19 March 2018

Nigeria: NASS Divided Over Passage of 2018 Budget

Photo: The Guardian
National assembly.

Barely four days after the leadership of the National Assembly met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa to discuss some burning national issues, including the 2018 Appropriation Bill, the two chambers of the federal legislature are divided over the passage of the budget.

According to a source in the Senate, there is no way the 2018 budget can be passed before June this year, contrary to the ultimatum given to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) by the Red Chamber two weeks ago to submit their budget estimates latest Friday this week in order to pass the budget.

The Senate had on February 28, 2018 issued a one-week ultimatum to ministers, and the heads of departments and agencies of government, to appear before its relevant committees to defend their 2018 budget estimates.

The upper legislative chamber said the attitude of the heads of MDAs is responsible for the delay in the passage of the N8.612 trillion national budget bill into law.

The Senate warned that the failure to adhere to its ultimatum would compel it to adopt the proposal submitted for such MDAs by the executive arm of government.

The matter was again discussed at plenary when Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, sought an update on the status of the bill from the Appropriation Committee.

The vice chairman of the Committee, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji (Imo APC), said most sub-committees have been complaining about the attitudes of the MDAs that have failed to properly defend their budget estimates.

"Since January, the doors of the Appropriations Committee have been opened to receiving reports from the sub-committees, but most of the sub-committees have a huge challenge with the MDAs because majority of the MDAs are not coming forward to interface with them", he said.

But the source, a Senator, who spoke to LEADERSHIP said the budget process is still at the committee level and is yet to be transmitted to the Appropriation Committee to collate all the submissions of the committees.

He said, "The senators will proceed on two to three weeks Easter Holiday in the next two weeks. There is no way the budget can be passed before the Senators proceed for Easter.

"After the Easter holiday, the Appropriation Committee will work on the budget for three weeks and that will take the senate till end of May 2018 to early June 2018 before the budget can be passed. Besides, the mood of my colleagues is not enthusiastic or lightening enough with respect to the passage of the 2018 budget".

Recall that the senate last week said it can't categorically tell when the 2018 budget will be passed, even when it declared that the legislative work on the budget is highly in top gear in the senate.

While fielding questions from Senate correspondents, Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, said he couldn't tell which day the budget will be passed.

This is in response to the question on whether the budget will be passed before the Senators proceed on Easter Holiday in less than three weeks from now.

"The budget process is on and I can't tell you this is the specific date it is going to end. We are working very hard on it and we want to assure Nigerians that at the end of the day, we will have a budget that will serve the purpose of Nigerians", Senator Abdullahi said.

But a Senator who did not want to be mentioned said there is no way the 2018 budget can be passed before June this year, contrary to the ultimatum given to the MDAs by the Senate two weeks ago to submit their budget estimates latest Friday this week even if it has to be passed the way President Muhammadu Buhari presented it to the legislature.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives yesterday expressed optimism that the proposed 2018 Appropriation Bill being considered by the National Assembly would be passed before the expiration of the life of the 2017 budget.

The House insisted that the delay in consideration of the budget is largely due to lapses on the part of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.

Spokesperson of the House, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas, who spoke to LEADERSHIP at the weekend noted that it was the wish of the House to pass the budget by the end of March 2018.

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