The National Assembly is still working on the 2016 budget, a week after it passed the appropriation bill, it was learnt on Wednesday.
Members of the Senate Committee on Appropriation met for hours in the office of their Chairman, Senator Danjuma Goje, on Wednesday, to continue the scrutiny of the 2016 budget, which was hurriedly passed on March 23.
The PUNCH learnt that the Senate, at plenary, passed the 2016 Appropriation Bill last week to calm frayed nerves over the document but it was learnt that the committee had yet to conclude work on the bill.
A member of the committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told one of our correspondents on Wednesday that the intention of the Senate was to transmit highlights of the 2016 budget to the President while work continued on the details, which he claimed was full of errors and repetition.
He said, “We were in a fix a few days to the passage of the 2016 budget when the National Assembly Budget and Research Office brought copies of its booklet, which contained errors it said it discovered in the 2016 budget.
“We had to agree that highlights of the budget be passed and transmitted to the Presidency while we withhold the details so that we can cross-check the claims of NABRO in the booklet.
“From the look of things, it will take another two to three weeks for us to conclude work on the budget. We are not alone, financial experts are also involved in the scrutiny.”
Goje ignored attempts by journalists to interview him while the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, who was not available in office on Wednesday, did not return repeated calls to his mobile neither did he respond to a text message sent to him.
A booklet on the 2016 budget, containing errors, repetitions and alleged padding in the document, was published by NABRO penultimate week.
On its part, the House of Representatives said the Presidency would get the full details of the 2016 budget within the next one week.
“The details should not take more than a week or two after passing the budget,” the House said.
It, however, pointed out that Buhari could still sign the 2016 Appropriation Bill already forwarded to him while the details could come later.
The House noted that there was nothing “abnormal” if the President signed the budget before receiving the details, but added that it would equally not be abnormal if he chose not to sign before getting the details.
The House confirmed that it had indeed sent the “estimates” of the budget as passed to the President, but was still working on the details of the allocations to the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
The Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, who spoke on the issue in Abuja on Wednesday, said the House was compelled to speak up due to the impression in the public that the National Assembly was delaying the budget.
Jibrin recalled that since 1999, Presidents had had their preferences on how to treat the budget after the passage by the National Assembly.
For instance, he said former President Olusegun Obasanjo was known to sign the estimates immediately the Appropriation Bill was passed to him.
He added, “As I have mentioned earlier, that there is nothing abnormal, it is a normal practice for the National Assembly to send the Appropriation Bill estimates to the President.
“It is also nothing abnormal for the President not to assent to it before seeing the details or after seeing the details.
“We have instances of President Obasanjo who signed the budget without the details; we came to (Umaru) Yar’Adua, who always preferred to see the details.
“So, if President Buhari prefers to see the details before assenting to the bill, I don’t think we should make a big deal out of it. It is absolutely normal.”
However, Jibrin, who spoke with journalists, expressed doubts that Buhari indeed accused the National Assembly for delaying the budget.
The lawmaker stated that the 2016 budget was a particularly challenging one, which came late on December 22 with many errors that needed to be sorted out.
He explained that after the President sent in a corrected version earlier this year.
“With all these series of challenges in the course of working on the budget, I doubt very much that the executive arm of government or Presidency, knowing what has transpired in the last few months, will be throwing stones at the National Assembly,” he said.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had passed a budget estimates of N6.06tn.
The harmonised figure of N6.06tn passed was about N17bn less than the initial N6.07tn proposed by Buhari.
However, the National Assembly retained most of the projections of the President, including the $38 proposed as the crude oil benchmark.
Oil price has improved marginally lately to between $40 and $41 per barrel.
The NABRO booklet allegedly discovered fresh padding of over N500bn contained in the budgetary proposals for the MDAs in the 2016 budget proposals as well as the Service Wide Votes.
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Mr. Suleiman Abdulrahman-Kawu, said Buhari would sign the budget as soon as he got the details.
Abdulrahman-Kawu added that if there was a reason the President would not assent to the budget, he would communicate it to the National Assembly.
While acknowledging the fact that the National Assembly had sent the estimates to the President, he explained that the delay in assenting to the budget had to do with the details which did not accompany the document sent to Buhari.
Abdulrahman-Kawu stated, “This has been the practice since the inception of our current democratic dispensation in 1999.
“Now, we are waiting for the National Assembly to finish with the details and transmit same to Mr. President.
“Moreover, we wish to thank the National Assembly for working day and night to ensure the successful passage of the budget, although we are still waiting for the details.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the current National Assembly has not transmitted any budget details to President Muhammadu Buhari let alone for him to sign it.”