The National Assembly leadership has spoken on the concerns raised by President Muhammadu Buhari on the manipulation of the 2018 budget estimates sent to the lawmakers.
Mr Buhari on Wednesday signed the N9.1 trillion 2018 appropriation bill into law in his office at Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
In his speech during the budget signing, Mr Buhari observed that “The National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira.”
He said many of the projects cut were essential ones while many of those inserted were not relevant to the federal government.
The president also complained of the period it took the National Assembly to pass the budget. He said he submitted the budget on November 7, 2017 with a view to passage by December 2018.
In their reaction, Bala Na’ Allah, the deputy leader of the Senate who represented Senate President Bukola Saraki, and the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Doguwa, who represented Speaker Yakubu Dogara, said the lawmakers had no option than to tinker with the budget estimates.
Mr Na’ Allah said their job as parliamentarians is a difficult one.
“The way the budget came, if we had allowed it to go that way, we would have been in trouble with those who elected us,” the lawmaker told journalists after the budget signing ceremony.
The senator also said they decided to alter the budget in order “to balance between the six geo political zones” across the country.
He said it is the “balancing efforts” by the National Assembly that led to the observations raised by Mr Buhari.
On his part, Mr Doguwa said “certainly you wouldn’t expect us to just rubber stamp and just bring it back. We have to do the nitty-gritty of budget consideration.”
The chief whip also said they had to tinker with the budget because “whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well and we have done what we think is the right thing to do to deliver on the expectations and the mandate bestowed on us by the people of our constituencies.”
Mr Buhari had also said because of the tinkering, he would be forced to submit a supplementary budget for the consideration of lawmakers.
The two principal officers gave assurances that they would consider and pass it faster than the main budget.
“Happily enough, he himself has said he is coming with a supplementary budget which will be dealt with as quickly as possible, I assure you about that one,” Mr Na’Allah said.
On his part, Mr Doguwa said if Mr Buhari submits a supplementary budget, the House of Representatives will consider it.
He said, “We will also at the same time be at liberty to look at the president’s concerns and those things he wants us to now review and I want to believe the National Assembly is always in a position to work hand in hand with Mr President.”
Concerns Are Genuine
Both lawmakers also agreed that the concerns raised by the president are genuine.
Mr Na’Allah said while the concerns raised by Mr Buhari are correct, the faults, he said lies with the executive arm of government.
“About the issue of delay, the president is right, but at the same time, if you remember, you were here, the president had to order some MDAs to appear before the Assembly for the purpose of defending their budgets.
“It’s a very delicate issue, if somebody said he wants N500 million for the maintenance of bridges nationwide, then you expect the National Assembly to say Ok, that budget is approved because it came from the executive? Then we have not done our work.
“We will be interested in knowing which of the roads are you going to maintain so that again, we don’t give another allocation in the next budget. Those observations are correct but in the budgeting process those things are normal,” he said.
Mr Doguwa also said “I want to believe that the president is at liberty to raise some of these observations” adding, “but the most important thing you have to know is that the budget has been signed and is now a law of the federation and we expect the executive to now implement the law to the latter.”
The chief whip also spoke about the absence of the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara.
He said “the Speaker is unavoidably absent, but wherever the Speaker may be now, he will be sharing in the spirit of this auspicious occasion we have just finished.”