The hard stance of the upper chamber of the National Assembly against the 2018 budget estimates seems to be getting stronger, even as President Buhari’s plan for a speedy passage of the budget suffered a major setback.
Senators, who returned from their two-week recess yesterday, launched a disparaging attack on the budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7.
Some distinguished members had at one time on the floor of the Senate described the budget as fictitious and fraudulently padded.
The lawmakers after scatting comments on the estimates, dumped the document and asked the Executive to roll over the 2017 budget till March 2018.
The senators, who used the two-week recess to screen the budget estimates of ministries and departments, dismissed the entire document.
In his opening remark, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, scolded the executive, saying it “really needs to sit up”.
He added: “Truly, it is very disheartening and disappointing because we know how much we have put into the budget process. How can anybody who is responsible travel at this period when the budget defence is ongoing?
Saraki went on: “The budget has not been implemented. We cannot be magicians. We just have to work and give a good budget to Nigerians. If they have refused to roll over the 2017 projects into 2018, it is a disaster. We have to work with what we have.”
In the attack, which was surprisingly led All Progressive Congress (APC) Senators, the lawmakers took turns to criticise the performance of this year’s budget, noting what they called extremely low releases by the Ministry of Finance for capital projects.
They insisted that the promised passage of the 2018 budget before the end of the year was no longer feasible.
The senators said Buhari’s promise that 40 per cent of the 2017 budget would be achieved before the end of the year while the balance of 60 per cent would be rolled over to 2018, had not been kept.
he lawmakers were also irked by the observation that Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) attained 15-20 per cent 2017 budget performance.
This, they said, was despite repeated assurances by the executive funds will be released.
For them, Mrs Adeosun’s declaration that N750 billion had been released was questionable.
Many of those who contributed to the debate wanted the lifespan of the 2017 budget to be extended to March 31, next year.
The debate of the performance of the 2017 budget followed a closed-door session where the lawmakers were also said to have bared their minds.
Deputy Senate Leader Bala Ibn Na’Allah started the barrage of criticisms with a point of order.
Na’Allah, who cited Order 42 and 45 of the Senate Standing Rules to buttress his point, told his colleagues that the plan to pass the 2018 budget before the end of 2017 was no longer feasible due to prevailing circumstances.
He warned that the prevailing template of the budget will continue to pose serious challenges to the Federal Government in the implementation of the budget.
The Kebbi State lawmaker noted that the template was developed and adopted during the Military era specifically when Kalu Idika Kalu was Finance minister.
He said: “When we suspended plenary, it was with the idea that the committees will swing into action so we can have a tentative date to pass the budget. From what I have seen, we might run into troubled waters. If we have not appreciated what the problems are, it is important for Nigerians to come here and understand what the problem is.
“The President told us that the 2017 budget was going to achieve at least 60 per cent performance. Today, that has not happened. We need to lay this issue and discuss it. Let us put the facts before the Executive and show Nigerians the difficulties we are facing.”
Senator Barnabas Gemade suggested that the consideration of the 2018 budget be suspended.
Gemade said: “Our two weeks committee work should have led us to where we will lay the report and pass the budget. As was indicted, we need to appreciate the efforts of the executive who is trying to return the budget year from January to December.
“What we have seen is far from the 40 per cent capital project implementation we were told. In many MDAs, budget performance is hovering between 12 to 15 per cent. In early November, the borrowing plans were brought and we approved it. They said they were going to release more funds. As of now, we cannot say if that is true.
“In defending the budget, MDAs are supposed to bring their 2017 budget performance to committees. When you look at the budget proposals brought here, many things captured in the 2017 budget were not rolled over. Committees and MDAs need to do some work.
“We have to set a date for the implementation of the 2017 budget based on the borrowing plans we approved. I therefore propose that we set March 31st for the 2017 budget to be implemented before we can start working on the 2018 budget. We need to guide against abandonment of ongoing projects.”
Senator Solomon Adeola wondered why the Senate should consider and approve the 2018 budget, when the performance of the 2017 budget is unknown.
The Lagos West senator prayed the Senate to invite Minister of Finance Adeosun to brief the chamber on the troubling low performance of the budget and why her ministry is not releasing funds.
Adeola said: “How can we approve the 2018 budget without knowing the performance of 2017 budget? This is abnormal. From the recent budget defences, it is obvious that MDAs are not ready. Year in, year out, the budget performance is low. Last week, a Minister was asked to excuse lawmakers because he didn’t come prepared. He did not come with the necessary documents to defend the budget of his Ministry.
“We need to show to Nigerians that the National Assembly is ready to approve the budget.
“Remember how the Executive submitted the MTEF and withdrew it again. It submitted it and withdrew it. It shows the lack of seriousness on the part of the economic managers of the country.”
Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Account, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, advised that the consideration of the 2018 budget be suspended, pending when the 2017 budget will attain an appreciable level of performance.
He said, “I want to say that the budget of 2018 is already bedevilled. For us to be able to determine 2018, we need to see the performance of 2017. Many MDAs are complaining that what they are getting for recurrent expenditure is not even for them. More worrisome is the capital expenditure.
“Last week, the Minister of Finance announced that N750 billion had been released. If this money has been released, MDAs are yet to get this money. With the envelope budgeting they are doing, we do not know what has been given to MDAs.
“I want to say that every consideration about the 2018 budget should be put at bay. This executive is not serious. Let them tell us what they have done with the 2017 budget. The budget presentation is an annual ritual that is not benefiting anybody,” he said.
Senator Mohammed Hassan, (Yobe South) proposed a technical committee to come up with a standard format on how to handle the 2018 budget.
He specifically listed the inclusion of N8.5 billion in the budget of the Ministry of Power for counterpart funding of the Mambila Power projected when the National Assembly had already approved a loan of $5.5 billion for the Presidency.
He noted that the Senate was told that part of the $5.5 billion loan would be used for the counterpart funding of the Mambila power project.
Hassan said: “Many of us have been made to do the work of the executive. We need to set up a small technical committee to come up with a standard format on how to handle the 2018 budget. It is very important to do that.”
Senator Dino Melaye turned it all into a joke, with his description of the 2018 budget as a “boju boju” document.
The Kogi West lawmaker said that it was obvious that the 2018 budget proposal was “garnished with deception.”
He said: “The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, said during the budget presentation that the 2017 budget will be rolled over. I took the 2017 budget and went through it page by page. There is no relationship between the two documents. The budget we received was a ‘boju boju’ budget. Why do we package a 2018 budget that was garnished with deception?”
“Enough is enough. We must ensure that the 2017 budget is properly implemented. We must ensure that the budget is an elitist. What they have brought to us is just a proposal. We need to give Nigerians a budget that will benefit Nigerians.”