Abuja — The National Assembly Thursday passed a N4.987 trillion budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The approved budget is N63 billion more than the N4.924 trillion proposed by the executive arm of government when President Goodluck Jonathan presented the budget proposal last October.
The difference arose out of the change in the oil benchmark from $75 to $79. However, there were no major changes in terms of sectoral allocations between what the president had proposed and what has been approved by the parliament.
At a glance, another notable difference was the reduction of the recurrent budget by about N100 billion and the addition of same to the capital expenditure component.
The Senate and the House of Representatives passed a harmonised version of the budget in their separate chambers.
Expectedly, the unprecedented passage of a succeeding year's budget before the end of the preceding fiscal year elicited reactions, with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, hailing the National Assembly for the swift passage of the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
This is just as the Senate yesterday passed into law $7.109 billion as foreign loans sought by the federal and state governments under the Medium-Term Foreign Borrowing Plan for 2012-2014.
During the debate on the budget in the House of Representatives, the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. John Enoh, set the ball rolling when he moved a motion urging the House to consider the Report of the Committees on Appropriations and Finance on a Bill for an Act to authourise the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, the total sum of N4,987,202,425,601.
Of the total budget, N387,976,000,000 was allocated for statutory transfers; N591,764,000,000 for debt service; N2,386,024,770,349 for recurrent (non-debt) expenditure; while the balance of Nl,621,477,655,252 was allocated for capital expenditure for the year ending 31st December, 2013.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who presided over the proceedings in the lower chamber, described the passage of the bill as a promise kept.
Ihedioha recalled that the House has been in the vanguard for the early presentation of the budget and its early passage to pave the way for full implementation.
"We promised Nigerians that we were going to pass the budget before we embark on holidays and we have kept that promise," he said.
However, some clauses were inserted into the budget to guide the executive on its implementation.
One of such clauses was that all the unutilised capital expenditure component of the 2012 Appropriation Act should be rolled over and should be construed to form part of the 2013 Appropriation Act, "provided that the unutilised capital expenditure component of 2012 budget shall lapse on the 12th day of April 2013".
The passed Appropriation Bill also stipulates that in the event that the need arises to vire amounts within the heads of expenditure to which sums have been appropriated, such virement shall only be effected with the prior approval of the National Assembly.
Specifically, the relevant clauses state: "Amounts appropriated under this Act shall be released from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation and applied only for the purpose specified in the schedule to this Act's virement.
"The Accountant-General of the Federation shall immediately upon the coming into force of this Act maintain a separate record for the documentation of revenue accruing to the Consolidated Revenue Fund in excess of the oil price benchmark adopted in this budget.
"Such revenues as specified in Subsection (1) of this section refers to revenues accruing from sales of government crude oil in excess of $79 per barrel, the Petroleum Profit Tax and Royalty on Oil and Gas."
However, one of the clauses which effectively withholds funding of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) caused a mild stir in the Senate as the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, opposed its inclusion in the bill.
Ostensibly, the clause was inserted by the House of Representatives which has been pushing for the sack of the SEC Director General, Ms. Arunma Oteh.
It states: "All revenue howsoever described including all fees received, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally and externally generated revenue shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters, nor liabilities thereon incurred except with prior appropriation and approval by the National Assembly."
Although this clause sailed through without any objections in the House, Senator Enang argued that it was wrong to include such a clause in the national budget.
He said SEC was just one of the many agencies that is expected by the Fiscal Responsibility Act to bring its budget before the House of the Senate.
He said that it would appear odd to single out SEC and leave out agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
"You cannot pass a law attaching to a particular person; it is wrong," Enang said. He was however a lone voice and was overruled.
At a news conference after the plenary, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakary Mohammed, justified the inclusion of the controversial clause.
According to him, it was in line with an earlier resolution by both chambers that the parliament will have nothing to do with SEC until Oteh was removed from office. Commending the National Assembly on the speedy passage of the budget, Emodi said it was a product of the growing understanding and mutual respect between the presidency and the National Assembly.
Addressing reporters shortly after the two chambers passed the 2013 Appropriation Bill, Emodi said that by passing the budget ahead of the new fiscal year, the lawmakers had reciprocated the initiative and desire of the president for the early presentation and passage of budgets in Nigeria.
"This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history as it is the first time since 1999 that the budget of a succeeding year has been passed in the preceding year.
"This is traceable to the leadership shown by Mr. President through dialogue, early presentation as well as the hard work, commitment and team spirit shown by the leadership and entire members of the National Assembly," she said.
Also commenting on the issue, the ruling PDP described the speedy passage of the 2013 federal budget as a loud commentary on the maturity of the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and a clear indication that democracy is not only gaining a firm footing but is safe in the hands of the PDP.
In a statement by the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Olisa Metu, the party said: "The National Assembly which our great party leads has demonstrated that it has come of age in the discharge of its constitutional responsibilities.
"It has also shown that the people of Nigeria is its primary constituency and that their interest is supreme.
"The seriousness and the high degree of scrutiny which guided the consideration of the 2013 budget proposal serve directly, the long stringent quest for transparent and workable national budget. We commend them for this."
The party said good governance was directly dependent on the twin factors of patriotism and capacity for delivery, adding that the PDP-led National Assembly has demonstrated both.
The statement further commended the president for the early presentation of the 2013 budget and expressed pleasure at the mutual cooperation and synergy between the executive and legislature, describing it as the oil for lubricating the engine of growth.
In addition, the Senate yesterday approved and passed into law the total sum of $7.109 billion foreign loans being sought by both the federal and state governments under the Medium-term Foreign Borrowing Plan for 2012-2014.
The Senate, however, rejected Kaduna State's request of $56.61 million meant for its national urban water sector reform scheme, which would have been funded by the Islamic Development Bank.
The Senate's approval followed the joint committee reports of the Senate and the House on Foreign and Local Debts, and Finance headed by Senator Ehigie Uzamere.
Leading 20 other members, Uzamere said the joint committee was specifically mandated by the Senate to demand and provide more specific details of the borrowing plan to justify the loans and ensure equity and easy oversight.
He explained that a public hearing was held on the proposed borrowing and the committee had received oral and written memoranda from stakeholders, which included the Minister of State for Finance; the Chairman, Fiscal Responsibility Commission; Country Director, World Bank; Country Director, African Development Bank; and the 25 state commissioners of finance.
Based on the outcome of the public hearing, the committee, according to him, had come up with the following recommendations: "That the Senate approves projects to be implemented by Federal Government and its agencies; that the Senate approves projects for the states.
"That the Senate rejects the proposal of $56.61 million which is no longer required by Kaduna State for its National Urban Water Sector Reform from the French Development Agency; that the Senate does advise the Federal Government to forward a request to Lagos State, in order to avert imminent crisis in the implementation of the 2013 budget."
While accepting the recommendations of the committee, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, however, laid emphasis on the need for robust oversight by the relevant committees on the implementation of the projects for which the loans are being sought.