn, now giving us a total allocation of the Ministry of Budget and Planning, instead of N9.3bn has now become N2.15trn.

“Also, at the capital, which is D aspect, page 118 appeared only as ‘Federation.’ We don’t have any MDA called federation, however, when I continued with the research, I realised that in that federation there is a capital component of N31.8bn, but when I continued to search, I realised that federation, I found it in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), so why did they write federation?”

Corroborating Chika’s findings, Ahman-Pategi said, “If you look at the budget; in the budget of the Ministry of Finance, the detail of overhead, salary and all that is correct. But in the summary detail on the right side column, that is where the mistake was made.”

According to him, “Anytime we discover it (error), they can attend to it. We know that we are discussing the general principles. It will still get to the committee level and all those can be done. As for the ministry, we can get the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of Finance and Chairman of Appropriations to liaise with these three bodies; the Budget Office, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the Ministry of Finance.”

The discovery of the errors had compelled Speaker Dogara to give a directive that relevant committees of the House of Representatives should liaise with Ministry of Budget and National Planning, and the Ministry of Finance to urgently correct the discrepancies in some of the figures so that the second reading would continue next Thursday.

Apparently, the correction were not concluded by Thursday hence Dogara told members that, “We have to sit on Tuesday so that we can give the committees the time to ensure that these errors were corrected,” adding that “members who want to speak on the budget should put down their names”.

Reacting to some of the errors observed in the budget, Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said human mistakes are inevitable in such circumstance but that they would be corrected.

“Mathematical errors in figures are things that are normal. At worst, it may reflect some kind of tardiness but it doesn’t take away the substance and the merit of what we are debating. And if you know the rules of the House very well, we are not here to debate the intricate details of the figures and numbers of the budget, we debate the general principles. That is what the debate is about,” Gbajabiamila said.

He however acknowledged that “It is a good observation and I believe it has been noted. Like the Speaker said, it will be sent back; the communication will be done. They will correct the figures just here and there that may have the potential of distorting the numbers. That will be cleaned up.”

Deputy Speaker, Hon. Lasun Yusuf, was however unhappy that the budget is too paltry to cater for the needs of every Nigerian, saying now is time for all hands to be on the deck towards expanding the country’s economy.

“We are not what we think we are as a nation. We can deduct it from the figure the executive arm of government has always sent to us. We think we are a rich country but from the figures, we are very poor.

“The 2019 budget says the proposal is N8.7trn of which if we do a direct conversion that is just merely $28.52bn. What does that mean? It means the totality of the Nigerian budget for 2019 is just about $29bn. Apple alone declared a profit of almost $100bn after tax. So, if for 160 million people, it shows that for 2019, the total money that is due for one head is just $178.52 in a year and so we all have the duty as Nigerians to begin to think outside the box of how we can develop our country.”

The second reading of the budget however commenced last Thursday without the mandatory one-third quorum because there were just 43 members when the debate started.

Following a call by Speaker Dogara, Leader of the House moved the motion for the second reading of the budget, which was seconded by the chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Edward Pwajok.

But Orji, representing Ajeromi-Ifelodun federal constituency of Lagos State, raised a point of order, noting that the House did not form the required two-third quorum but her protest was nullified by Dogara, who contended that she was not in the position to determine the quorum of the House.

Responding to Rita’s protest, Dogara said: “You are not the keeper of the register, so you cannot determine quorum. This is politics time, some members come around to sign the register and leave. You don’t keep the register, so you cannot draw my attention to the issue of quorum.”

By this position, the debate on the budget started with additional five lawmakers joining the plenary and before the end of the debate only 29 members were left in the chamber.

Last Thursday, President Buhari in his letter to the House of Representatives, had stated that the N27,000 minimum wage was based on the agreement between the government, organised labour and the private sector.

Reading the covering letter attached to the amendment bill at plenary Thursday, Dogara said the announced N30,000 wage for federal government workers in the lower cadre, was not reflected in the letter.

President Buhari, in his letter to the lawmakers, stated inter alia that “The purpose of this letter is to forward to you for legislative action a new Minimum Wage BIII to further amend the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Act. 2011, in order to give a new National Minimum Wage of Twenty Seven Thousand Naira (27, 000.00) per month to the lowest paid Nigerian worker from the current eighteen thousand naira (N18.000 00) per month.

“This new Bill and the amendments contained therein were arrived at after consultations by the Tripartite Committee on National Minimum Wage, which was constituted by me in November 2017 to consider, make recommendations, and advise the government on this issue.”

Buhari said the tripartite committee comprised representatives of the federal government, Governors’ Forum, Organised Private Sector and the Organised Federations of Trade Unions in Nigeria.

But most of the lawmakers, who commented on the new minimum wage bill, were of the views that it should be given expeditious passage and they also called for a review of the five years review clause when the debate commenced.

Hons Parley Iriase (Edo, APC), Aminu Shagari (Sokoto, PDP), Oluwole Oke (Osun, PDP), Johnson Oghuma (Edo, APC), Chika Adamu (Niger, APC), Kayode Oladele (Ogun, APC) and Segun Kolawole (Osun, APC) and several others commented on the new minimum wage proposal by the federal government.

Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Edward Pwajok, was not happy that the amount to be passed is N27,000 instead of N30,000. Though he pointed out that there are some topographical errors in the bill, he said in view of the fact that the bill has dragged on for too long, it should be worked upon in the interest of workers.

Adding his voice on the need to give the bill quick passage, Erase said: “I wish that this bill would be given expeditious attention. The Nigerian worker today is at the mercy of inflation, because of what he receives as monthly salary. You go to the market today items or products prices have skyrocketed.

The Nigerian workers will praise our courage when we pass this bill. It is a fact that the latest allocation formula is currently overdue.”

He however implored members to rather pass the N30, 000 minimum wage instead of N27, 000 saying, “You and I know that N30,000 is what this house would pass and I recommend it to this house that when it gets to committee level we should pass N30,000.”