The National Assembly on Friday responded to the issues raised by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 2018 budget, justifying the insertion of projects and cuts in the amounts allocated to projects in the Appropriation Bill originally proposed by the President on November 7, 2017.
It explained that projects and votes in the 2018 budget were rejigged to correct the alleged imbalance in Buhari’s version of the bill.
According to the legislature, projects as proposed in the bill violated the federal character and did not reflect the needs of ordinary Nigerians.
The President, while assenting to the bill on Wednesday, had complained about the increment of the 2018 budget from the proposed N8.612tn to N9.12tn, as well as the adjustments made to the estimates.
Buhari had said in part, “The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347bn in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578bn.”
However, the National Assembly stated that the reduction of allocations to the proposed projects and re-allocation of votes to others in the budget were made in order to address geopolitical imbalances in the budget presented by the executive.
The Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi and Mr. Abdul-Razak Nandas, respectively made the National Assembly’s position known at a joint press conference in Abuja on Friday.
It said, “Adjustments and reductions in the locations, costs and number of projects approved were made in order to address geopolitical imbalances that came with the executive proposal. The introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of Federal Character as contained in Section 14 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.
“The number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geopolitical zone of the country to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command national loyalty.
“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.”
The legislature also blamed officials in the executive of misinforming the President on the true state of the Federal Government projects across the country.
“It is our firm belief that if the President had been properly briefed by his appointees, he would not have raised most of the concerns that he did in his remarks at the budget signing. It is therefore inevitable for the legislature to give members of the public an insight into what transpired during the appropriation process and how we arrived at the decisions that are contained in the 2018 budget,” the National Assembly said.
Reacting to the allegation by the President that the passage of the budget by the legislature was delayed for six months, the lawmakers recalled that heads of Federal Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies were forced by Buhari himself to appear before legislative committees to defend their budget proposals five months and eight days after the bill was presented.
“In addition, up till April, six 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,” the lawmakers noted.
Although the National Assembly did not fault the 6,403 inserted projects in the budget, it faulted the claim that they were worth N578bn.
The lawmakers said, “It was stated that the legislature made cuts amounting to N347bn, which were meant for 4,700 projects. Again, these reductions of N347bn were made from low priority areas to higher priority areas to support the generation of employment for our youth by Micro, Small and Medium-scale Enterprises.
“We took the decision to reduce the funds in some areas in order to ensure balance and equity in the spread and utilisation of our national funds. Additionally, the figures given as 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.”
Stressing its point, the National Assembly noted that the counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/Ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project, was reduced by only N3,956,400,290, representing only 1.78 per cent of the total N222,569,335,924 submitted by President Buhari.
It stated, “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 N11.5bn.’”
Breaking down the estimates, the lawmakers noted that the counterpart funding for the 3,050megawatts Mambilla Hydropower Project was reduced from N8.5bn to N8.2bn, a reduction of N300m.
It also noted that 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 N10bn to N9.1bn, a reduction of N900m.
The construction of Bodo-Bonny Road with a bridge across the Opobo channel in Rivers State, the legislature said, was reduced from N10bn to N8.7bn, a reduction of N1.3bn.
It said the fund for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced from N20bn to N18bn, a reduction of N2bn, “which would not significantly affect the construction of the road in one appropriation cycle.”
The National Assembly pointed out that the counterpart funds allocated to railway projects across the country, totalling N162,284,335,924, as presented by the President, were retained.
The rail projects include the Lagos-Kano (ongoing), Calabar-Lagos (ongoing), Ajaokuta-Itakpe-Aladja-Warri (ongoing), Port Harcourt-Maiduguri (new), Kano-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi in Niger Republic (new), Abuja-Itakpe; Aladja-Warri-Warri Port and Refinery, including Warri New Harbour (new); Bonny Deep Sea Port and Port Harcourt.
The National Assembly further said it increased the aggregate funding for the East-West Road from N11.285bn to N12,085bn “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.”
Addressing the issue of the Second Niger Bridge project, the lawmakers said, “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.
“The N900m reduced from the N10b proposed by the executive was deployed to fund ancillary roads that connect to the bridge. It should again be noted that the N12.5bn and the N7.5bn appropriated for the Second Niger Bridge in the 2016 and 2017 budget by the National Assembly were never utilised for the project.”
The legislature added, “We also need to call the attention of the public to the fact that the National Assembly allocated an additional N2bn to the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway project. This was more than the executive proposed.”
The National Assembly said it was true that the budget of the Federal Capital Territory was slashed by N7.5bn.
“The legislators stand by this decision,” it stated.
The legislature said through its oversight on the FCT, it discovered that in the 2016/2017 budget cycle, there was “a severe non-performance of the budgetary allocations” to the nation’s capital. It stressed that during the period, over 50 per cent of the funds allocated and released to the FCT were not utilised.
“These funds were ultimately returned to the treasury,” it said.
On the provisions for strategic interventions in the health sector cut by an aggregate of N7.45bn, the lawmakers stated that it was on record that for the first time since the National Health Act was enacted in 2014, the legislature made provision of an additional N55bn to fund primary health care through the Basic Health Care Provision Fund, which would be sourced from 1 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
“Thus, contrary to the claim that the health sector suffered any budgetary cuts, we actually provided more funds that will make access to health services possible for over 180 million Nigerians,” the lawmakers noted.
On the N3bn that was cut from amount allocated to the 104 Unity Schools, the National Assembly said, “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 N3.7bn more for meal subsidies in these 104 Unity Schools.”
It said, “It is necessary to again clarify that during the budget defence and oversight processes, the National Assembly discovered that out of the N2bn contract for the Enugu Terminal Building, N1.7bn had already been paid to the contractor, and what is left to complete this project is just N300m. Hence, the National Assembly approved N500m for the project — which is even N200m more than was required.”
The lawmakers said that the increment in the National Assembly’s budget was isolated by Buhari when he spoke on statutory transfers, noting, “It is important to note that the increase in the oil price benchmark from the projected $45 to the actual price of $51 generated additional N523.65bn for the Federal Government. Thus, based on agreement between the National Assembly and the executive as represented by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, the additional revenues were allocated among the three arms of government.”
The extra amount shared by the arms of government totalled N245,512,325,726, according to the legislature.
The National Assembly added, “It is important to state that on many occasions, Mr. President emphasised to the nation the urgent need to develop our human capital, which is our people, especially the youth. It is on this note that the National Assembly should be commended to the degree that most of the human development projects were captured in the budget by the legislature.
“Nigerians should note that due to the ‘back and forth’ that we have experienced in the past, the improvement of the budgetary process should be a higher priority than trading blames. This trading of blames and unnecessary ‘scapegoating’ is not healthy as it creates needless conflicts between the two arms of government.
“Finally, in order to ensure that all capital projects in the 2018 budget receive their necessary financing, we call on Mr. President to present the borrowing plan to the National Assembly so that we can approve it.
“We therefore want to urge all executive appointees to ensure that they brief Mr. President with the truth and facts of their engagement, to promote healthy and harmonious relationships between the executive and the legislature.”
However, the Presidency on Friday insisted that members of the National Assembly deliberately distorted the 2018 Budget presented to them by the President in order to increase their allocation for constituency projects.
Reacting to the response of the National Assembly justifying its distortion of the budget, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said in a statement that the executive was surprised that with an additional N170bn available for the lawmakers for constituency projects and another N100bn provided for the same purpose in the budget, they still felt it was necessary to cut allocations to important national projects, thereby distorting the budget. “How much is enough,” he queried.
He said throughout the budgeting process, the executive was in touch with the National Assembly, which indicated that it intended to increase the benchmark price by $5, from $45 to $50.
It read, “Out of the $5 increase, the National Assembly informed the executive that they intended to utilise $2 (amounting to about N170bn) for projects selected by themselves. They asked the executive to suggest important projects that could be accommodated with the funds arising from the balance of $3.
“After some consideration, the executive was of the view that an increase in the benchmark price of crude oil to $50 was not unrealistic and the President decided to accept this in the spirit of compromise required for a successful budget exercise.
“The executive had, in that spirit, suggested that from the additional funds arising out of the $3 increase, $1.25 from the increase should not be appropriated as expenditure, but utilised to reduce the deficit in the budget. The executive therefore restricted itself to submitting, for the consideration of the National Assembly, important items that could be funded from $1.75 of the $3 increase. NASS eventually raised the benchmark price to $51, apparently to accommodate the additional allocations to health and Niger Delta Development Commission.”
Adesina said the President’s position was clear from paragraph 12 of his speech that about 70 new road projects had been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing and that regrettably, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads had been cut by the National Assembly in order to make provision for some of the new roads.
Culled from Punch