The Senate and House of Representatives yesterday listed the need to address “geo-political imbalances’ and ensure compliance with the constitutional principle of Federal Character as the reasons for its adjustments to the 2018 budget proposals submitted to it by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The lawmakers also claimed that the budget process is a joint effort that “must reflect the input of both the executive and the legislature, the latter being the closest representatives of the people.”
But it admitted that it was “fully aware that the Executive has the exclusive responsibility to execute all parts of the Appropriation Act once it is signed into law.”
The legislature was responding to Wednesday’s public complaint by President Buhari on the massive alteration made to the budget by the federal lawmakers.
Buhari who signed the budget document ‘reluctantly’ on account of the alteration said the National Assembly raised estimates he presented by N578 billon, cut N347 billion allocated to 4,700 projects and introduced 6,403 projects of their own, reduced allocation for the completion of the Enugu Airport terminal building from N2 billion to N500 million and the take-off grant for the Maritime University in Delta State from N5 billion to N3.4 billion, among others
He said: “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.
“Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed, and will therefore be difficult to execute.”
But giving its own side of the controversy in Abuja yesterday, the National Assembly said 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 to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command National loyalty.”
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, spoke for the legislative arm at a press conference.
Abdullahi said that 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.”
He said that Chapter 2 of the Constitution emphasises the need for balance, inclusivity and equity in the distribution of national resources.
The annual budget, which symbolises the distribution of these resources, he said, must reflect these values, which they swore to uphold.
“These Constitutional provisions, in addition to a recent court judgment, have affirmed the fact that the budget process is a ‘joint effort’ that must reflect the input of both the executive and the legislature — the latter being the closest representatives of the people,” he said.
He said it was wrong to blame the National Assembly for the delay in passing the budget proposals because, according to him, as at March 15, 2018 (five months and eight days after the budget was submitted), the 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,” he said..
“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 the Federal Government 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.”
On the N347 billion said to have been cut from the budget proposals, Abdullahi said the money was ”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 utilization 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.”
He added: “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 counterpart funding for 3050 mw Mambilla Hydropower Project was reduced from N8.5billion to N8.2billion (a reduction of N300 million);
“The construction of the Second Niger bridge including access roads phases 2a and 2b in Anambra and Delta states and other projects in the South East were reduced from N10 billion to N9.1 billion (a reduction of N900 million);
“The construction of Bodo-Bonny road with a bridge across the Opobo channel in Rivers State was reduced from N10billion to N8.7billion (a reduction of N1.3billion);
“The funding for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced from N20billion to N18billion (a reduction of N2billion), which would not significantly affect the construction of the road in one appropriation cycle.
“The Railway Projects (Counterpart Funds): 1. Lagos-Kano (ongoing) 2. Calabar-Lagos (Ongoing) 3. Ajaokuta-Itakpe-Aladja (Warri) (Ongoing) 4. Port Harcourt- Maiduguri (New) 5. Kano-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi in Niger Republic (New) 6. Abuja-Itakpe and Aladja (Warri)-Warri Port and Refinery including Warri new Harbour (New) 7. Bonny deep Sea Port & Port Harcourt of N162,284,335,924 was retained by the National Assembly as presented by Mr. President.”
Abdullahi said that the National Assembly increased the aggregate funding for the East-West Road from N11,285,000,000 to N12,085,000,000 “because we realised the strategic importance of the road to the entire oil producing areas of our country and the fact that the road project has lingered for too long.”
On the Second Niger Bridge project, Abdullahi said that “apart from early works, as of today, there is no existing contract for the Second Niger Bridge in spite of frequent requests from the National Assembly.”
He added that “the N900million reduced from the N10billion proposed by the Executive was deployed to fund ancillary roads that connect to the Bridge.”
“It should again be noted that the N12.5billion and the N7.5billion appropriated for the Second Niger Bridge in the 2016 and 2017 budget by the National Assembly were never utilised for the project.”
He said that the National Assembly allocated an additional N2billion to the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway project over and above the sum appropriated by the executive.
Abdullahi said that under the 2017 budget, contracts for 15 roads were awarded by the Federal Executive Council with no budgetary provisions.
He noted that the realization of the importance of the projects made the National Assembly to “spread the N3.9billion saved from the earlier mentioned projects funding to facilitate the take-off of these projects that include: the rehabilitation of Ikorodu-Shagamu 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, etc. These are the projects purported to be “project inclusions without conceptualization.”
He said that “the National Assembly needs to be commended by Mr. President for helping to support the take-off of these awarded but unfunded projects.”
On the issue of the 104 Unity Schools across the country and the claim that N3billion was cut from their funding, Abdullahi said that “Nigerians need to know that after careful consultation by the committees of the National Assembly with stakeholders in the sector, the National Assembly actually provided an additional N3.7billion more for meal subsidies in these 104 Unity Schools.”
On the allocation for the Enugu Airport he said: “It is necessary to again clarify that during the budget defence and oversight processes, the National Assembly discovered that out of the N2billion 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 N500million for the project — which is even N200million more than was required.”
He added: “The Executive’s proposal for the National Judicial Council was N100 billion, however, the National Assembly appropriated N110billion which represents N10 billion increase.”
He said that the Executive’s proposal for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was N71,195,023,529, however the National Assembly appropriated N81,882,555,891 — which represents a N10,687,532,363 increase;
“An additional N33,981,437,188 was also appropriated for the outstanding liabilities to the NDDC by the Federal Government to enable the commission settle some of its contractors that were owed over N1 trillion ;
“The National Assembly received an additional N14.5billion in funding;
“In order to ensure that they are able to meet their mandate, the National Assembly increased the Public Complaint’s Commission’s budget from the N4,200,000,000 proposed by the President to N7,480,000,000 — which represents a N3,280,000,000 increase; and
Lastly, the National Human Rights Commission’s budget was increased from N1.5billion to N3,013,745,000, which represents a N1,513,745,000 increase.”
Abdullahi noted that “It is therefore very clear that the three arms of government benefited from the increase which was mutually agreed on with the Ministry of Budget and Planning.