BusinessDay

National Assembly yet to receive rejected 2016 budget from Presidency

As the controversy over the passage of the 2016 budget rages on, the leadership of the National Assembly is yet to meet to resolve the impasse, BusinessDay has learnt.

This is due to the inability of the Executive to return the budget to the National Assembly.

Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari refused to give his assent to the 2016 budget on the grounds that the National Assembly mutilated the appropriation bill.

Some of the capital projects affected include the Lagos-Calabar rail project, which was allegedly removed by the lawmakers; reduction of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway by N24 billion; reduction of Second Niger Bridge by N3.9 billion; Benin-Sagamu Road slashed by N800 million; Kano-Maiduguri-Ngala Rail cut by N260 million, among others.

In what appears to be discordant tunes between the two chambers of the National Assembly on the matter, the House of Representatives had mandated the speaker, Yakubu Dogara to interface with President Muhammadu Buhari, even as the Senate had insisted that it wouldn’t revisit the budget.

Sources at the offices of the Senate president and Clerk to the National Assembly who did not want their names mentioned said that the offices were yet to receive the rejected budget from the Presidency.

Efforts to get the comments of Ita Enang, senior special assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), proved abortive, as he neither responded to phone calls nor text messages sent to him.

Findings also revealed that while the House of Representatives might have soft-pedalled on the matter by sending the speaker to Buhari, the Senate insisted that only a supplementary budget would resolve the impasse.

The Senate therefore ruled out revisiting the 2016 Appropriation Bill for the purpose of capturing any omissions made by the executive in the draft document it sent to the National Assembly for approval.

Instead, it advised President Buhari to comply with the provisions of the Constitution by signing the bill as passed by the legislative body and forward supplementary appropriation later to cover omissions recorded in the money bill.

Senate spokesperson, Aliyu Sabi, clarified that the position of the Senate should not be misinterpreted as a confrontation with the Executive arm, but rather a clarification on the true state of affairs pertaining to the issues raised by the Presidency on the bill.

The lawmaker also maintained the earlier position of the Senate that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was not in the original document submitted to the National Assembly.

He stated that the Senate was sensitive to the plights of Nigerians and would always receive supplementary appropriations from the Executive whenever it brought such on any imported projects omitted in the main budget.

His words: “The Senate is not unmindful of the cries of Nigerians; that we said for example the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very important project for this nation to embark on.

“And so, the National Assembly, the Senate is open if the executive brings a supplementary appropriations with respect to these and any other issue that they feel very strongly about, we are ready and willing to consider such but the most important point to note is that we want to remain guided by the provisions of the constitution”.

He said that passing the budget by the National Assembly was only the first step in the budget process, pointing out that the lawmakers were going to enter into the second stage of oversight.

“Now, one thing that is obvious is that yes, 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.

“I think if we do that, all these raging controversies will be up our back and we can all concentrate and put our energies to begin the process of implementing the 2016 budget so that those dividends of democracy: the youth unemployment issue, the empowerment of women, the social intervention programme, the infrastructural programmes, will be addressed the agricultural programmes, the rains are already here and all the other projects that we know will kick start the Nigerian economy can begin to be implemented.

“Remember we passed the budget as not ended our responsibility, we are going to move into the second phase of our responsibility, which is oversight. So, we want to appeal to Nigerians that the Senate is committed to doing its work diligently, it is committed to listening to the yearnings of Nigerians and to do what is right”, he said

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