Budget Row Deepens As Jonathan, N’Assembly’s Face-Off Looms

Budget Row Deepens As Jonathan, N’Assembly’s Face-Off Looms

The frosty relationship between the Presidency and the National Assembly has deepened as both parties are sticking to their positions on the amendment of the 2013 Appropriation Act.

More than a month after President Goodluck Jonathan returned the N4.987 trillion budget to the National Assembly for amendment, the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance are yet to commence work on it.

On March 14, the President returned the new budget wherein he rejected some clauses which mandated the Accountant-General of the Federation and Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance to brief the National Assembly on the budget and fund releases.

The President also advised the National Assembly to reverse itself on the zero 2013 budget allocation for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The National Assembly said Jonathan in the correspondence and covering letter addressed to Senate President David Mark, overstepped its bounds on SEC. Jonathan reportedly signed the budget in February without National Assembly’s presiding officers present, contrary to the convention which began during the Obasanjo administration.

Daily Sun learnt that the leadership of the National Assembly is furious that the “amendment sought by the Presidency is just a disguise for us to rework the 2013 budget.

A face-off is imminent as the lawmakers have vowed to resist the move even as heads of some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have confided in some committee chairmen that they are implementing “envelopes” given to them by the Budget Office and not “the budget as passed by the National Assembly. Two weeks after the budget was returned, the legislators embarked on a two-week Easter recess.

On resumption of plenary two weeks after, work is yet to commence on the amendment being sought by the Presidency. In a move to kick-start work on the amendment, the Senate President mandated Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN) to meet with the Committees on Appropriation, Finance and Special Duties.

The meeting reportedly held on Monday, April 22 and sources close to two of the committees said that there was no headway on the budget.

“After briefing the Senate Leader, it was concluded that what the President wanted was not just an amendment of the budget, but a re-working of the entire budget!

“The meeting concluded that we cannot do that because it is on record that the President signed the 2013 budget on February 24 even though the National Assembly forwarded it to him on January 30, signed under the hand of RHY Clerk to the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa.”

Regardless, checks at the Senate Appropriation Committee indicated that ever since the 2013 budget was returned to the National Assembly, the Budget Office has not returned, despite meetings called by the committee. Appropriation Committee Chairman, Ahmed Mohammed Maccido, however, told Daily Sun that the National Assembly has called for another meeting with the Budget Office “which is scheduled to hold on Thursday (tomorrow); that is, if they would come this time around.”

It was also learnt that the lawmakers are angry with the Presidency for blackmailing the National Assembly over its N100 billion constituency projects in the 2013 budget.

A senior member of the National Assembly who doesn’t want his name in print, said issues concerning constituency projects had been settled as far back as 2008. “The issue of our constituency projects being in the budget was settled during the administration of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.

“Remember that in 2008, he returned the budget where he demanded an amendment and part of the resolution then was that there would be a threshold for constituency projects for NASS members, of which N100 billion was agreed upon. Meanwhile, only N8.127 billion is the balance in the Special Funds Accounts operated by the Federal Government.”

On Tuesday, Senate Committee on Public Accounts detailed abuses of the accounts and how loans were indiscriminately granted private organisations, state governments and foreign countries without recourse to due process and the National Assembly.

In the returned budget, a copy of which was obtained by Daily Sun, the closing balance of the Special Accounts was N12.436 billion in 2012 but dropped to N8.127 at the time the final details of the 2013 budget were concluded.

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