Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki

The Senate, Nigeria’s upper legislative chamber has said that the projected passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill before the end of December this year might not be feasible for reasons beyond the control of the National Assembly.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on November 7, 2017 presented the 2018 budget proposals to a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives and projected that the Bill be passed and assented to before the end of December 2018 to pave way for its implementation from January 2018, as part of measures to return to the January-December budget year from the current June-May period.

Chairman, Senate committee on media and public affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, who briefed newsmen in Abuja Wednesday, alleged that the possible delay in the passage of the bill would be caused by the actions or in actions of the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, Group Managing Director of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru and Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd.), among several others.

According to him, the decision of the trio, whose agencies are crucial to the budget estimates not to appear at the last public hearing on the 2018-2020 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework MTEF, and Fiscal Strategy Paper held earlier in the week had slowed down the process of passage of the bill significantly.

He expressed worries that these chief executives refused to honour the National Assembly with their presence in a crucial matter as the budget to enable all relevant parties to look at these issues critically, a development, he described as serious.

He also said that in refusing to honour the National Assembly with their present, the three top appointees of the Federal Government have also failed to honour their principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, who the National Assembly has tried to honour by insisting on early passage of the bill as he requested.

“The non-cooperation with the legislature that we are getting from the executive forced the Senate to inform Nigerians of the looming crisis on the budget.

“We want to report that the Senate is disturbed by a new trend where heads or chief executives of critical institutions who should play a critical role in this budget process choose to ignore the invitation by the Senate to appear before it for deliberation.

“Specifically, yesterday (Tuesday), when we had a deliberation, the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning was around. But based on the discussions we were supposed to have, to look at the revenue projections, which are the basis for the MTEF, I want to report here that the GMD of the NNPC refused to show up. The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria refused to show up. The Comptroller General of Customs refused to show up. The Director-General of the National Bureau of Statistics refused to show up; and the Director of the Directorate of Petroleum Resources DPR refused to show up.

“The question to ask here is this: if the national budget is very important and all of us depend on the resources of the country to run our business, what other business could be more important than looking at this very critical assignment for this country?”, Sabi-Abdullahi questioned rhetorically.

He alleged that most of the representatives being sent by heads of these government agencies are low ranking officers, who are ‘powerless’, arguing that many of them usually could not answer critical questions or provide critical insight required in the budgeting process.

The Senate chief spokes person also argued that it was important that these issues to the public domain noted that the media will still come back to them to ask about progress being made on the passage of the bill, especially given the urgency it requires to return to the old budgeting system of January-December.

“For example, on the issue of revenue projections, where there are shortages, we will look at the performance in 2017 to see what informed the projection for 2018. But where these people are not there, how do you get answers to the things that agitate your mind? We are worried about this development and we want to urge all those who are responsible for some of these critical assignments to begin to realise that when the National Assembly is calling them, it is a national duty; it is a constitutional duty and they must take it seriously.”, he said.

He was however not certain on the way forward or solution to the issues that have been raised, saying that the National Assembly alone cannot pass the budget without inputs from Federal Government’s agencies such as NNPC, Customs and the CBN.