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No going back on budget, says Senate

By Alifa Daniel, Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Emeka Anuforo, Segun Olaniyi and Chuka Odittah (Abuja)
13 April 2016   |   4:58 am
The Senate yesterday said that having passed the appropriation bill, it would not bend backward to introduce the Lagos- Calabar Rail project.

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As Nigerians await resolution of the face off between the Presidency and the National Assembly over the 2016 budget, the Senate yesterday said that having passed the appropriation bill, it would not bend backward to introduce the Lagos- Calabar Rail project.

And if the rail project must be accommodated in the budget, President Muhammadu Buhari should submit a fresh proposal for it after assenting to the one it had just passed.

The senators took this stand as the Ministry of Budget and National Planning yesterday in Abuja said that the executive arm of government had not joined issues with the lawmakers, and proceeded to explain the circumstances surrounding the inclusion of the coastal rail project.

It was gathered that before reaching their decision, the Senators, at an executive session, were engaged in hot debate over issues arising from the disagreement between the Presidency and the National Assembly.

Some of the lawmakers were said to have expressed disgust about what they called counter statemen‎t issued by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport, Gbenga Ashafa, while others condemned the language used in the statement issued by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ali Saabi Abdullahi.

It was also learnt that many senators complained that the appropriation committees did not carry members along in most of the final decisions taken on the budget.

Briefing journalists at the end of the closed-door session, Abdullahi said the Senate resolved that President Buhari could present a supplementary budget to take care of the Lagos-Calabar Rail project.

Abdullahi said: “Now, one thing that is obvious is that we have passed the budget. Nigerians are asking what next for us; what is important now is for the budget to be signed.
“The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations, and Section 81 of the constitution is very clear on what you need to do which is to sign the budget and then submit a supplementary appropriation.”

Frantic efforts were being made yesterday in Abuja to douse the tension generated by the budget impasse so that a middle ground could be reached to prepare a seeming convivial atmosphere before the president’s return to facilitate early assent to the budget bill.

A communication line is believed to have been opened between Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who holds sway temporarily and the leadership of the National Assembly, but the details were not clear at press time.

The explanation from the Budget and Planning Ministry came amidst subtle declaration from the Ministry of Transportation that it had video evidence to prove that the Lagos-Calabar rail project for which N60 billion was appropriated by the ministry was in fact presented to the lawmakers.

The National Assembly Joint Appropriation Committee had claimed that the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, did not include the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail project in the 2016 budget presented to the lawmakers.

In its statement, the Budget and National Planning ministry, through the Media Adviser to the Minister, Mr. James Akpandem, wrote:

“In view of the recent controversies surrounding the 2016 budget, it has become necessary to state the following so as to set the facts straight:

“With reference to the specific issue of the Calabar – Lagos rail project, we will like to state that the two railway projects, Lagos – Kano and the Calabar – Lagos, are very important projects of the present administration; and it was always the intention of the Executive to have both projects reflected in the budget submitted to the National Assembly.

“However, it will be recalled that the Budget Office made a number of errors in the initial proposals of a number of ministries.

These errors were all corrected by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the corrected versions were submitted to the relevant committees of the National Assembly. This included that of the Ministry of Transportation.

“The amended Ministry of Transportation budget was accepted by the relevant committees and that was the version defended by the Minister of Transportation and his team.

“It must be emphasized that the two rail projects are part of those for which the President is currently negotiating funding with the Chinese government.”

Also, there is growing concern in the health sector over allegation that the National Assembly has tampered with the figures allocated for the procurement of critical vaccines required to save the lives of children in the budget sent to the President for assent.

Concerned stakeholders are asking the legislative chambers to return the proposed funds to the budget before the Presidential assent.

At a press conference for the upcoming Anglophone Africa Peer Review Workshop on Sustainable Immunization Financing held in Abuja, yesterday, stakeholders wondered why the National Assembly would want to reduce the import of vaccination. They called for sustainable immunization financing in Nigeria.