Fresh indications have emerged on why the Presidency and the National Assembly are not on the same page over the N6.07 trillion 2016 Appropriation Bill.
President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the estimates on December 22, 2015 to a joint session of the National Assembly. Shortly after, there were reports that the document was withdrawn for re-drafting.
On January 18, the Presidency withdrew the budget over claims that the version Buhari laid before the National Assembly in December was not the same version hius aide presented for consideration.
The controversy lingered until Buhari formally withdrew the budget and replaced it with a ‘final’ version.
But, no sooner had the budget been referred to the Appropriation Committees in both chambers than reports of “padding” surfaced.
Shortly before the estimates were submitted to the National Assembly, the Presidency warned ministers, as heads of departments, parastatals and agencies that, on no account should they “lobby” the Senate or the House of Representatives for higher allocations than what were submitted, in a radical departure from past tradition where federal lawmakers jacked up votes for MDAs.
The order was “lobby and be sacked.” Sources in some MDAs told Daily Sun that further to the directive, they were told “there should be no room for negotiation on any item with any lawmaker, no matter his or her rank…”
Budget defence came and went and February 25 was set for its passage, but, it was shifted. The passage was eventually shifted thrice.
Last week was the third time the National Assembly would postpone its passage, after the two Appropriation Committees had met with the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, to iron out details in the budget.
Regardless, a source in the Presidency attributed the latest shift in the passage to “politics. After the brouhaha of ‘changing’ figures and an harmonisation meeting, which even had Godwin Emefiele, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), in attendance, the next thing we heard was discovery of some new paddings to the tune of N37 billion.
“The truth of the matter is that the National Assembly has finished work on the budget. Why are they still holding on to it, after the harmonisation meeting? They are just playing politics with the passage…”
More than that, however, he alleged that, “the National Assembly is holding on to the budget as a ‘bargaining chip’ in the political scenario involving Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki.”
He cited Saraki’s impending trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) and asked, “ why was it politically expedient for the Senate, after setting March 17 for laying, consideration and passage of the budget, to suddenly shift the passage again?
“The lawmakers said they discovered a fresh N37 billion scam in the budget. Let them tell Nigerians who has custody of the budget since last year and after the President submitted a new and final version to them.
A source in the Finance Ministry alleged that budgets are ‘padded’ by the MDAs through procurements, which are usually embedded in “overheads.”
He explains further: “This is how it works: Ministry A will allocate some figures in the budget for procurement of computers and some other items while Ministry B will also allocate some figures for the same procurement. Yet, the figures allocated for the same procurement are usually different. There is usually disparity in figures, yet, these MDAs want to buy the same computers… This practice is replicated for other, similar items. That is how budgets are padded. Besides, is it true that MDAs even buy computers every year?
“look, some of these MDAs jack up their recurrent expenditure, making allocations for ghost workers in the process. The National Assembly is aware of this, yet, they do not weed out such discrepancies…”
On the recent discovery of N37 billion fraud in the budget, which necessitated a shift in its passage last week, the source said the document had been with the National Assembly since last December and the matter was not even brought up at the harmonisation meeting.
“Did the Presidency submit a new budget? Why was it that when they had set a date topass the budget was when they suddenly discovered that it was padded by N37 billion? The Constitution empowers the National Assembly to work on and weed out what should not be in the budget..It’s all politics…” he insisted.
Senate spokesman, Abdullahi Sabi dismissed allegations that lawmakers collude with civil servants to pad the budget. “Go and meet the source where you got the story from. Let me make it very clear that we are an institution and nobody can box us to say things we do not know.
The committees have a process and we will report what we feel we should tell Nigerians. It is not my duty to talk about allegations, but the official position of the Senate. I have been speaking in official position. So, I have no business with that allegation.”
His counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulrazak Saad Namdas equally dismissed the claims. He said allegations of connivance of padding was a fresh move to discredit the National Assembly.
He wondered why the National Assembly was always the scapegoat whenever anything was wrong. Rather, he said the committees of the two chambers have done well in trying to come up with a clean copy of the budget.
“These ar¡e parts of the calculated attempts to always ridicule the National Assembly. Anytime something wrong is done, they always blame it on the National Assembly. Some of the MDAs came and we challenged the figures in the budget. Can that also be said that the National Assembly influenced the addition of those figures?
A Presidency source sais “it’s not in the nature of this president to pad budgets and Nigerians know that.
Adding his voice to the budget debacle, Hon. Joseph Edionwele said it would still be impossible to present a perfect copy of the budget.
“The budget was full of errors. It was not as if the budget will still be perfect. There are some we will still allow to go. We have done reasonably well by removing some things and taking them to areas where they are needed. Let me give you example with the buying of equipment in the State House.
“The equipment they want to buy do not have a place where they will keep them. And, they are buying them for N12 billion. What we did was to split it into two and made provision for where some equipment will be kept. It happened in a number of ministries and we had to correct them.”
In 2005, for instance, former Minister of Education, Prof Fabian Osuji was sacked by the Obasanjo administration for allegedly bribing National Assembly members on the education committee to inflate the budget of his ministry.