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Budget 2018: National Assembly faults Buhari’s claims

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Senate

• Says President Was Misinformed On Budgetary Figures
• Lawmakers’ Alterations Smack Of Greediness, Insists Presidency

The National Assembly said yesterday that the 2018 budget figures reeled out by President Muhammadu Buhari in respect of several projects were incorrect and misleading.

It declared that adjustments and reductions in the locations, costs and number of projects approved were made in order to address geo-political imbalances that came with the Executive proposal.

At a joint press conference addressed by spokespersons of the Senate, Aliu Sabi Abdullahi and his House of Representatives colleague, Abdul Razak Namdas, it was also pointed out that the introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of Federal Character as contained in Section 14, subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which states that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria…”

However, the presidency yesterday insisted that the lawmakers’ alterations demonstrated greediness and self-centredness. In a statement by presidential spokesperson, Femi Adesina yesterday, the presidency said the lawmakers apart from increasing the oil benchmark for lawmakers’ interest, still cut funding for essential projects.

“The Executive is therefore surprised that with an additional sum of N170 billion Naira available for the National Assembly to spend on Constituency Projects, together with the sum of N100 billion Naira, already provided for in the Budget, that the National Assembly should feel it necessary to cut allocations to important national projects, and thereby distort the Budget, in order to further increase their allocation for constituency projects,” Adesina said.

The National Assembly further asserted that the 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. It insisted: “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.”

“Furthermore, Chapter 2 of the Constitution emphasizes the need for balance, inclusivity, and equity in the distribution of national resources. The annual budget, which symbolises the distribution of these resources must reflect the aforementioned values, which we swore to uphold,” the NASS said.

Curiously, the National Assembly revealed that there was no existing contract for the construction of a second Niger Bridge.

The Assembly said: “Addressing the issue of the Second Niger Bridge project, 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 N900million cut 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 budgets by the National Assembly were never utilized for the project.”

On the President’s claim that the National Assembly delayed in passing the Budget, the parliament noted that “although the budget was submitted in November, 2017, as at March 15, 2018 (five months and 8 days after the budget submission), Mr. 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.

“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 said.

On the reductions made in some aspects of the budget, the National Assembly declared that, “the figures given by the President 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.

“It was stated that the legislature made cuts amounting to N347 billion which were meant for 4,700 projects. Again, these reductions of N347 billion were 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,” the Assembly said.

Giving the exact detail of the projects where deductions were made, the lawmakers disclosed 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 per cent of the total N222, 569,335,924 submitted by the President. This left these projects with N218, 612,935,634 that cannot negatively affect their implementation. This obviously contradicts the claim that these projects lost “an aggregate of N11.5 billion,” they submitted.

Specifically, the National Assembly said “the counterpart funding for 3050mw Mambilla Hydropower Project was reduced from N8.5billion to N8.2billion (a reduction of N300million); 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 N10billion to N9.1billion (a reduction of N900million).”

It continued: “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) while funding for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced from N20billion to N18billion (a reduction of N2billion).”

The Assembly also disclosed that it increased the aggregate funding for the East-West Road from N11, 285,000,000 to N12, 085,000,000 because it realised the strategic importance of the road to the entire oil producing areas of the country and the fact that the road project has lingered for too long.

On the issue of the 104 Unity Schools across the nation and the claim by the President that N3billion was cut from their funding, the National Assembly disclosed that it actually provided an additional N3.7billion more for meal subsidies in these 104 Unity Schools.

Faulting President Buhari’s remarks on the alleged reduction of the funding for the construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport, the lawmakers said:
“it was claimed that the provision for construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from 2 billion Naira to 500 million Naira and that this will further delay the completion of this critical project.

“However, for the avoidance of doubt, it is necessary to again clarify that during the budget defense 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.”


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