A move to harmonise the contentious issues between the Presidency and the National Assembly over the 2016 budget is set to be fruitful soon.
This is coming as more details emerged about how the National Assembly(NASS) tinkered with the budget, moving funds away from critical infrastructure to less important projects such as building of town halls, purchase of tricycles, and building of rural roads .The resolution of the matter follows a meeting by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, ministers, and members of the Economic Management Team.
Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Dr. Abraham Nwankwo, at the weekend said that Nigeria’s local and external debt profile has risen to N12 trillion (465billion).
Nwankwo, who disclosed this while delivering a lecture at a one-day seminar on Debt Sustainability and the Challenge of Financing Economic Recovery, organised by the DMO for members of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), said that the country’s debt ratio to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was still 13 per cent. He stressed that the country was not at risk and that there was no cause for alarm.
According to the DG, 86 per cent of the N12 trillion owed by both state and federal government was domestic, while the external debt stands at 14 per cent.
By yesterday, it was not clear in Abuja how much was tinkered with by the lawmakers but a conservative estimate put it at N200 billion. It was learnt that the sore issue of constituency projects, which lawmakers increased from N60 billion to N100 billion may become a bone of contention when negotiations begin between the Executive and Legislative arms.
A meeting of members of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), without President Mohammadu Buhari, but presided over by Osinbajo, last Thursday which continued last Saturday night has been compiling ministry by ministry the grey areas the executive wants ironed out with legislators.
A similar meeting of the federal lawmakers is expected to begin this week to resolve the impasse before the arrival of the President from an official trip to China, to assent to the budget bill .
But the Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Appropriation, Dr. Abdulmumini Jibrin, yesterday gave an insight into why the federal lawmakers altered the N6. 06 trillion budget proposed by Buhari.
In his twitter handle monitored by The Guardian, Jibrin maintained that the National Assembly reallocated over a N100 billion to projects that could impact positively on the well-being of the citizenry in the polity.
Meanwhile, in order to achieve a sustainable growth strategy, the Federal Government is considering focusing on four broad areas, namely: stimulating economic growth to achieve a real Gross Domestic (GDP) growth of 4.2 per cent in 2017; reducing the cost of governance and strengthening of institutions to combat corruption and ensure efficiency in public service; increasing government expenditure on infrastructure; and funding of the budget deficit and negative trade balance cost effectively.
The Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, who disclosed this
at a special breakfast meeting hosted by the Lagos Business School on Saturday said the government’s plan to reset the economy with structured borrowing, targeted investment and diversified growth, was on course.
Early indications yesterday were that the resumption of lawmakers tomorrow promises to be dramatic on the floors of both chambers as they are expected to express reservations about the manner the executive went public without consultations with the leadership of the National Assembly.
“It was impolitic, but that is usually the nature of the presidency when they want to embarrass us but we will address that appropriately,” a source volunteered yesterday.
The NASS source spoke just as another close to the FEC expressed dismay at the manner in which critical projects having to do “with strategic areas of the policy agenda of this government” were discountenanced for other less important projects.
“With what they have done we are not likely going to be able to implement our projects and programmes and people will not say it was the National Assembly that did it; they will say the government did not perform,” he added.
He specifically noted that government’s plan to work with the global community to end the polio scourge was endangered by the total removal of funds in the budget for the polio programme.
“They also removed provisions for anti-retroviral and AIDS drugs .
“When you remove these things, where are you taking the money to? To projects that will eventually end up as constituency projects for the legislators?
‘‘What are you going to do with tricycles used for commercial transportation, building of rural roads and town halls? Should these be Federal Government projects? These are the issues!”
There was bound to be a face-off between the President and the National Assembly the moment the legislators tampered with railway projects financed by the China EXIM Bank, it was gathered.
Sources told The Guardian that the trip to China is considered a “very big deal because of the huge concessionary loan” Nigeria will be getting from the China Export Import Bank which looks ready to offload billions of dollars it had kept in its vaults because Nigeria was not forthcoming with its own counterpart funds, a source said.
He added that it was not just the Lagos-Kano railway line that is on the table for continuation but also the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail line, intended to open up the country further and expand business opportunities along both axis.
Last Saturday, a FEC position explained to the media the circumstances of the postponement of presidential assent to the bill after lawmakers had forwarded details.
It explained that the president had indicated that he would review the details ministry by ministry to ensure that what is passed is in line with his strategic agenda for the country, adding that the National Assembly transmitted the details to the President on Thursday, April 7, 2016.
It said further that because Buhari had been desirous of giving assent to the bill before leaving for China, he directed that the ministers should review the provisions and appropriations of their respective ministries to fast-track the process.
“The projects are to be funded jointly between the governments of China and Nigeria. It is one of the main reasons for the president’s scheduled trip to China.
“The other fundamental area was in respect of completion of on-going road projects. While the executive had provided for the completion of all major road projects across the country, the National Assembly reduced the amounts provided and instead included new roads which studies have not even been conducted.
“The other is in the health sector where proposals made for the purchase of essential drugs for major health campaigns like polio and AIDs for which the stock is fast depleting were removed and the amounts allocated to provision of ambulance, which the ministry did not ask for.
“Because of these observations, the President is engaging further with the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve them and hopes that it would be resolved for his assent by the time he returns from his trip to China,” the source said.
But condemning alleged misleading reports emanating from the executive arm that appears to undermine the intent of NASS on the budget, Jibrin noted that the Lagos-Calabar Rail project was never included in the budget passed by the National Assembly.
He argued thus: “How could NASS have removed what was not there? But the nation is being misled. All those spreading the false information needed to have done is check the initial document sent by the executive which seems to favour a top-down approach. But this is not enough reason to mislead Nigerians on the role of NASS on the budget. This is unfortunate as it is quite clear to all and sundry that Budget 2016 and all its headaches and controversies didn’t emanate from NASS.
“The crux of the matter as it is, is that NASS believes in the bottom-up agenda for development with focus on rural areas and communities.
Note also that NASS has not come out to disown the false reports flying around.
“We will come up with a comprehensive position especially with respect to our observation of the budget and what we did to make it better. These are my preliminary submissions seeing as there has been no official communication between the Executive and the National Assembly.
‘‘NASS added N39.7billion to the N54billion Lagos-Kano Rail project. This will help complete the project once and for all. N50billion is set aside as a special bursary for students of tertiary institutions.
“We also suggested N100billion be taken out of N500billion set aside as Special Intervention Fund. We also had Special Programmes for Women Empowerment , payment of debt owed local contractors and the Rural Community Light project to light up 100 communities spread across the 774 Local Councils.
Governments among some of our other inputs.