The National Assembly Joint Committee on Electoral Matters saddled with the responsibility of looking into the 2019 general election budget proposal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is yet to agree on what to approve for the electoral body in preparation for the elections beginning in February 2019.
The joint committee with membership drawn from both the Senate and the House of Representatives headed by Senator Suleiman Nazif had in the last one week met thrice to consider the INEC election budget but failed to reach a consensus on whether to approve N143 billion or N189 billion for INEC to prepare the ground for the 2019 elections.
Sources told newsmen that as at yesterday, nothing had changed as the members of the committee had not agreed on what to recommend to the Appropriation Committee, which would further look into the proposal before passing it to the leadership of the National Assembly.
The source said members of the committee are still divided along party lines with PDP members canvassing for N143 billion while their APC counterparts are rooting for N189 billion.
THISDAY further learnt that the committee, which reconvenes on August 27 may find it a bit difficult to harmonise its position if members are still arguing along party line.
Nazif had last weekend hinted that the joint committee would now reconvene on Monday, August 27 to harmonise the 2019 general election budget proposal for INEC.
The committee chairman had said in a statement, “It is imperative to state here explicitly that, after an audacious session with all critical stakeholders, the joint committee dissolved into executive structure and agreed to resume on August 27, 2018, (After Sallah) to consider the harmonized version of the budget report diligently.”
He assured the public that work on the 2019 Election Budget is in advanced stage and in line with mandate issued to the joint committee by the leadership of the National Assembly.
At its sitting last Friday, members of the committee had toed their respective party lines while debating the amount that should be approved by the committee for INEC to prosecute the 2019 general election in the country.
While PDP senators and House of Representatives members of the committee canvassed for the approval of N143billion requested by President Muhammadu Buhari for virement to INEC for the preparations for the polls, their counterparts in the APC were in support of the approval of N189billion as presented before the committee by INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu last Wednesday.
The PDP lawmakers, who spoke in favour of N143 billion include Senators Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South), Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), Hon Wole Oke (PDP Osun) and Hon Ogbeideihama Omorege (PDP Edo) while their APC counterparts who wanted the entire N189billion approved include Senators Ibrahim Kurfi (Katsina Central), Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North), Ovie Omo–Agege (Delta Central) and Hon Aisha Dukku (APC Gombe).
The dilemma of the lawmakers over which of the proposals should be approved became worsened with the submission made the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who said the discretion over which of the amount to be approved is that of the National Assembly committee.
The minister who made the submission upon request to that effect by the Nazif (PDP Bauchi North), explained to the committee that though the N189billion requested for by INEC was the same amount the president wrote in the letter but because of funding constraints, Buhari decided to break approval for it into two fold by seeking virement for N143billion for INEC this year while the balance of N45.6billion would be taken care of in the 2019 budget.
According to him, if the joint committee wish to approve the entire N189billion without resulting into increase in the N9.12trillion 2018 budget size, so be it and would be appreciated by the executive.
He said, “Mr President will have no objection to the National Assembly approving the entire N189billion INEC budget as long as it does not in anyway, lead to increase in the overall size of the 2018 budget.
“If this is to be done, the N45.6billion the president in his letter proposed to be provided for in the 2019 budget, would also have to be vired along with the N143billion from the N578billion fund appropriated for in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly for the additional 1,403 projects included in the budget.”
But when taken up by the committee members on whether he has authorisation to the submission he made for the approval of the N189billion as against N143billion requested for by the president for this year, the minister said, “Discretion on which of the requests to be approved by you now, is yours. If you approve the N143billion the president requested for, it is okay; and if you approve the entire N189billion for INEC this year, it is also alright.”