The Presidency and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) have identified eight major ‘assaults’ by the National Assembly on the 2016 Appropriation Bill sent to President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday for his assent, The Nation learnt last night.
The infractions were detected by the ministers at their Friday’s emergency meeting called to vet the budget details. This development is now stalling the signing into law of the bill by the President until his return from a week-long trip to China. But he plans to engage the National Assembly in talks with a view to resolving the issues, sources familiar with the matter said. In contention are funds proposed by the executive for key infrastructure projects but which were either removed from the budget or slashed drastically by the National Assembly in the details presented to him. One of these is the Coastal Railway project which the President plans to discuss with the Chinese government during his visit. He is departing Abuja today for Beijing at the start of the visit. Government earmarked N60billion counterpart funds for it but the NASS removed it completely from the budget details. It was gathered that Buhari had planned to assent to the Appropriation Bill yesterday but the “strategic and fundamental errors/ oversights” in the details may now delay it by a week. The Presidency also found that the NASS: *Expunged the Calabar – Lagos rail line project from the budget details; *Reduced allocation to the completion Idu-Kaduna rail project by N8.7b; *Slashed allocations for the completion of all major road projects across the country; *Proposed new roads for which studies have not been conducted; *Dropped proposals for the purchase of essential drugs for major health campaigns like Polio and AIDS; *Cancelled or reduced allocations for diversification projects under Agriculture and Water Resources; and *Diverted funds for rural health facilities and boreholes for which provisions had been made elsewhere.
Throwing light on the issue, a well placed source said: “The National Assembly transmitted the details to the President on Thursday, April 7, 2016 and because he was desirous of giving assent to the Appropriation Bill before leaving for China, he directed that the Ministers should review the provisions/appropriations of their respective ministry to fast-track the process. “The document was distributed same Thursday to all ministers and a meeting was agreed for Friday to get everything sorted out for the President’s briefing and assent. That was why the Vice President, who is the Head of the Economic Team presided over the meeting and not the President. “At the meeting, it was noticed that some very key aspects of the Budget, which have to do with government’s core infrastructural focus were removed. One of which is the subject of the President’s trip to China – the Coastal Railway project – for which a counterpart funding of N60b was provided, but which was completely removed by the National Assembly.” The Executive is working on two major rail arteries, among other rail projects, to service the northern and eastern part of the country – the Lagos-Kano line and the Calabar – Lagos line. The source said that while the provision for the Lagos-Kano rail line was left untouched, the Calabar – Lagos line was removed entirely. Both projects are to be funded jointly by China and Nigeria. The source said that the amount proposed for the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail project which “has reached an advanced stage was reduced by N8.7b, a development which will make it difficult for the project to be completed.” Continuing, the source said: “The other fundamental area noticed was in respect of completion of on-going road projects. While the Executive had provided for the completion of all major road projects across the country, the National Assembly reduced the amounts provided and instead included new roads which studies have not even been conducted. “The amounts provided by the National Assembly for the projects can neither complete the on-going road projects nor the new ones proposed. At the end of the year no significant progress would have been made.” Asked of the next step, the source said: “Because of these observations, the President is engaging further with the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve them and hopes that it would be resolved by the time he returns from his trip to China. “The President is desirous of signing the bill into law so that the implementation of the provisions could begin in earnest for the benefit of the people. “That is why the moment he received the document on Thursday, a meeting was convened for Friday to immediately start work on it.” Another source in the cabinet said: “We have all completed the review of the budget details sent to the Presidency by the National Assembly.” All ministers were directed to send their observations (if any) on their allocations to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma. The Ministry of Budget and National Planning will thereafter compile all observations and comments in line with the proposals of the Executive arm and guide the President accordingly. Another reliable source spoke yesterday of how ministers and members of the president’s economic team stopped him from signing the ‘mutilated’ budget. The ministers, according to the source who was at the Friday meeting, lamented the “reckless mutilation” of the original documents which the President tendered to the National Assembly, noting that the details were clearly un-implementable. The source disclosed that Buhari, who had earlier been scheduled to address the nation after signing the budget had to call off the broadcast. He said: “All the ministers, aside the Defence Minister who was a bit positive about the figures appropriated for his ministry, totally kicked against the so called budget details. “They said it was mutilated beyond recognition and therefore cannot be implemented under the present condition. Notably, the Minister of Health told the gathering that what was returned to his ministry was even worse than what he kicked against when he went to defend the budget in the National Assembly. “As a matter of fact, the budget details made nonsense of the planned visit of the President to China because the lawmakers removed that aspect of the loan completely from the details that were scrutinized by the ministers yesterday (Friday).” Asked what steps the Presidency would take next, the source said two options are open for the President. He said the documents may be sent back to the lawmakers with a detailed note on the mutilation and a call for rectification or he may be persuaded to sign the budget and then ask for modifications.
Source: The Nation