The National Assembly (NASS) has stated that if President Muhammadu Buhari actually said he would not sign the 2016 Appropriation Bill unless it was accompanied by the details, then he is being ungrateful for the excellent job it did on the document.
NASS expressed regret that the Presidency was unmindful of the herculean task it faced to pass the budget, despite the errors contained in the different versions of the document submitted to the legislature and the litany of disapprovals by some ministers.
Speaking to pressmen on Wednesday in Abuja, the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Dr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, confirmed that the National Assembly did not forward the details of the 2016 budget to President Buhari for assent.
He said it was a regular practice of the National Assembly to send details to the president weeks after passing the budget, saying there was nothing abnormal for the president to sign the budget without seeing the details.
He also gave instance with the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, saying that he (Obasanjo) assented to the budget without the details.
Jibrin therefore assured that details of the budget would be made available to the Presidency within the next two weeks, insisting that from the side of the National Assembly, the budget had been passed.
He said: “There is nothing that has happened so far that is abnormal. Let me put it straight and clear that I doubt that such a statement could come from the Presidency, knowing fully the challenges we went through during the budgeting process.
“Ordinarily, the National Assembly should not have responded to the issues raised but we are duty-bound to put the issues into perspective and put records straight, even though we doubt very much if the Presidency will issue such a statement, knowing the challenges the budget has faced so far.
The general public should note that the MTEF (Medium Term Expenditure Framework) and 2016 budget proposal came to NASS very late. You will also recall that a lot of dust was raised over different versions of the budget circulated in the National Assembly. Further, some ministers disowned the content of the budget during defence before NASS.
Amid these inconsistencies and discrepancies, the NASS had been deeply engrossed in perfecting the anomalies inherent in the 2016 Appropriation Bill. In order for the nation to move forward and avoid stagnation of administrative processes, the tradition is that the bill is passed and forwarded to the Presidency for assent, while the lawmakers continue to work on the details.
“There is nothing abnormal about this practice and yet nothing abnormal about a President assenting a budget before or after seeing the details. In any case, the budget details are usually sent within a week or two after passing the budget.
In view of the inconsistencies, errors, omissions and padding that characterised the 2016 Budget, it would be unpatriotic of NASS to forward the budget details without being extra-careful, meticulous and cautious in discharging its duties. This is to ensure we do not make same mistake that the executive made.
We have been working day and night, we are doing our best, we have been very generous to the executive arm of government. With all these series of challenges in the course of working on the budget, I doubt very much that the executive arm of government or the Presidency, knowing what has transpired in the last few months, will be throwing stones at the National Assembly.
We have instances of President Olusegun Obasanjo signing the budget without the details; we came to Yar’Adua who always preferred to see the details.
For us in the National Assembly, we are trying to make sure that we do not make the same mistake the executive arm made.
Mind you, whatever comes from the executive is a proposal. Maybe, that is why they get away with a lot of things. We cannot get away with such things that they came with because what we are sending to them is practically the law. So, there are lots of differences between what they do and what we are doing.
I have heard people say the President has refused to assent or the President will refuse to assent. We have the power to appropriate and the National Assembly will continue to uphold its power of appropriation as enshrined in the constitution.
There is no place in the world, no country in the world where the executive sends a budget to the parliament and expects that that budget goes back to the executive the way it was sent, it never happened.
So there is no way the details will go back to the executive the way it was sent. We have been gracious enough, we have been generous enough. We sent the envelope the way they brought it, apart from the N17 billion reduction.
The N17 billion was a cut we did from the overheads, which we actually believed that there were lots of things that ought not to be included in the overhead. So we cut off 10 per cent across lines, across all the MDAs, to be able to save that amount of money for the country, otherwise, all the envelopes were left the way they were. Even with that alone, I expect that the executive arm of government should be thankful.
What we have done for the executive arm of government in the last few months since the Buhari’s administration, I think if they are not thanking us, they cannot complain or throw stones at the National Assembly.
He continued: “The 2016 Budget is the most challenging budget the NASS has ever passed in its recent history, taking into account the many controversies and omissions, particularly in NYSC, Prisons, Pensions, personnel shortfalls, among others. The budget failed in many respects to connect with the policy thrust of the government.”