By Fred Itua, Abuja  ([email protected])

The yearly budget ritual, from conceptualization through its preparation, presentation before the National Assembly and its final passage, is usually  mired in drama and politics. The 2017 budget may assume the same posture, judging by the early warning signs coming from the Senate.

Since 1999, the executive and the legislature have both been at loggerheads over the manner the yearly budget is being handled. The controversy has also claimed casualties from both the legislature and the executive. Fabian Osuji, Minister of Education was sacked in 2005 when he was accused of bribing members of the National Assembly to pass a favourable budget for his Ministry. The then Senate President, Senator Adolphus Wabara was also compelled to step down following his alleged role in the imbroglio.

During the administration of former president Goodluck Jonathan, the House of Representatives and the executive had a frosty relationship over the same budget palaver. The then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and the leadership of the House of Representatives, headed by Aminu Tambuwal never agreed on the modus operandi adopted by the executive.

The same controversy delayed the early passage of the 2016 budget. A budget that was laid before both chambers of the National Assembly in December of 2016, was passed into law in April. For months, the executive and the legislature were locked in a battle of supremacy.

During the period, the word ‘padding’ was coined. Lawmakers and some officials of key Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) were fingered to have played a role in the infamous interplay. The controversy eventually consumed the House of Representatives committee chairman on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara was not spared from the indictment. Some aggrieved members of the House even called for his resignation or impeachment. For months, the House was embroiled in controversy. For the first time, the Senate was exonerated from the padding scandal and the drama that followed.

This time, the early warning signs ahead of the presentation of the 2017 budget is coming from the leadership of the Senate. Leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume on October 19, 2016, wrote a letter to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, summoning him to appear before the leadership of the Red Chamber and explain certain grey areas in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) sent to lawmakers by President Muhammadu Buhari on September 30, 2016.

With the summoning of the Minister, the Senate has put on hold, the proposed debate of MTEF and FSP which ought to have kicked off last Tuesday. President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had a fortnight told lawmakers that the Upper Legislative Chamber was to commence debate on the MTEF/FSP in order to ensure it is given speedy passage in line with its economic revival agenda.

The MTEF and FSP provide the framework for the 2017 budget. The initial proposed early listing of the MTEF/FSP for debate in the Senate was to fast-track its consideration and passage so as to pave way for President Muhammadu Buhari to present the 2017 Appropriation Bill before the National Assembly.

Some of the fiscal projections in the 2017 – 2019 MTEF/FSP which lawmakers had dwelt on, the proposed 2017 crude oil benchmark of $42.5 per barrel, up from $30 in the 2016 budget and the estimated N7.775 trillion as revenue to be generated from the oil resources considering the $42.5 per barrel benchmark and an estimated 2.2 million barrel per day oil production.

In the letter of summon sent to the Minister, the Senate is requesting for the draft copy of the Medium Term Development Plan, upon which the 2017-2019 MTEF is founded. It is also seeking a comprehensive report on the implementation of the 2016 budget as at September 30, 2016.

“All fiscal rates, taxes, charges used to derive the projected revenue in the 2017-2019 MTEF; a report on the structure/composition of the debt, funding, sources, how the borrowed funds are to be spent, as well as repayment plan and schedule,” Ndume on behalf of the Senate leadership, demanded in the letter.

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Ndume’s letter read in full: “Following the letter from his Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, dated 30th of September, 2016, forwarding the 2017-2019 MTEF and FSP, the Senate has begun work on the consideration of the document.

“Preliminary review suggests that the thrust of 2017-2019 MTEF and FSP, which is to reflate the economy out of recession to a sustainable and inclusive growth path, is based on the aspirations of this present administration as being articulated in the 2016-2019 Medium Term Development Plan.

“In addition, it is envisaged that the reflation of the economy will be achieved through increased capital spending in target sectors which will be financed through a stronger non-oil revenue drive, as well as increased borrowing.

“To enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from a holistic fiscal perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, Ist November, 2016 at the National Assembly by 2pm.”

While the parliament is playing its politics, the executive has started pointing fingers at lawmakers, alleging that the delay in the submission of the budget is as a result of the refusal of the both chambers of the National Assembly to pass the MTEF and FSP.

The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, last weekend told Senate correspondents that the National Assembly was partly responsible for the delay in the early presentation of the 2017 Appropriation Bill for consideration and passage.

Enang maintained that Buhari was ready to lay the budget after the National Assembly passed the MTEF, which is currently before the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Enang said: “One of the questions you always ask is on the budget of 2017. I want to assure you that, first, the budget implementation for 2016 is going on very well and everything is going on as expected and appropriated.

“For the 2017 budget, you will agree that the process starts with the laying of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper. Mr. President has submitted that to the National Assembly –Senate and House of Representatives – and they are considering it.

“It is what is approved by the National Assembly; the parameters such as the exchange rate, oil price benchmark, volume of oil production, borrowing plan and other parameters that are contained therein that may be approved or as may be approved by the National Assembly that will be used in concluding the budget estimates.

“I want to assure you that on the part of the Executive, the budget will be concluded and presented very early, such that the budget will be considered and approved, working with every person, within the year; such that the implementation can start by 1st of January, 2017.

“That is the expectation of the Executive and that is what Mr. President, the Vice President and the honourable ministers are working towards. Therefore, I want us to relax and be assured that all will be done within time.”