The Three Arms of Government Benefited from Budget Increase-NASS 

By John Okoh

The need to take care of national interest as reflected in the federal character principle and geo-political diversity has been given by the National Assembly as reasons for the increase in the 2019 budget, in obvious response to the accusation of budget padding by President Buhari on Wednesday, June 20 when he signed the appropriation law.

Apart from that, the federal lawmakers also said that the three arms of government, the Presidency, the Judiciary and the Legislature benefitted from the increase 

The number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geo-political zone of the country to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command National loyalty. The three arms of government benefited from the increase which was mutually agreed on with the Ministry of Budget and Planning”,  said the Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi and Mr. Abdul-Razak Nandas, respectively, who made the National Assembly’s position known at a joint press conference in Abuja on Friday

Explaining further, they said: “ Adjustments and reductions in the locations, costs and number of projects approved were made in order to address geo-political imbalances that came with the Executive proposal.

“The introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of Federal Character as contained in Section 14, subsection (3) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which states that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria…” 

Responding to some of the allegations, the NASS invoked the legal and constitutional powers governing budgeting to show the upper and lower chambers worked according to the rules.

“On the issue of the period when the budget proposal was submitted and when it was passed by the National Assembly, it is necessary to remind Nigerians that although the budget was submitted in November, as at March 15th 2018 (5 months and 8 days after the budget submission), Mr. President was still directing the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to compel the Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government to appear before the committees of the National Assembly to defend their respective budget. In addition, up till April (6 months after the budget submission), the Executive was still bringing new additions to the 2018 budget which the National Assembly in good faith and in the spirit of collaboration and harmonious working relationship accepted.

 “    More importantly, the 2017 budget, was signed into law on June 5th, 2017 and by the provisions of Section 318 of the Constitution, which defines the Financial Year as “any period of 12 months beginning on the first day of January in any year, or other date as the National Assembly may prescribe” – the 2017 budget lapsed on the 5th of June 2018. This same provision is replicated in the 2017 Appropriation Act.

 “    It is important to also note that if not for the fact that the 2017 budget elapsed on the 5thof June 2018, the Federal Government would not have recorded notable capital projects for the just ended financial year. This is because the Federal Government only started releasing funds for capital projects in December 2017 when the funds from the Federal Government’s loans were released and disbursed to contractors.

The lawmakers gave details of the cuts, adjustments and additions in the budget in their defence. According to them;

    “ It was stated that the legislature made cuts amounting to N347 billion which were meant for 4,700 projects.  Again, these reductions of N347 billion were made from low priority areas to higher priority areas to support the generation of employment for our youth by MSMEs. We took the decision to reduce the funds in some areas in order to ensure balance and equity in the spread and utilization of our national funds. Additionally, the figures given amounts of the reductions made by the National Assembly were unduly exaggerated as we did not make any substantial reduction on any project to the extent of affecting its implementation.

  “To give the exact detail of the projects where we made deductions, it should be noted that the counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/Ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Express Road and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project, was reduced by only N3,956,400,290 – which represents only 1.78 % of the total N222,569,335,924 submitted by President Buhari. This left these projects with N218,612,935,634 which cannot negatively affect their implementation. This obviously contradicts the claim that these projects lost “an aggregate of N11.5 billion”.

 “As part of the implementation of the 2017 budget, the contracts for 15 roads were awarded by the Federal Executive Council with no budgetary provisions. Realizing the importance of these projects, the National Assembly decided to spread the N3.9billion saved from the earlier mentioned projects funding to facilitate the take-off of these projects that include: the rehabilitation of Ikorodu-Shagamu road in Lagos State; the rehabilitation of 9th Mile-Orakam to Benue Border; and the general maintenance of Pankshin – Ballang – Nyelleng – Sararele – Gindiri road in Plateau State, etc. These are the projects purported to be “project inclusions without conceptualization.” On these projects, the National Assembly needs to be commended by Mr. President for helping to to support the take-off of these awarded but unfunded projects.

   “Furthermore, it was stated that the budget of the FCT was cut by N 7.5 billion. This is true. The legislators stand by this decision because, through its oversight of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the National Assembly discovered that in the 2016 and 2017 budget cycle, there was a severe non-performance of the budgetary allocations to the FCT. During the two years in question, over 50 per cent of the funds that were allocated and released to the FCT were not utilized. These funds were ultimately returned to the treasury.

“Hence, in order to ensure that scarce resources were allocated in accordance to ‘needs over wants’, funding for the FCT which has historically been under-utilised were allocated to other MDAs that have demonstrated the capacity to implement their allocation for the development of the nation and its people. It was part of the allocation that we spread over the roads for which contracts were awarded with no budgetary allocation.

 “On the provisions for strategic interventions in the health sector which were said to be cut by an aggregate of N7.45billion, it is on record that for the first time since the National Health Act was enacted in 2014, the National Assembly made provision of an additional N55billion for funding primary healthcare through the Basic Primary Healthcare Fund which represents 1 per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Thus, contrary to the claim that the health sector suffered any budgetary cuts, we actually provided more funds that will make access to health services possible for over 180 million Nigerians. 

“ The presence of this provision for primary healthcare will help us to eliminate the prevalence of maternal, infant and child mortality as well as create a healthier population.  With this increased funding, we will be able to ensure that all Nigerian children get the necessary immunization that keeps various diseases away from them and ensure that mothers are well-catered for during childbirth. 

“ On the issue of the 104 Unity Schools across the nation and the claim that N3billion was cut from their funding, Nigerians need to know that after careful consultation by the committees of the National Assembly with stakeholders in the sector, the National Assembly actually provided an additional N3.7billion more for meal subsidies in these 104 Unity Schools.

“ It was claimed that the provision for Construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from 2 billion Naira to 500 million Naira and that this will further delay the completion of this critical project. However, for the avoidance of doubt, it is necessary to again clarify that during the budget defense and oversight processes, the National Assembly discovered that out of the N2billion contract for the Enugu Terminal Building, N1.7billion had already been paid to the contractor.

“And what is left to complete this project is just N300million. Hence, the National Assembly approved N500million for the project — which is even N200million more than was required. We refer Nigerians to a publication in THISDAY newspaper published in April and titled “Giving Enugu Airport a Facelift” and written by the newspaper’s Aviation correspondent, Chinedu Eze, where the Minister of State (Aviation), Mr. Hadi Sirika was quoted as saying “We just last week released N1.7billion to the contractor and hopefully also, within the shortest possible time, we will release another N300million for him so that they can quickly finish the airport terminal. This will bring the airport to its desired standard.”

“In the case of statutory transfers where the increase in the National Assembly’s budget was isolated, it is important to note that the increase in the oil price benchmark from the projected $45 to the actual price of $51 generated additional N523.65 billion for the Federal Government. 

       Thus, based on agreement between the National Assembly and the Executive as represented by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, the additional revenues were allocated among the three arms of government as follows:

 a.              The Executive’s proposal for the National Judicial Council was N100billion, however, the National Assembly appropriated N110billion which represents N10 billion increase;

 b.             The Executive’s proposal for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was N71,195,023,529, however the National Assembly appropriated N81,882,555,891 — which represents a N10,687,532,363 increase;

c.              An additional N33,981,437,188 was also appropriated for the outstanding liabilities to the NDDC by the Federal Government to enable the commission settle some of its contractors that were owed over N1 trillion  ;

d.             The National Assembly received an additional N14.5billion in funding;

e.              In order to ensure that they are able to meet their mandate, the National Assembly increased the Public Complaint’s Commission’s budget from the N4,200,000,000 proposed by the President to N7,480,000,000 — which represents a N3,280,000,000 increase; and

f.                Lastly, the National Human Rights Commission’s budget was increased from N1.5billion to N3,013,745,000, which represents a N1,513,745,000 increase.

 They concluded with an indictment.

“It is therefore very clear that the three arms of government benefited from the increase which was mutually agreed on with the Ministry of Budget and Planning. In fact, we have correspondences addressed to the leadership of the National Assembly from Ministry of Budget making requests on how to spread the increment arising from the Benchmark differentials.