From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
A simmering budget row between the Presidency and the legislature is threatening to blow into the open over late assent to the N4.987 trillion 2013 budget approved by the National Assembly on December 20, last year. Last week, the National Assembly leadership, led by Senate President David Mark, had an informal meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan supposedly on the budget. Speaker Aminu Tambuwal was not at at the parley.
Rather than assent to the 2013 budget forwarded to Aso Rock two weeks ago, the Presidency opted to send the document to heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) for “review”, it was gathered. However, checks in the Assembly showed that the Presidency might have reservations about “some extra-constitutional” actions taken by the National Assembly, to wit: the oil benchmark, increase in budget figures and insertion of some clauses, which may affect implementation.
A National Assembly source said rather than sign the budget, the Presidency immediately forwarded it to the Budget Office when the document was transmitted to it by the federal legislature. Thereafter, the Budget Office forwarded the document to heads of Ministries, Departments Agencies (MDAs), who were asked to review the figures appropriated for them. “There is that sneaky suspicion in Aso Rock that the National Assembly would always tinker with the budget.
This year, it is N63 billion and I suspect that the Presidency, through the Finance Ministry, the Budget Office and the MDAs want to know where those figures are. “Why would the Presidency review what has already been passed? If you have any problem with the budget, assent to this one and whatever they are not comfortable with, they can come back to the National Assembly by way of a supplementary budget. “As at close of work on Friday, we don’t know when the president will sign the budget because the last we heard, it was at the Budget Office.”
The source maintained that the Presidency was also uncomfortable with certain clauses inserted into the 2013 budget, including the one banning the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) from spending any Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) except approved by the National Assembly. Regardless, Senate Appropriation Committee Chairman, Ahmed Maccido, said at the weekend that the National Assembly had kept faith with its resolve to make sure that the budget year runs from January to December, adding that that was why the legislature passed the budget last month. Asked about delay in presidential assent to the 2013 budget and its implication on the new January-December fiscal year,
Maccido replied: “It is for the executive to tell Nigerians why the delay but as far as I am concerned, the National Assembly has done its part; it is the executive that needs to brace up and show the world that, truly, they are ready to implement this budget.” He also said the the National Assembly raised the oil benchmark in the budget from the proposed $75 to $79 “in order to address the over N1 trillion deficit in the budget. Based on the figures we got as the proposed budget, we felt we had to do something because we knew the economy could not support over N1 trillion as budget deficit. Those figures were quite alarming to us. We had to get funds somehow to reduce the deficit (and) we believed that that could be addressed from funds saved from raising the oil benchmark.”