N’Assembly May Pass 2019 Budget Today, Senate Orders Minister to Return N14.3bn

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Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The two chambers of the National Assembly will today debate and possibly pass the N8.83 trillion 2019 budget estimate submitted to the legislative body by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 19, 2018.

This is coming just as the Senate yesterday gave the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment , Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah and the Acting Managing Director of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority ( NEPZA), Mr. Terhemba Nongo, up till Thursday, May 2 to return N14.3 billion diverted from 2017 NEPZA budget into the national treasury.

Senators and members of the House of Representatives are expected to debate the budget report with the leaders of the two chambers setting the pace for the debate at today’s plenary.

The Senate had last Thursday postponed the final consideration and passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill to today as a result of the unavailability of details of the budget report for Senators to peruse.

Leader of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North), had in moving for the stepping down of the bill, which had been listed on last Thursday’s Order Paper till another legislative day, referred to the absence of the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation , Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central ) and his Vice, Senator Sonny Ogbuoji (Ebonyi South).

However, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, cited non-availability of copies of details of the reports as reason for stepping it down.

According to Saraki, “some members have not got printed copies of the details and I have directed the Clerk of the Senate to make sure that latest by Monday (yesterday) we all have printed copies so that everybody can see the details of the budget, and by so doing we can now pass it next Tuesday

“We don’t want to run into a problem where we pass it without details and our colleagues will start to comment. So, Clerk, ensure that everybody has copies of the details by Monday and we will pass it on Tuesday”, he further said.

Final report on the budget estimates was laid before the Senate by the Chairman of its Appropriation Committee, Senator Danjuma Goje penultimate Wednesday before the upper legislative chamber went on one week Easter break.

Meanwhile, the upper legislative chamber has directed Enelamah and the Acting Managing Director of NEPZA, Nongo to return N14.3 billion diverted from 2017 NEPZA budget into the national treasury .

The Senate in a letter written to that effect by Chairman of its Committee on Trade and Investment , Senator Mohammed Sabo ( Jigawa South-west), warned the minister and NEPZA boss to either comply with the directive or be ready to face legislative action against them .

Sabo explained to reporters yesterday evening that the anger of the committee was not unconnected with alleged fraudulent way the diverted N14.3billion was hurriedly transfered from NEPZA account into that of a private company called Nigerian Special Economic Zone Company Account between April 8 and 10, this year despite earlier warning .

The diverted money, he said, was first warehoused in NEPZA’s account with the CBN from 2017 budget allocations before moving it into the private company account a fortnight ago .

“To prevent this fraud, my committee wrote a letter to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele on the 8th of this month not to release the money but very annoyingly, the money is confirmed to have been released and transfered by NEPZA in collaboration with the minister into a private company account .