By Uche Mbah
The recently signed national budget by President Muhammadu Buhari has sparked fresh row between the executive and legislature, with the Federal House of Reps insisting that there was no infraction in the adjustment of the Budget figures.
The senate Leadership, however, have been away in Russia for inter-parliamentary interface, though indications from Presidential sources were that it was a tactical maneuver to avoid Bukola Saraki, the Senate president being present during the Budget signing, which the president finally did after seven months of playing badminton with it .
President Buhari, in a tone that suggests reluctance to sign the budget protested vigorously about what has come to be known as budget padding, laying the fault of the late signing of the budget squarely at the feet of the National Assembly.
“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”, Buhari had said.
He cited several budgetary allocations that were slashed by the National Assembly while increasing other expenditures, particular the National Assembly budgets. For this reason he had promised to send a supplementary budget back to the Legislature. “The National Assembly was said to have 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. Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualized, designed or costed and will, therefore, be difficult to execute,” Buhari had said.
This paints an unlikely picture that the Legislature are meant to simply rubber stamp anything brought to it by the Presidency into the Budget without change, a position that completely negates the principle of checks and balances in a democratic governance. It is widely believed that the National Assembly, want all, have also been fighting a major battle of autonomy, while the Presidency treats it as a recalcitrant branch of the government.
According to AbdulRazak Namdas, spokesman of the lower legislative chamber, “That the budget is usually a proposal by the executive to the national assembly, which the latter is given the constitutional power of appropriation to alter, make additions, costs or reduce as it may deem necessary. The Legislature is not expected to be a rubber-stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable… Besides, there were delays that should be blamed on the heads of MDAs… we have to (also) remind Mr. President that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positively. Some of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man.”But National Assembly sources indicate that some of the allocations were removed because of the political undertones involved. For example, The provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as Counter-part funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project were cut by an aggregate of 11.5 billion Naira. This was ostensibly because it is feared that those projects are going to be conduit pipes for election slush funds. The second Niger bridge has always been a political carrot dangled at the South east, with claims of different levels of completion by the Buhari administration, only for it to be revealed that the contract was never even awarded by the government. The same with the completion of Enugu international Airport, which was reduced to N500 million. But the major achievement of the presidency was the turning the tide of criticism, particularly in the social media, against the national Assembly. Media trial has been the strongest point of the propaganda machine of the Buhari administration.
Buhari hs hinted at the possibility of a supplementary budget. A national assembly analyst reasoned that with claims that 2017 has been implemented, funds released have never been what was in the Budget. MDAs usually get far less that officially budgeted for. The Balance are usually unaccounted for, a situaion that analysts described as accumulating election funds. “Let him bring the supplementary budgets. We are here”, said a national Assembly source.