ABUJA – Senators of the Federal Republic yesterday, took turns to pummel the 2018 Budget as presented earlier by President Mohammadu Buhari, describing it as empty and impassible.
At the resumption of Legislative proceedings, Senators complained that 2018 budget is filled with inaccuracies, budget padding and inconsistencies.
The Senate is maintaining that it cannot complete work on the 2018 budget in January as requested by the Executive.
Besides the inconsistencies, the Senate complained about what they described as abysmal performance of the 2017 Budget, due to alleged low releases by the Ministry of Finance to fund projected capital projects.
The senators also regretted failure of President Buhari to fulfil his promise of 40 per cent 2017 Budget implementation while the balance of 60 per cent would be rolled over to 2018.
The lawmakers were particularly irked by the observation that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), only attained 15-20 per cent 2017 budget performance.
This, they said, was despite repeated assurances by the executive arm that improvement in releases of funds would be made.
Most MDAs, they noted, were yet to receive funds to pay salaries and and fund other recurrent components of the 2017 budget.
For them, the declaration by the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, that N750 billion had been released, remained questionable.
Senate President Bukola Saraki’s intervention saved the day as no resolution was taken at the end lengthy debate on the performance of the 2017 budget.
Many of those who contributed to the debate wanted the lifespan of the 2017 budget to be extended to 31st of March, 2018.
It was the opinion of the speakers that until the 2017 budget attained a high level of performance, the implementation of the budget should not be truncated by the passage of the 2018 budget.
The debate of the performance of the 2017 budget followed a closed door session where the lawmakers were also said to have bared their minds.
Although Saraki broached the issue of what really transpired at the closed session, Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah raised a point of order.
Na’Allah cited Order 42 and 45 of the Senate Standing Rules to buttress his point.
The Kebbi South lawmaker told his colleagues that the plan to pass the 2018 budget before the end of 2017 was no longer feasible due to prevailing circumstances.
He warned that the prevailing template of the budget will continue to pose serious challenges to the Federal Government in the implementation of the budget.
Na’Allah noted that the template was developed and adopted during the Military era specifically when Kalu Idika Kalu was Finance minister.
He submitted that the issue should be extensively discussed in order to proffer solutions.
“I feel that there are certain aspects that the Senate has so many things to discuss. When we suspended the plenary for two weeks, the intention was to enable committees work.
They are supposed to report progress in order to enable the Senate pass the budget before the end of the year or early next year.
When we suspended plenary, it was with the idea that the committees will swing into action so we can have a tentative date to pass the budget.
From what I have seen, we might run into troubled waters. If we have not appreciated what the problems are, it is important for Nigerians to come here and understand what the problem is.
The template we are using will continue to create problems for us. It was created during the Military era. The template cannot work in our country today.
From reports we have had, it is obvious that we have problems. We need to know what the problems are.
If we have a 2017 budget that has not been executed today and we are considering the 2018 budget, it means there is a problem.
The President told us that the 2017 budget was going to achieve at least 60 per cent performance.
Today, that has not happened. We need to lay this issue and discuss it. Let us put the facts before the Executive and show Nigerians the difficulties we are facing.”
Thereafter senators began to pour their frustrations over the 2018 budget thus:
Senator Dino Melaye, on his part, described the 2018 budget as a ‘boju boju’ document.
The Kogi West lawmaker noted that it was obvious that the 2018 budget proposal was “garnished with deception” stressing, “there is no relationship between the 2017 and 2018 budget”.
“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, said during the budget presentation that the 2017 budget will be rolled over.
I took the 2017 budget and went through it page by page. There is no relationship between the two documents. The budget we received was a ‘boju boju’ budget. Why do we package a 2018 budget that was garnished with deception”
“There is about N850 trillion with the CBN. There is an outstanding of N1.5 trillion from collection of stamp duties with the CBN. This money has not been remitted. Yet we took over N2 trillion loan. We need to strengthen the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
“The NNPC was supposed to remit hundreds of billions of naira last year. They did not do that. Yet, we say we are fighting corruption. We cannot continue in sin and ask grace to abound. The issue of discussing the 2018 budget should not even arise.
“Enough is enough. We must ensure that the 2017 budget is properly implemented. We must ensure that the budget is an elitist.
“We need to strengthen the capacity of our treasury, no kobo was paid by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in 2016 and 2017 which is leaving our revenue hanging”- Sen. Dino Melaye.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Account, Sen. Matthew Urhoghide, suggested that consideration of the 2018 budget be suspended, pending when the 2017 budget will attain appreciable level of performance.
“I want to say that the budget of 2018 is already bedeviled. For us to be able to determine the 2018, we need to see the performance of 2017.
Many MDAs are complaining that what they are getting for recurrent expenditure is not even for them. More worrisome is the capital expenditure.
Last week, the Minister of Finance announced that N750 billion had been released. If this money has been released, MDAs are yet to get this money. With the envelope budgeting they are doing, we do not know what has been given to MDAs.
I want to say that every consideration about the 2018 budget should be put at bay. This executive is not serious. Let them tell us what they have done with the 2017 budget. The budget presentation has become is an annual ritual that is not benefiting anybody”, he continued.
As for Sen. Barnabas Gemade: “It is important to have the appropriation Bill go for 3rd reading, the executive arm of Government is not ready for the budget to be passed”.
Sen. Mao Ohuabunwa: “We are lawmakers not lawbreakers. We must have to read the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) 4 months before looking at the budget and a minimum of 50% of the budget should be passed before the year runs out. There is no correlation between the 2017 budget and the coming 2018 budget”.
Sen. Solomon Adeola: “How can we consider the 2018 budget when we cannot get the performance of the 2017 budget? There is no need for us to be in a hurry, the executive arm is not ready for the budget to be passed. Ministry of Power and some MDAs came unprepared”.
Sen. Lanre Tejuoso: “There is no good coordination between the executive and the legislative. The MDAs are not ready for the budget defence, most MDA heads are out of the Country”.
Sen. Mohammed Hassan: “We need to know the projects that are ongoing and new projects so we can know the correlation”.
In his ruling Senate President Bukola Saraki saved the 2018 Budget from being returned to the Executive as he urged the various Senate Committees to work hard to deliver a people oriented budget.
“Truly it is very disappointing and disheartening to hear the various experiences of the committees, how can anybody in the executive be so irresponsible to pick this period of time to be travelling, they’ve had all time to travel”, he ruled.