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Reps return to trenches over power of appropriation

By Adamu Abuh, Abuja,
03 July 2017   |   4:22 am
When the 2017 Appropriation Bill passed through the third reading at the National Assembly on May 11, it was least expected that the executive and the legislative arms would engage each other, over who should have the final say on the budget.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

• Explain alteration of budgetary proposal
When the 2017 Appropriation Bill passed through the third reading at the National Assembly on May 11, it was least expected that the executive and the legislative arms would engage each other, over who should have the final say on the budget.

The N7.441 trillion worth budget was based on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) benchmark price of crude oil pegged at 44.50 dollars and based on crude oil production of 2.2 mbpd, and an exchange rate N305 to a dollar.

The lawmakers, however, increased the budget, which was named ‘Budget of Recovery and Growth, by about N143 billion compared to President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposed N7.28 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly for approval.

In spite of the warning by Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, that on no account must the approved budget figures be altered, Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and other key operatives of the executive arm minced no words in faulting the alterations made by the National Assembly.

The Acting President, who dilly-dallied before appending his signature on the Budget, expressed reservations on the alteration in his address to officials of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s).

The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, who has threatened to approach the judicial arm on the issue, was much more concerned over the insertion of projects outside the purview of his ministry in the 2017 budget.

Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and immediate past governor of Lagos State, at a recent parley with journalists, explained reasons he questioned the National Assembly, for altering the budget.

According to the Minister: “What I have in my budget now is Primary Healthcare Centres and boreholes. That was the meeting we had with the Acting President and that was the reason why the budget was not signed on time.

“We were asked to complete those abandoned projects; the budget of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced by the National Assembly from N31 billion to N10 billion. We owe the contractors about N15 billion and they have written to us that they are going to stop work.

“Also, the budget of the 2nd Niger Bridge was reduced from N15 billion to N10 billion and about N3 billion or so was removed from the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja Road budget. Despite the fact that everybody is complaining about power supply, the lawmakers went ahead to cut the budget for Manbila Power project and the Bodo Bridge that connects the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Station. All these were also discussed. If after we have defended the budget, and we had gone and the legislature unilaterally changed it, what then is the purpose of the deliberation?”

The Minister claimed that notwithstanding the fact that there were 200 uncompleted roads he inherited from the previous administration, the lawmakers went on to insert 100 roads projects in the 2017 Budget, saying: “These roads are not Federal roads and some of them do not have designs, how do we award roads that were not designed irrespective of the power you have? It is unconstitutional for the National Assembly to legislate on state roads.”

Fashola further explained that a budget is an estimation plan that set in motion what is to be spent, how much will be borrowed and how much will be collected. The executive controls all the machinery for collecting taxes and other revenue with relevant data from the Ministries of Finance, Physical Planning and the Budget Office and others.

He said, “I am not saying that the legislature cannot contribute to the budget, but I hold the view that it cannot increase the budget because they do not collect the revenue with which to run or implement it.”

However, the National Assembly, which has always been having issues with the executive on budget matter ever since Nigeria returned to democratic government in 1999, insisted it cannot be reduced to a rubberstamp of the executive.

It averred that as an institution, it has the power to make many and substantial changes in the budget.

Buttressing its position with Section, 4, 59, 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and a judicial pronouncement by Justice G. O Kolawole in the case of Femi Falana V the President FRN & 3 Others, the lawmakers argued that the power of the nation’s purse lies with them.

Spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas described Fashola’s claim as an obvious attempt to blackmail the legislative arm, paint it as an irresponsible institution that does not bother about the welfare of the people, and also to set the executive and legislature on an unnecessary collision course that would not be beneficial to Nigerians.

Contending that the National Assembly as an institution is made up of members from all the geo-political zones, with the responsibility to ensure balance and fair distribution of road projects and other developmental facilities in the country, Namdas said the proposal from Mr. President on the 2017 Budget of the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing did not pass the test of even spread, which he pointed informed the intervention of the legislatures to ensure that every region is carried along and also benefited in project allocation.

He decried the claim by Fashola that the National Assembly included many projects that were not agreed on during the Budget defence before the Committees.

According to Namdas, “The minister’s claims were very misleading and a calculated mischief. The truth is that in the 2016 Budget, N12 billion was appropriated for the 2nd Niger Bridge and the ministry spent not a kobo. The money was returned. The Ministry could not provide the Committees of the National Assembly with evidence of an agreement on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) or a contract for the 2nd Niger Bridge.

“The National Assembly, in its wisdom, decided to fund other projects from the South East leaving N7 billion for the 2nd Niger Bridge that may yet be unspent. The projects include, N2.5 billion extra for Enugu/Onitsha Road, N1 billion more for the 9th Mile/Nsukka/Makurdi Road; additional N500m for Oturkpa- Makurdi to take care of evacuation of agricultural produce up to Maiduguri; N1 billion more for Ikot Ekpene-Aba-Owerri Road and others. These are strategic Roads in the South East and the North Central parts of Nigeria that had inadequate allocations.

“When I told the world that the N12 billion that was appropriated in 2016, no kobo was released or used he (Fashola) did not deny it. What he said was that his ministry couldn’t work on it, because the budget was passed in May and it was during the rainy season.

“So, what I am saying now is that the budget was passed also in June, which means the factor that stopped it from working last year, is likely to happen again, if that was his excuse.”

The House of Representatives spokesman added that in the interest of working together, when the ministry returned the N12 billion naira, the lawmakers felt that since the money was not used, we cannot allow it to remain, because there are other critical projects that require funding, which have not been attended to, it was therefore agreed to take N5 billion. If you fail to use the N12 billion this time, it should be N7 billion that you failed to utilise at least, we have taken N5 billion to other critical areas that could be used and you could not have excuse for any rainy season or dry. As a matter of fact, a budget runs for 12 calendar months. So if the excuse for not releasing money or working was because the budget was signed in May, what happened in the remaining months when weather conditions were favourable to construction works?

“The National Assembly had to intervene to fund some other critical roads that were totally neglected in the budget proposal sent to it by the executive. Example is the Abuja- Kaduna – Zaria – Kano Road that had zero allocation in the budget proposal and no contract even in spite of due process certification. N5 billion was provided in the 2016 Budget. It was not utilised. In the 2017 Budget, the National Assembly again provided N3 billion for this very critical road that connects many states and where incidents of kidnapping are rife because of bad spots, as we believe that all parts of Nigeria deserve attention or would the minister also claim that this road has no design?”

In his clarification of the face-off between the Minister and the lawmakers over the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Namdas said, “On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, leadership meetings of both the executive and legislature were held where it was clarified that alternative funding exists for the road through the PPP arrangement, and the concessionaires had enough money to fund the project. That informed the decision to move some funds to other areas of need and the Minister of Power, Works and Housing is fully aware of this but he chose to ignore it. Why spend government money if there is a clear existing funding framework in place and so many ongoing road projects are unfunded?

“When we appropriated N40 billion in 2016, go and confirm, it was N26 billion that was used, N14 billion was not released. So, even if you had given them the N30 billion, I can tell you that there is no guarantee that the N30 billion could be released.

“Our decisions are predicated on past experiences, we need to do something, we have to move some of these funds because there are places that require funding.”

On the Mambila Power Project, Namdas said the Minister proposed a whopping N17 billion for only Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the National Assembly felt that such whooping proposal for EIA was misplaced and patently unjustifiable. Fashola himself even wrote to the legislators to move some funds from this sub-heads to others.

The lawmaker insisted it was not possible for the national Assembly to keep quiet and allow infractions patently exposed in the executive proposals “the 1999 Constitution did not design the National Assembly as a rubber stamp.”

Namdas also complained about what he described as omnibus allocation of N20 billion contained in the budget of the FMWP&H, which lacks details by the minister. According to him, “The National Assembly would be irresponsible to appropriate funds that are not tied to specific projects. Mr. Fashola pushed hard to have the lump sum of N20 billion approved for him without specifying, which project it will be spent on. He wanted the details to be left only to him to decide at his discretion, but lawmakers refusal exposed them to the wrath of the Minister.”

The House’s spokesman wondered how N20 billion could have been included in a budget as miscellaneous for unforeseen circumstances when a whole Niger Bridge was N12 billion “if every ministry must bring N20 billion as miscellaneous then what is going to be the budget?”

The National Assembly also disagreed with Fashola’s claim that it has no power to increase the budget.

According to Namdas, “It is true that Fashola is a SAN and a former governor, but does that warrant his repeated insults on the National Assembly. He claims that certain matters are State or even local government matters. He mentions Primary Health Care as an example. If one may ask why has he not led effort to abolish the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, which was a Federal Government agency?”

On how to resolve the impasse, Namdas said, “There is no way out. Let me tell you, once you pass a budget and a president signs it, it becomes law and it is binding by the House to be operated on. How can you bring back a law to review it? But we had a gentle man agreement and we will stand by those agreement.”