President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday lamented that the 2018 Appropriation Bill which he signed into law would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement because of the alterations members of the National Assembly effected on the document he submitted to them on November 7, 2017.
He accused the federal lawmakers of, among others, increasing the National Assembly budget from N125bn to N139.5bn, without any discussion with the Executive.
The President also accused them of injecting 6,403 projects of their own totalling N578bn into the national budget while making cuts amounting to N347bn in the allocations to 4,700 projects as submitted to them.
Buhari spoke shortly after signing the document into law in his office at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The President noted that many of the projects cut were critical and might be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.
He regretted that some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly had not been properly conceptualised, designed and cost and would, therefore, be difficult to execute.
The President said, “As I mentioned during the presentation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, we intend to use the 2018 Budget to consolidate the achievements of previous budgets and deliver on Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan 2017-2020.
“It is in this regard that I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented.
“The logic behind the constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me. The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347bn in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578bn.
“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed and will, therefore, be difficult to execute.
“Furthermore, many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.
“As it is, some of these projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the states and local governments, and for which the Federal Government should therefore not be unduly burdened.”
Buhari cited examples of projects from which cuts were made to include the provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project which he said were cut by an aggregate of N11.5bn .
Similarly, the President said provisions for some ongoing critical infrastructure projects in Abuja, especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project were cut by a total of N7.5bn.
He added that the provision for rehabilitation and additional security measures for the United Nations Building by the FCT, Abuja was cut by N3.9bn from N4bn to N100m.
This, he said, would make it impossible for the Federal Government to fulfil its commitment to the UN on the project.
He added, “The provisions for various strategic interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of N7.45bn.
“The provision for security infrastructure in the 104 unity schools across the country was cut by N3bn at a time when securing our students against acts of terrorism ought to be a major concern of government.
“The provision for the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme was cut by N8.7bn.
“At a time when we are working with Labour to address compensation-related issues, a total of N5bn was cut from the provisions for Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment.
“The provisions for Export Expansion Grant and Special Economic Zones/Industrial Parks, which are key industrialisation initiatives of this administration, were cut by a total of N14.5bn.
“The provision for construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from N2bn to N500m which will further delay the completion of this critical project.
“The take-off grant for the Maritime University in Delta State, a key strategic initiative of the Federal Government, was cut from N5bn to N3.4bn.
“About 70 new road projects have been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
“In doing so, the National Assembly applied some of the additional funds expected from the upward review of the oil price benchmark to the ministry’s vote.
“Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the National Assembly.
“Another area of concern is the increase by the National Assembly of the provisions for Statutory Transfers by an aggregate of N73.96bn. Most of these increases are for recurrent expenditure at a time we are trying to keep down the cost of governance.
“An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by N14.5bn, from N25bn to N139.5bn without any discussion with the Executive.”
Buhari, however, said he decided to sign the document despite his observations so that the pace of recovery of the nation’s economy would not be further slowed down.
He said he planned to seek remedy by preparing a supplementary or amendment budget.
The President expressed the hope that when ready, the National Assembly would give it an expeditious consideration.
Buhari said he was pleased with the success recorded in the implementation of the 2017 Budget.
He said N1.5trn had been released for the implementation of capital projects during the 2017 fiscal year.
In response to this and other policy measures implemented, he said his government had observed significant improvement in the performance of the Nigerian economy.
To achieve the laudable objectives of the 2018 Budget, Buhari said his administration would work hard to generate the revenues required to finance its projects and programmes.
He said the positive global oil market outlook, as well as continuing improvement in non-oil revenues, made him optimistic about the government’s ability to finance the budget.
He added, “However, being a deficit budget, the Borrowing Plan will be forwarded to the National Assembly shortly. I crave the indulgence of the National Assembly for a speedy consideration and approval of the plan.
“The 2018 Budget I have just signed into law provides for aggregate expenditures of N9.12trn which is 22.6 per cent higher than the 2017 Appropriation.”
Buhari noted that when he submitted the 2018 Budget proposals to the National Assembly on November 7, 2017, he had hoped that the usual legislative review process would be quick, so as to move Nigeria towards a predictable January-December financial year.
He said while the Federal Government budget represents less than 10 per cent of aggregate yearly expenditures in the economy, it has a very significant accelerator effect on the financial plans of other tiers of government, and even more importantly, the private sector, which mostly operates on a January-December financial year.
Notwithstanding the delay this year, the President said he was determined to continue to work with the National Assembly towards improving the budgeting process and restoring the country to the January-December fiscal cycle.
We’re not worried about Buhari’s observations –N’Assembly
However, the two chambers of the National Assembly on Wednesday reacted to the concerns raised by President Buhari on the alterations made on the 2018 Appropriation Bill, saying the federal lawmakers did what they were supposed to do.
The Deputy Senate Leader, Alhaji Bala Ibn Na’Allah; and the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, stated this in separate interviews with State House correspondents after joining Buhari during the signing of the budget at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki; and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, were absent from the brief ceremony.
Na’Allah said the lawmakers were not worried about the concerns raised by the President because their job was a difficult one.
He said, “No, we are not worried. The job of parliamentarians is a very difficult one. The way the budget came, if we had allowed it to go that way, we would have been in trouble with those who elected us.
“You have to balance between the six geopolitical zones. It is the balancing efforts by the National Assembly that led to those observations and happily enough, he himself has said he is coming with a supplementary budget which will be dealt with as quickly as possible. I assure you about that one.”
Na’Allah said the process of approving supplementary budgets was short since it would be built on what has already been done by the National Assembly.
Although he agreed that Buhari was right on his observation on the delay in passing the budget, the senator said the federal lawmakers should not be blamed.
“About the issue of delay, the President is right, but at the same time, if you remember, you were here, the President had to order some MDAs to appear before the National Assembly for the purpose of defending their budgets.
“It is a very delicate issue. If somebody said he wants N500m for the maintenance of bridges nationwide, then you expect the National Assembly to say ok, that budget is approved because it came from the executive, then we have not done our work.
“We will be interested in knowing which of the roads are you going to maintain so that again, we don’t give another allocation in the next budget.
“Those observations are correct, but in the budgeting process, those things are normal.”
Na’Allah, however, said Nigerians should be happy that the budget had finally been signed and the President made it clear that it was going to be a build-up on the achievements recorded so far by the administration in impacting positively on the lives of the people.
Ado-Doguwa on his part admitted that some of the concerns raised by the President were critical.
He said once the supplementary budget was sent, the National Assembly would look at the concerns raised and treat it appropriately.
He said the federal lawmakers were ready to work hand-in-hand with the President.
He said, “I think some of these major concerns Mr. President has raised are very critical and I am afraid if I should be in a position to respond on behalf of the House.
“But for me as an individual and a member of the House of Representatives, I want to believe that the President is at liberty to raise some of these observations.
“But the most important thing you have to know is that the budget has been signed and is now a law of the federation and we expect the executive to now implement the law to the letter.
“Should the President, however, bring about an amendment or a supplementary budget for the National Assembly to consider, we will also at the same time be at liberty to look at the President’s concerns and those things he wants us to review.”
On the delay in passing the budget, Ado-Doguwa said, “Certainly, you wouldn’t expect us to just rubber stamp and just bring it back. We have to do the nitty-gritty of budget consideration.
“Whatever is worth doing is worth doing well and we have done what we think is the right thing to do to deliver on the expectations and the mandate bestowed on us by the people of our constituencies.”
He said although Dogara was unavoidably absent from the event, he shared in the spirit of the moment.
N’Assembly not a rubber stamp – Reps
However, the House reacted to the observations made by the President during the signing, absolving the National Assembly of blame in the delay of the budget and other issues raised by Buhari.
The House, in a statement through its Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, explained that the legislature exercised its power of appropriation to make alterations to some of Buhari’s original proposals.
“The budget is usually a proposal by the Executive to the National Assembly, which the latter is given the constitutional power of appropriation to alter, make additions, costs or reduce as it may deem necessary.
“The Legislature is not expected to be a rubber stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable,” the House said.
The House also noted that while the legislature was supportive of his desire to return the budget cycle to January-December, the late submission of the 2018 proposals was a major setback to realising that desire.
Namdas stated, “By the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, the budget estimates should be with the National Assembly around September of the year. In the case of the 2018 budget, the estimates came behind schedule in November 2017, even though this attempt was seen as one of the earliest in recent years.
“Going forward, we urge the Executive to speed up the reporting time to the National Assembly by complying fully with the FRA.
“Besides, there were delays that should be blamed on the heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies. Mr. President will recall that he had to direct ministers and heads of agencies to go to the National Assembly to defend their proposals.
“This came after the National Assembly had persistently raised the alarm over the non-cooperative attitude of these government officials. On this ground, the delay in passing the budget cannot be blamed on the legislature.”
On the inclusion of new projects in the budget, the House explained that the legislature responded to the demands of their constituents by initiating projects that would directly impact their lives.
“On the inclusion of new projects in the budget, we have to remind Mr. President that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positively.
“Some of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man”, the House added.
Buhari lacks capacity to implement 2018 budget, says PDP
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party has said Buhari’s submission that the 2018 budget, will be difficult to implement “is a clear admission that he lacks the capacity and competence to run a development-oriented economy as desired by Nigerians.”
The party, in a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, in Abuja on Wednesday said the President’s action was an indication that “the economy is in very bad hands.”
He said, “President Buhari, in picking holes on items that would directly impact on economic productivity, infrastructural advancement, rural development as well as those that would provide urgent palliatives to the plight of Nigerians, shows his aversion to the developmental economy as well as insensitivity to the welfare of our citizens.
“In fact, President Buhari, in his comments on the budget has further de-marketed our economy before international investors, thereby worsening our woes as a nation.
“How on earth can a President, if indeed he loves the people, quarrel over budgetary items seeking to cushion the biting effect of the economic recession, particularly for the poor, who are the direct victims of the harsh policies of his incompetent administration?
“Furthermore, President Buhari’s resort to blaming the National Assembly for his inability to exert himself as a leader and ensure smooth implementation of the budget, further shows that he cares little about the actual needs of the people, having holed himself up in the comfort, security and pleasures of the Presidential Villa.”
Ologbodiyan urged the National Assembly to ensure strict implementation of the 2018 budget.