Buhari, Lawan differ on ‘worrisome changes’ in N17.127 Trn 2022 Budget
*President Signs Bill, Vows To Seek Amendments
President Muhammadu Buhari has signed into law the 2022 Appropriation Bill and the 2021 Finance Bill.
While signing the bills yesterday in Abuja, President Buhari said the decision was in keeping with the tradition of restoring the January to December fiscal year as provided for in the country’s Constitution.
The President signed the documents in the Presidential Villa at a ceremony witnessed by the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, as well as other members of the Federal Executive Council.
Speaking at the event, President Buhari said the 2022 Budget provides for aggregate expenditures of N17.127 trillion, an increase of N735.85 billion over the initial Executive Proposal for a total expenditure of N16.391 trillion.
The President explained that N186.53 billion of the increase however came from additional critical expenditures that he had authorised the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to forward to the National Assembly.
“The Minister will provide the public with the details of the budget as passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by me,” he said.
The President said given that the 2023 Budget would be a transition budget, work would start in earnest to ensure early submission of the 2023-2025 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper as well as the 2023 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly.
He, therefore, directed Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to cooperate with the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, more specifically with the Budget Office of the Federation, to realise the objective.
President Buhari, however, expressed strong reservations over what he described as the “worrisome changes” made by the National Assembly to the 2022 Executive Budget proposal.
Apparently irked by the development, the President announced the decision to revert to the National Assembly with a request for amendment as soon as the Assembly resumes so that critical ongoing projects cardinal to the administration do not suffer a setback due to reduced funding.
The President specifically recounted that during the presentation of the 2022 Appropriation Bill, he had stated that the fiscal year 2022 would be very crucial in his administration’s efforts to complete and put to use critical projects, as well as improve the general living conditions of Nigerians.
He added: ‘‘It is in this regard that I must express my reservations about many of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the 2022 Executive Budget proposal.
“Some of the worrisome changes are as follows: Increase in projected FGN Independent Revenue by N400 billion, the justification for which is yet to be provided to the Executive; reduction in the provision for Sinking Fund to Retire Maturing Bonds by N22 billion without any explanation; reduction of the provisions for the Non-Regular Allowances of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Navy by N15 billion and N5 billion respectively. This is particularly worrisome because personnel cost provisions are based on agencies’ nominal roll and approved salaries/allowances.
“Furthermore, an increase of N21.72 billion in the overhead budgets of some MDAs, while the sum of N1.96 billion was cut from the provision for some MDAs without apparent justification;
“Increase in the provision for Capital spending (excluding Capital share in Statutory Transfer) by a net amount of N575.63 billion, from N4.89 trillion to N5.47 trillion.”
President Buhari also raised worries over the reductions in provisions made for some critical projects, including N12.6 billion in the Ministry of Transport’s budget for the ongoing Rail Modernisation projects; N25.8 billion from Power Sector Reform Programme under the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; N14.5 billion from several projects of the Ministry of Agriculture and introducing over 1,500 new projects into the budgets of this Ministry and its agencies.
The President further expressed reservations on the “inclusion of new provisions totaling N36.59 billion for National Assembly’s projects in the Service Wide Vote which negates the principles of separation of powers and financial autonomy of the Legislative arm of government.”
He noted: “The changes to the original Executive proposal are in the form of new insertions, outright removals, reductions and/or increases in the amounts allocated to projects
“Provisions made for as many as 10,733 projects were reduced while 6,576 new projects were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly.
“Reduction in the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce ‘Empowerment’ projects.
“The cuts in the provisions for several of these projects by the National Assembly may render the projects unimplementable or set back their completion, especially some of this administration’s strategic capital projects.
“Most of the projects inserted relate to matters that are basically the responsibilities of state and local governments and do not appear to have been properly conceptualised, designed and cost.
“Many more projects have been added to the budgets of some MDAs with no consideration for the institutional capacity to execute the additional projects and/or for the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.’’
He noted that ‘‘I signed the 2022 Appropriation Bill into law to enable its implementation to commence on January 1, 2022,” adding: “However, I will revert to the National Assembly with a request for amendment and/or virement as soon as the Assembly resumes to ensure that critical ongoing projects that are cardinal to this administration, and those nearing completion, do not suffer a setback due to reduced funding.”
Fielding questions on the concerns raised by the President over changes in the budget proposal transmitted by the National Assembly, Senator Lawan downplayed the observations, saying that the Parliament was right in its judgment on the appropriation document made available to the Executive arm.
He, however, welcomed the decision of the President to send the proposed amendments to the National Assembly so that lawmakers could take a second look at the contentious areas.
“I think the most important thing is, Mr. President is happy with the majority of what the National Assembly has done and that is the most critical thing that we need to focus on. As for the observations Mr. President has raised, this is a natural and logical tendency between the executive and the legislature; sometimes our views on certain issues may not be necessarily the same kind of views that the executive will have and hold on any particular matter.
“So, I don’t think what the President did by raising some observations is something that we should worry about. I’m happy that the President signed the budget in the first place. And he said, it’s going back to the National Assembly to seek for amendments or virement; and this natural, logical, legislative process. So I’m happy that we have done our own part in our own way,” Lawan said.
On his part, Gbajabiamila expressed the need for transmission of the 2023 budget to the National Assembly for early consideration by the parliament.
The Speaker said the move would provide ample time for the lawmakers to carry out due diligence on the fiscal document and make it seamless in the area of implementation.
He said: “Every year’s budget is an improvement on the last one. So, the transition budget shock Mr. President spoke about, as you heard him earlier, they are even going to bring it earlier in 2023, which gives us ample time, more time to work on it, improve on it, and make it a seamless budget with a seamless execution and implementation.
“I don’t think I have a problem with 2023 budget. 2023 budget is going to come and we’re gonna work on it just like we have been working on the budgets.
“Well, we are on vacation now. When we come back on January 18, 2022, we will know what’s next.”