• Buhari did not reject 2016 budget, says Enang
• Upper chamber asks Amaechi to apologise or resign
• How we provided for Lagos-Calabar rail project, by Asafa
As more details of the alterations the National Assembly made in the 2016 budget emerged yesterday, an insight was given into how the budget of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) was padded by over N4 billion while the recurrent expenditure was upped by another N224 million.
Some officials of the presidency queried the adjustments, suggesting that the unsolicited increase of the CCB’s budget is an attempt to stop the bureau from involvement in the prosecution of a top member of the National Assembly over a corruption case .
Sources disclosed that the promotion arrears and salary increase of civil servants would have been withheld because the N14 billion increase proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari was removed.
Service-wide vote, under which there is the promotion arrears and salary increase as a whole suffered N28.5 billion cut from N465 billion to N436 billion.
Sources said that pensioners would have also suffered because the allocation for pension and gratuities was reduced by N12 billion from the proposed N200 billion to N188 billion.
And as an indication that the simmering feud between the Presidency and National Assembly over the budget has blown open, the Senate has accused the Presidency of “gross incompetence”, “arrogance” and “lack of coordination.”
It also asked the Executive to come clean with Nigerians on the budget and stop engaging in what it called “surreptitious campaigns of calumny against the Senate in order to cover up its serial errors.”
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang has described as misleading and untrue media reports that the budget had been rejected by Buhari.
The Chairman Senate Committee on Land Transport, Gbenga Ashafa in a statement yesterday confirmed that the Lagos-Calabar rail line project was not included in the original document presented to the National Assembly by the Executive.
Reacting to claims in the media credited to the Executive on the budget, Senate’s spokesman and chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, in a statement in Abuja, said the National Assembly had “bent backwards to wring a coherent document out of the excessively flawed and chaotic versions of the budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly.
“While the Executive is mandated to prepare and lay before the National Assembly a proposed budget detailing projects to be executed, it should be made clear that the responsibility and power of appropriation lies with the National Assembly. If the Presidency expects us to return the budget proposal to them without any adjustments, then some people must be living in a different era and probably have not come to terms with democracy.”
The Senate spokesman did not mince words in condemning the manner the Presidency handled the budget, adding that the Executive arm demonstrated gross incompetence and arrogance in preparing the budget.
Abdullahi said: “Since the beginning of the 2016 budget process, it is clear that the National Assembly has suffered all manner of falsehood, deliberate distortion of facts, and outright blackmail, deliberately aimed at poisoning the minds of the people against the institution of the National Assembly. We have endured this with equanimity in the overall interest of Nigerians. Even when the original submission was surreptitiously swapped and we ended up having two versions of the budget, which was almost incomprehensible and heavily padded in a manner that betrays lack of coordination and gross incompetence, we refused to play to the gallery and instead helped the Executive to manage the hugely embarrassing situation it has brought upon itself; but enough is enough.”
For the Transportation Minister, Abdullahi had this to say: “These latest antics of this particular Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, are reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive. Apart from setting the people of the southern part of the country against their northern compatriots, it potentially sets the people against their lawmakers from the concerned constituencies and sets the lawmakers against themselves.
‘‘This manner of reprehensible mischief has no place in a democracy. We hereby demand from Mr. Amaechi a publicly tendered apology if he is not able to show evidence that the Lagos-Calabar road project was included in the budget. Otherwise, he should resign forthwith.
“Finally, by the provision of Section 81 (4) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, the President is allowed to sign the budget and kick-start the implementation of the other areas that constitute over 90 percent of the budget where there is agreement between both arms, even as we engage ourselves to resolve the contentious areas, if there were any. We therefore maintain that even these contrived discrepancies are not sufficient excuse not to sign the budget into law.
“We therefore, urge President Buhari to sign the 2016 budget without any further delay. Certainly, as primary representatives of the people we shall not vacate our responsibility and watch the people continue to suffer unduly.”
Reacting to reports that Buhari rejected the budget, Enang said when Buhari was about travelling to China, he only sent the budget to ministries for them to study in order to get a feedback that would inform his assent.
“The President gave each of the ministers, heads of departments and agencies the opportunity to look at the details as submitted by the National Assembly.
This is to enable him to get opinion on the state of the budget to enable him to take a decision .The exercise was conducted on Friday and it is ongoing by the different ministers and ministries.”
Enang further argued that the President had not exceeded the constitutional time frame to assent to the budget, adding that it should not be assumed that the budget had been rejected.
“There is nothing for the country to worry about, because we do not want to have a crisis between the Executive and the Legislature, and it would not arise; this is one government,” he said.
Ashafa’s statement was coming on the heels of the controversies surrounding the Lagos to Calabar railway project and the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail line in the 2016 Appropriation bill.
Ashafa, who represents Lagos (East) said: “The focal points of controversy seems to be the Lagos to Calabar Railway modernisation projects and the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail line
“I confirm that the Lagos to Calabar rail line was not in the original document that was presented to the National Assembly by the Executive. However, subsequently at the budget defence session before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, the Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, did inform the committee of the omission of the Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project and indeed sent a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee, which contained the project.
“The minister noted that the amount needed for the counterpart funding for both the Lagos to Kano and Lagos to Calabar Rail modernisation projects was in the sum of N120 billion, being N60 billion per project.”
Ashafa added that while his committee did not completely agree with all the changes made in the subsequent document, being aware of the critical importance of the rail sector to the nation’s development, “distinguished members of my committee keyed into the laudable Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project and found ways of appropriating funds for the project without exceeding the envelope provided for the ministry.
“In so doing, the committee observed that the Lagos to Kano rail rehabilitation project had been allocated the sum of N52 billion as against the sum of N60 billion, which Amaechi requested as counterpart funding while no allocation whatsoever was made for the Lagos to Calabar rail line.
“Hence, the sum of N54 billion that was discovered by the Senate Committee on Land Transport to be floating in the budget of the Ministry of Transportation as presented by the Executive was injected into augmenting the funds needed for counterpart funding of both projects: Lagos to Kano and Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation, as at the time the committee defended its report before the Senate Committee on Appropriation. The Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project was therefore included in the Senate Committee on Land Transport recommendation to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.”
He continued: “With regard to the Idu to Kaduna rail completion, the Senate Committee on Land Transport did not interfere with what was provided for in the budget as sent by the Executive, being approximately N18 billion, hence I am equally surprised to read on the pages of the newspapers that the amount allocated to the said project was reduced by N8 billion.
“While I would have preferred to wait till Tuesday 12th April when the National Assembly reconvenes in order to have the benefit of viewing the details of the budget that was conveyed to the Executive as passed, I am compelled to place the facts in proper perspective as they relate to the activities of the Senate Committee on Land Transport.
“Without prejudice to the considerations and powers of the Senate Committee on Appropriations with regard to the appropriations process, the foregoing is the true reflection of what transpired at the committee level with respect to the Land Transport sector of the Ministry of Transport.”