By Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja
Developments in the House of Representatives are pointing to the fact that the 2019 budget will suffer further delays as top government functionaries Tuesday shunned the House joint committee setup to consider the 2019-2021 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).
The MTEF and FSP are statutorily required to be passed before the consideration of the budget but it is yet to be considered by the National Assembly about three months after the 2019 budget was laid before the lawmakers by President Muhammadu Buhari.
When the issue came up for discussion in Meeting Room 447, House of Representatives wing of the National Assembly where members of the House Committees on Finance, Customs, Loans, Aids and Debt Management, National Budget and Research Office and Appropriations converged, the Minister of National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma; the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; the Accountant-General of the Federation (AGF), Alhaji Ahmed Idris; the Comptroller of Customs, the Comptroller-General of Customs, Col. Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd); the Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Dr Babatunde Fowler; Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Maikanti Baru; Director of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Mr. Mordecai Danteni Baba Ladan; and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, were all absent for various reasons.
Reacting to the development, the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, who chaired the joint committee, Hon. Babangida Ibrahim, said the decision of the MDAs not to appear before the committee is delaying the budget preparation.
According to him, “We have resolved that this budget must be passed as quickly as possible but as you can see, in the absence of key agencies that are not here, we have to adjourn. This is because of the importance of the document. I wonder what national assignment that is more important.”
Lamenting that practically all the relevant agencies were not present at the budget defence, Ibrahim said: “So, what are we doing here?”
Noting that oil production output, exchange rate and oil price benchmark are some of the important parameters to be considered in arriving at a workable MTEF, he said: “You can see that all those people in charge of those parameters are not here. I think we have to adjourn this discussion and give them another chance. We will communicate a new date because we want to lay our budget.”
When fielding questions from newsmen, Ibrahim said: “You can see that the House has sent a notice of invitation to all the stakeholders and MDAs involved in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper so that we can discuss it against the backdrop of the preparation of the 2019 budget. We are here today but unfortunately, we discovered that almost of all the heads of the agencies that are key in discussing the MTEF are not here.
“The minister of national planning is not here, the minister of finance is not here, Accountant-General of the Federation is not here, Comptroller of Customs is not here, chairman of FIRS is not here, GMD of NNPC is not here, director of DPR is not here, CBN is not here. In fact, almost all of them.
“The only person that is available is the DG, Debt Management. So you can see that we cannot proceed to discuss the MTEF in the absence of these key players. That is why we have to adjourn the meeting. We are going to give them a new date next week. We hope they will attend to our invitation.”
On his part, the Chairman Committee on Insurance, who is a member of the committee, said it was important that the absence of the MDAs should be made public to prevent Nigerians from blaming lawmakers for delays in budget preparation.
The Chairman, House Committee on Aids, Loans and Debt Management, Hon. Ajayi Adeyinka, representing Ife federal constituency, Osun State, noted that what is happening in the committees now is budget performance and that nobody is doing budget defence, adding that: “We have adjourned until the agencies are present. That is the current position of the committee.”
Asked if it could be concluded that nothing has happened to the budget since it was presented to the National Assembly by the presidency, he said: “On the budget, the MTEF is about to be considered. There are two chambers; there is a Senate and there is a House of Representatives. In the House of Representatives, the budget as sent by Mr. President has been passed to the Appropriation Committee where all other committees are sub-committees.
“The position of the chairman of the joint committee on the consideration of the MTEF is that all the committees who are sub-committee of the appropriation are engaging in budget performance appraisal waiting for the MTEF to be passed before budget defence.
“I have a committee, I have not done defence. The Debt Management Office DG was here. She has not appeared before me for budget defence.”
On the fact that OPEC has already cut oil output, and it implications of the MTEF where the budget has passed second reading in the House of Representatives, he said: “When you say budget has passed second reading; budget passing second reading throws it back to the committees to work on. Part of the consideration of the committee is your information, if it is correct. If your information is correct that OPEC has cut the allocation to Nigeria, it would be considered in approving the MTEF. There would be adjustments to MTEF in respect of oil production and it would affect the budget down the line, if your facts are correct.”