2017 Budget: Fresh Requests, Delay By Committees Stall Passage

JENNIFER AKAMANU

 

Fresh requests by the Executive and delays by the committees of the National Assembly have stalled the passage of the 2017 budget.

Findings indicated that the budget size of N7.298tn might increase in order to accommodate the fresh requests.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had earlier set March 30 as the date they would pass the budget, but later made a U-turn.

For instance, at the House, after the various standing committees failed three times to meet deadlines set by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, it said the March 30 date was no longer sacrosanct.

Investigations by The PUNCH showed that lawmakers, who are scheduled to begin their Easter break tomorrow (Tuesday), would be unable to pass the budget because of the delays.

One senior official informed one of our correspondents that a more serious factor was the fresh requests for adjustments coming from the Executive lately.

A source stated, “You will recall that even when President Muhammadu Buhari was away on medical vacation, the Federal Executive Council kept awarding contracts for projects not originally captured in the 2017 budget.

“But, the projects were indicated as 2017 projects, such as road projects.”

It was learnt that another request not originally included in the budget but that would soon be sent to the National Assembly was a proposal on the settlement of the outstanding arrears owed pensioners by the Federal Government.

“Accrued arrears owed pensioners are over N459bn. The committee set up by Mr. President to look into the arrears is expected to submit additional adjustments to the budget to capture a sizeable amount of the arrears. The committee is chaired by the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun,” the source added.

The requests had reportedly delayed the work of some committees of both chambers of the National Assembly.

It was further learnt that some agencies of government too had yet to complete their budget defence before the respective committees.

“Such committees have yet to submit their reports to the main Committee on Appropriations. This implies that the Committee on Appropriations still has no detailed budget report to present to the House,” the source added.

The official stated that key questions had yet to be addressed by the Committee on Appropriations due to the delays.

The source explained, “For instance, will the budget size increase or reduce? What about the benchmark price? Are we retaining $42.5? Oil production came as 2.2 million barrels per day. Where are we now? The naira/dollar exchange rate: are we retaining the proposed N305 or will it change?

“All of these questions depend on the findings of the committees and the reports presented to the appropriations committee for analysis.”

Asked to comment on the situation, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, simply said that the lawmakers were working hard to pass the budget.

He stated that the House was looking towards the end of April to pass the budget.

“What I know is that there is no guarantee that we will pass the budget before we go on the Easter break. We will attend to it by the end of this month, hopefully,” Namdas added.

For the Senate, it was gathered that the lawmakers were also looking at April ending as the likely period to pass the budget.

“The budget will be passed in this April,” a senator said on condition of anonymity.

It was, however, learnt that while all the standing committees had submitted their reports to the Committee on Appropriations, their submissions were still not tidy enough.

 

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