Senate to Okay 2019 Budget April 16


• Buhari refuses assent to Ajaokuta steel completion bill, seven others

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Senate yesterday gave its Appropriation Committee a marching order to get the 2019 budget ready within one week for consideration by the upper legislative chamber and passage by April 16.

This is coming as President Muhammadu Buhari has declined assent to Ajaokuta Steel Completion Bill and seven other bills bringing to 34 the number of bills refused assent by the President in the last four years.

Specifically, the Senate charged its sub-committees to submit their reports by Friday to the Appropriation Committee that will present its report at plenary from April 9 to 11.

Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who announced this at plenary, also adjourned plenary to April 9 to enable relevant committees complete budget defence sessions with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Speaking after the Vice Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji ( Ebonyi South) disclosed that less than 10 sub-committees had submitted their reports, Saraki assured that the appropriation report will be considered by next week and passed on April 16.

According to him, if any sub-committee fails to submit its report to the Appropriation Committee by Friday, the appropriation panel will be empowered to present the submission to the Executive.

“Let us agree that they will submit by Friday. We will suspend plenary just for a week till April 9. We should be able to reconvene here by Tuesday and lay the report by April 9, 10 and 11 and pass this budget by April 16 because we have the Easter break coming as well. We don’t have that luxury of time”.

President Buhari had on December 19, 2018 presented an N8.83 trillion 2019 Appropriation Bill to a joint session of the National Assembly at the chambers of the House of Representatives.

Saraki also at plenary yesterday read seven letters from President Buhari declining assent to eight bills including the Bill seeking for fund to complete Ajaokuta Steel Company forwarded to him by the National Assembly in February.

President Buhari cited several reasons ranging from infractions on extant laws, duplication of responsibilities of existing agencies, to financial constraints for refusing assent to the bills .

The President in his refusal of assent to the Ajaokuta Completion Fund Bill as stated in a letter dated March 19, 2018, said appropriating $1billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) as requested in the bill by the federal legislators, is not the best strategic option for Nigeria at this time of budgetary constraints.

He said: “The nation cannot afford to commit such an amount in the midst of competing priorities with long-term social and economic impact that the funds can be alternatively deployed towards .

“Bills, which seek to make appropriation of revenues to fund public expenditure should be consolidated in the annual Appropriation Act such that these proposals pass through the traditional scrutiny that budget proposals are subjected to by the Ministry of Finance , Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the National Assembly .

“Furthermore, as the Excess Crude Account Funds belong to the Federation, it would be proper to consult with the National Economic Council where the states are represented.

“Relevant stakeholders such as the Ministries of Mines and Steel Development, Industry, Trade and Investment were not fully consulted. The inputs of key stakeholders are necessary to create the optimal legal and regulatory framework as well as institutional mechanism to adequately regulate the steel sector,” the President said.

In another letter of refusal of assent dated 27th March , 2019, President Buhari cited provisions contained in section 32 of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency Bill 2018 as the major reason for refusing assent to the Bill .

According to him, “Section 32 of the Bill introduces (I) a 2.5 per cent levy on the profit before tax of the target companies, which will increase the tax burdens of the companies while offering no direct benefit to them : (ii) a one per cent levy on imports which will also add to the cost of doing business in the country , (iii), a five per cent levy on luxury goods which duplicates efforts by the Federal Ministry of Finance to raise excise on such goods in a more sustainable manner to the benefit of the Federal Government treasury”.

He added that if signed into law, the agency will have similar objectives to the Bank of Industry particularly with regard to the funding of Small and Medium Enterprises .

“ Accordingly , it is important to streamline its functions to avoid a duplication or overlap of functions with other government institutions performing similar functions aside the likelihood of increasing public reccurent expenditure by the proposed creation of new public sector bodies “, he added .

Other bills declined assent by the President through separate letters include the Nigerian Aeronautical Search and Rescue Bill 2018, Chartered Institute of Training and Development of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill 2018 and Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria Bill 2018, among others.

Others are the National Housing Fund Bill 2018 , National Institute of Credit Administration Bill 2018; and National Bio- Technology Agency Bill 2018.

President Buhari had last month also declined assent to five bills including the Nigerian Film Corporation Bill, Immigration (Amendment) Bill, Climate Change Bill, Chattered Institute of Pension Practitioners Bill as well as Digital Rights and Freedom Bill.