This Day (Lagos)

23 May 2014

Nigeria: Anger in Senate Over Presentation of Addendum to 2014 Budget

Abuja — There was confusion in the Senate yesterday over the appearance of a strange document containing the budget of federal government parastatals more than one month after the National Assembly passed N4.695 trillion 2014 budget.

The document, which was presented for deliberation by Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, caused a stir as some senators were visibly angry, querying the rationale behind the presentation of another budget document weeks after the National Assembly had concluded legislation on the national budget.

The Senate passed 2014 budget on April 9. The matter got to a head when Senate President, David Mark, also expressed shock over the presentation of a matter for deliberation in the chamber without his prior knowledge.

The document was accompanied by a letter addressed to the senators by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, where he drew the chamber's attention to a compendium of estimates for 52 federal government's agencies and parastatals, which he said would be referred to varying committees for consideration.

The letter read: "Pursuant to the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Section 21 which provides that the budget of the listed agencies shall be submitted to the National Assembly, please find herewith the budget of the federal government corporations submitted along with the national budget. The budgets will be considered and referred to the respective committees for consideration and subsequent report to the Senate for further legislation."

But hardly had the document been presented for debate when an uproar ensued in the chamber as senators queried the source of the document as well as the raison de'tre behind its appearance weeks after concluding legislation on the 2014 budget.

Among others, the document consisted of a N3.5 trillion budget for Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in 2014; N144.9 billion for the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA); N377.9 billion for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); N15.6 billion for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); and N86.0 billion for NIMASA.

While moving the motion, Ningi said: "That the Senate do consider the request of Mr. President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the 2014 Budget proposal for the following federal government parastatals."

This was followed by overwhelming confusion as senators began to wonder how the document emerged. First to react to the motion was Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West), who said an attempt to return a budget document to the Senate after passing the entire national budget was strange, unacceptable and a back door approach.

"To me, this request as purportedly made by the president and presented here by the Deputy Senate Leader is strange and very strange indeed because this is the first time I will be witnessing such thing. We have already passed the 2014 budget several weeks ago and now presenting to us another request to consider budget estimates of some federal agencies believed to have been captured in the original total budget estimates passed is strange.

"This to me, President sir, is unacceptable because what the generality of Nigerians are waiting for now, is for the President to sign the already passed 2014 budget into law and not reconsideration of any budget estimates," Adeyemi said.

In the same vein, Senator James Manager (Delta South), described the move for the reconsideration of a passed budget as unwarranted.

He said: " Mr. President, this is strange. If you remember, these agencies' budget estimates have already been treated and considered during the last budget defence session which eventually paved the way for the passing of the N4.6trillion 2014 budget profile by both chambers of the National Assembly in the first week of April.

"Now, what can now be said to warrant this request before us when the budget passed has not been assented to? In a nutshell, what Nigerians are expecting as far as the 2014 budget is concerned, is for the President to sign the one already forwarded to him and not the Senate carrying out any reconsideration of any aspect of the budget."

Also, Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia South) and Ayogu Eze (Enugu North), frowned on the return of the document to the Senate six months after the 2014 budget was presented and called for explanation for the action.

According to Eze, the document should have been attached to 2014 budget for proper scrutiny and consideration by the Senate.

"The Senate should take a very serious view on this matter of a strange document on a budget already passed. Pointedly, the Senate should find out from the Chairman, Rules and Business Committee where he got the document from and he should be told that his move is already belated," Eze said.

In his explanation, Enang said the document came along with the 2014 budget as submitted by the Budget Office last year.

His explanation was not satisfactory to opposing senators. But Mark, understanding that Enang's action was spurred by his drive for the application of the principles of Fiscal Responsibility Act, which requires all the parastatals to submit their yearly budgets to the National Assembly, quickly saved the day as he asked Enang to withdraw the document and instead separate the agencies and parastatals whose budget estimates had already been passed from those that were yet to be considered.

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