Budget 2020: Senate tinkers with timetable, shifts deadline
• Extends Budget Defence Time
• May Suspend Plenary For Another Week
• Urgent Need For NABRO Re-echoes
Despite its avowed commitment to giving accelerated consideration to processing of the 2020 budget proposal, the Senate has run into hitches with its schedule for the exercise.
Consequently, it has reviewed its budget consideration timetable to allow most committees yet to conclude work, and process their reports, to do so within seven days.
It would be recalled that the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, had warned that any minister or head of any government agency that failed to defend their budgets by the end of October would not be given another opportunity by the National Assembly to do so.
Lawan, who is also the Chairman of the National Assembly, in his remarks during the presentation of the 2020 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari, said all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were expected to appear before the committees for the defence of their budget estimates within the month of October for timely passage of the budget.
“We have earmarked the month of October to be the sole window for all budget defence activities this year, by all MDAs. In this regard, our committees will be expected to conclude their work on budget defence within October.
“The subsequent necessary legislative work will be carried out in November and December, leading to the eventual passage before the end of this year,” Lawan had said.
However, the Chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee, Senator Barau Jibrin, confirmed that as it stands, the committees still have enough time to go ahead with their budget defence sessions with the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Barau told The Guardian that all MDAs yet to defend their budget proposals before the Senate committees could still do that throughout next week.
“We are very much on course; the exercise of budget defence with MDAs can actually continue and they will hold throughout next week,” he explained.
In the earlier schedule, the various committees of the Senate, which were supposed to gather information from MDAs on the budget, ought to have turned in their reports to the Appropriation Committee to begin the real process of turning the budget 2020 bill into law.
The Senate suspended plenary on October 15, 2019 for two weeks to allow the standing committees conclude work and submit their reports so that by Tuesday, October 29, plenary sessions would resume, while the Appropriation Committee alone would begin its work.
But as at Friday, none of the 68 committees had submitted any report to the Appropriation Committee. In fact, many committees are just inviting the MDAs for their budget defence meeting this week, just as it was learnt that some other committees were yet to begin processing their reports.
Another lawmaker, who preferred anonymity, hinted that the Senate may, again suspend plenary session for one more week to allow committees conclude their budget defence sessions with MDAs.
The Standing Rule of the Senate states that: “When the Appropriation Bill has been read the second time, it shall be committed to the Appropriation Committee. The standing committees of Senate shall for this purpose be deemed to be sub-committees of the Appropriation Committee and shall consider estimates for the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, which come under their charge. After consideration, the sub-committees shall report back to the Appropriation Committee.”
Realising that the earlier arrangement could not be sustained, the leadership of the Senate, it was learnt, approved further adjustments to allow the standing committees continue the budget defence session beyond this week.
Be that as it may, lawmakers have said that until the much awaited National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) is established, work on annual budgets would continue to suffer delay.
They blame the failure of the earlier timetable on the inadequacy of budget processing facilities in the National Assembly, as well as the large number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). There are over 600 MDAs that must appear before the committees of each chamber of the National Assembly to defend their budgets.
For 15 years, the National Assembly has been unable to get the NABRO Bill passed into law.
It was after the 2020 budget proposal was presented to the joint session of the National Assembly that the Senate reintroduced the NABRO Bill three weeks ago.
The bill, which was passed by the 8th Senate on May 3, 2019, however, failed to receive presidential assent.
Efforts to establish NABRO was first conceived in 2005 under the Senate Presidency of Senator Ken Nnamani, but failed to make it to the floor of the upper chamber.
Introduction of the bill in the 6th Senate under the leadership of Senator David Mark was also aborted as it failed to receive the required support.
The Bill was first introduced on the floor of the 7th Senate under Senate President David Mark, and sponsored by the Senate Leader at the time, Victor Ndoma-Egba. It, however, never made it to becoming law.
The current version of the Bill was sponsored by Senator Rose Oko (PDP, Cross River North).
According to the Bill, the proposed NABRO will report annually to the Senate and House of Representatives, all items funded in the preceding financial year for which no appropriation was made by the National Assembly and all items contained in the Appropriation Act in the preceding financial year but which were not funded by the Federal Government.
The office is to be headed by a Director-General, who shall also report to a governing board made up of a chairman and six members and shall “provide independent and continuous review of the federal government budgets including monitoring of existing and proposed programmes.”
Senator Oko explained: “Essentially, the NABRO Bill will provide assistance to all committees in both chambers of the National Assembly including but not limited to information with respect to budget and all bills relating to new budget heads; information with respect to estimated future revenue and changing revenue conditions.”
Besides, the Director-General of the proposed Budget Office, “shall obtain information, data, estimates and statistics directly from ministries, departments and agencies. More than that, the new law provides that, “the Director General may, upon agreement with the head of any MDA utilise its services, facilities and personnel as needed by the (National Assembly Budget and Research) Office.”
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