The two chambers of the National Assembly have said the decision to adjust the 2018 Budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari was to correct lopsidedness and imbalance in the estimates.
The lawmakers made the position known on Friday at a news conference addressed by the Spokespersons of the Senate and House of Representatives, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi and Rep. Abdulrazak Namdas, in Abuja.
The National Assembly had, while passing the Appropriation Bill, increased the figure from N8.16 trillion proposed by Buhari to N9.12 trillion, indicating an increase of about N578 billion.
Before signing the Bill on Wednesday at the Presidential Villa, Buhari picked holes with the action of the lawmakers, observing that some of the new provisions in the budget were not properly processed.
He had said: “I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented.
“The logic behind the constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the Executive is that it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me.
“The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by N14.5 billion, from N125 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the executive.”
Buhari, however, said he decided to sign the budget in order not to further slow down the pace of recovery of the nation’s economy, which had doubtlessly been affected by the delay in passing the budget.
But in their response, the lawmakers said the number of projects was increased in line with the Federal Character principle.
They argued that the move was to give sense of belonging to every geopolitical zone of the country in the bid to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command national loyalty.
They said: “We took the decision to reduce the funds in some areas in order to ensure balance and equity in the spread and utilisation of our national funds.”
According to them, the amount of the reductions made by the National Assembly was unduly exaggerated as no substantial reduction was made on any project to the extent of affecting its implementation.
They explained that for exact detail of the projects, counterpart funding of six major projects were reduced “by only N3,956,400,290, which represents only 1.78 per cent of the total N222,569,335,924 submitted by President Buhari”.
The lawmakers listed the projects as Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/Ancillary roads, East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project.
“This left these projects with N218,612,935,634 which cannot negatively affect their implementation. This obviously contradicts the claim that these projects lost an aggregate of N11.5 billion,” they said.
Faulting Buhari’s position on the reduction in funds for some critical projects, the lawmakers maintained that the amounts reduced by them were insignificant and would not in any way make the budget un-implementable.
They said: “Specifically, the counterpart funding for 3050mw Mambilla Hydropower Project was reduced from N8.5 billion to N8.2 billion (a reduction of N300 million)
“Construction of the Second Niger Bridge including access roads phases 2a and 2b in Anambra and Delta and other projects in the South-East were reduced from N10 billion to N9.1 billion (a reduction of N900 million).
“The construction of Bodo-Bonny road with a bridge across the Opobo channel in Rivers was reduced from N10 billion to N8.7 billion (a reduction of N1.3 billion).
“The funding for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced from N20 billion to N18 billion (a reduction of N2 billion), and these will not significantly affect the construction of the road in one appropriation cycle.
“The Railway Projects (Counterpart Funds): Lagos-Kano (ongoing); Calabar-Lagos (Ongoing); Ajaokuta-Itakpe-Aladja (Warri) (Ongoing); Port Harcourt-Maiduguri (New) and Kano-Katsina-Jibiya-Maradi in Niger Republic (New) were retained.”
Also retained as presented by the President, according to them, are Abuja-Itakpe and Aladja (Warri)-Warri Port and Refinery, including Warri new Harbour (New) and Bonny Deep Sea Port and Port Harcourt.
They said all the retained projects had a total value of N162,284,335,924.
They stated that aggregate funding for the East-West Road was increased from N11,285,000,000 to N12,085,000,000 because of its strategic importance to the entire oil-producing areas of the country and the fact that the project had lingered for too long.
The lawmakers said: “Addressing the issue of the Second Niger Bridge project, apart from early works, as of today, there is no existing contract for the Second Niger Bridge in spite of frequent requests from the National Assembly.
“The N900 million reduced from the N10 billion proposed by the executive was deployed to fund ancillary roads that connect to the Bridge.
“It should again be noted that the N12.5 billion and the N7.5 billion appropriated for the Second Niger Bridge in the 2016 and 2017 Budgets by the National Assembly were never utilised for the project.”
According to them, they also needed to call the attention of the public to the fact that the National Assembly allocated additional N2 billion to the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway project.
They said: “This was more than what the Executive proposed. As part of the implementation of the 2017 Budget, the contracts for 15 roads were awarded by the Federal Executive Council with no budgetary provisions.
“Realising the importance of these projects, the National Assembly decided to spread the N3.9 billion saved from the earlier mentioned projects funding to facilitate the take-off of these projects.
“The projects include the rehabilitation of Ikorodu-Shagamu road in Lagos State; the rehabilitation of 9th Mile-Orakam to Benue Border and the general maintenance of Pankshin-Ballang-Nyelleng-Sararele-Gindiri road in Plateau State, etc.
“These are the projects purported to be ‘project inclusions without conceptualisation.’ On these projects, the National Assembly needs to be commended by Mr. President for helping to support the take-off of these awarded but unfunded projects.”
On ongoing efforts to enact Organic Budget law, the lawmakers alleged that Buhari failed to sign the proposed law, which sought to improve the budgetary process and endorsed by the National Assembly and over two-third of State Houses of Assembly.
They argued that the allegation that the Federal Capital Territory budget was cut by N7.5 billion was untrue.
The spokesmen said: “The legislators stand by this decision because, through its oversight of the FCT, the National Assembly discovered that in the 2016 and 2017 Budget cycle, there was a severe non-performance of the budgetary allocations to the FCT.
“During the two years, over 50 per cent of the funds that were allocated and released to the FCT were not utilised. These funds were ultimately returned to the treasury.
“So, in order to ensure that scarce resources were allocated in accordance to ‘needs over wants’, funding for FCT which has historically been under-utilised were allocated to other MDAs that have demonstrated capacity to implement their allocation.
“It was part of the allocation that we spread over the roads for which contracts were awarded with no budgetary allocation.”
They said contrary to the claim that the health sector suffered budgetary cuts, the National Assembly actually provided more funds that would make access to health services possible for over 180 million Nigerians.
They stated that for the first time since the National Health Act was enacted in 2014, the National Assembly made provision of additional N55 billion for funding primary healthcare through the Basic Primary Healthcare Fund.
They explained that funding for the programme would be sourced from one per cent of the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
They said the National Assembly received an additional N14.5 billion in funding in order to ensure that it met its mandate.
The legislature said the increase in oil price benchmark from projected $45 per barrel to $51 per barrel generated additional N523.65 billion for the Federal Government.
The lawmakers said: “Thus, based on agreement between the National Assembly and the Executive as represented by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, the additional revenues were allocated among the three arms of government as follows:
“The Executive’s proposal for the National Judicial Council was N100 billion, however, the National Assembly appropriated N110 billion which represents N10 billion increase.
“The Executive’s proposal for Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was N71,195,023,529, however the National Assembly appropriated N81,882,555,891, which represents N10,687,532,363 increase.
“An additional N33,981,437,188 was also appropriated for the outstanding liabilities to the NDDC by the Federal Government to enable the commission settle some of its contractors that were owed over N1 trillion.
“The National Assembly increased the Public Complaint’s Commission’s budget from N4,200,000,000 proposed by the President to N7,480,000,000, which represents a N3,280,000,000 increase.
“Lastly, the National Human Rights Commission’s budget was increased from N1.5 billion to N3,013,745,000, which represents a N1,513,745,000 increase.”
They said the increase in the legislature’s budget was also necessitated by the drastic inflation of the last four years and the need to rehabilitate the National Assembly’s deteriorating facilities.
“It is important to point out at this juncture that the collapse of the CCTV system facilitated the mace theft in April,” they stated.
They added: “The 24 additions, which were done to the 2018 Appropriation Bill due to increase in the oil benchmark, were duly appropriated by the National Assembly.
“This was after full consultations, and in many cases, requests by the Executive through the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.”