Budget crisis: Senate dares President Buhari

The National Assembly have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to submit a supplementary budget regarding the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos proposed railway project. The law makers have argued that project was not submitted to them. The Senate also said it would not revisit the 2016 appropriation bill again.

In reaction, the Federal Government, through the ministry of Budget and National Planning, maintained that: “In view of the recent controversies surrounding the 2016 budget, it has become necessary to state the following to set the facts straight:  The details of the 2016 budget were received by the President on Thursday, April 7, 2016. Immediately this was received, the President, desirous of signing the document into law as soon as possible, directed that copies should be made available to heads of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, of the Federal Government.

“Ministers were asked to go through the details and give their reactions as it affects their respective Ministries to guide the President and enable him sign the Appropriation Bill into law. With reference to the specific issue of the Calabar – Lagos rail project, we will like to state that the two railway projects, Lagos-Kano and the Calabar-Lagos, are very important projects of the present administration; and it was always the intention of the Executive to have both projects reflected in the budget submitted to the National Assembly.

“However, it will be recalled that the Budget Office made a number of errors in the initial proposals of a number of ministries. These errors were all corrected by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the corrected versions were submitted to the relevant committees of the National Assembly. This included that of the Ministry of Transportation. The amended Ministry of Transportation budget was accepted by the relevant committees and that was the version defended by the Minister of Transportation and his team.

“It must be emphasized that the two rail projects are part of those for which the President is currently negotiating funding with the Chinese government. The N60bn provided in the budget for the Lagos-Kano and Calabar-Lagos rail lines, respectively, is counterpart funding to support the Chinese financing for the projects. These projects are part of the Strategic Implementation Plan of the government which was disclosed by the Minister of Budget and National Planning at the National Economic Council Retreat in March 2016, in the presence of state governors.

In reaction the Senate said, “Now, one thing that is obvious is that yes, we have passed the budget, Nigerians are asking what next for us? What is important now is for the budget to be signed. The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations and Section 81 of the Constitution is very clear on what you need to do, which is to sign the budget and then submit a supplementary appropriation. I want to assure you that the Senate is not unmindful of the cries of Nigerians.  That we said, for example, that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very, very important project for this nation to embark on.

“So, the National Assembly, the Senate is open if the executive brings a supplementary appropriation with respect to these and any other issue that they feel very strongly about.  We are ready and willing to consider such. But the most important point to note is that we want to remain guided by the provisions of the constitution. I think if we do that, all these raging controversies will be off our back and we can all concentrate and begin the process of implementing the 2016 budget so that those dividends of democracy.”