The national assembly joint committee considering the budget for 2019 elections has met on three occasions – and all three meetings have been inconclusive.
Before the lawmakers embarked on their annual recess on July 24, President Muhammadu Buhari had sent a supplementary budget of N242 billion to be passed for the 2019 elections.
Amid calls to reconvene and pass the budget, the leadership of the national assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) met to seek a way forward.
By the end of their third meeting on Friday, no headway was reached, with grey areas still exisiting in the budget.
As it stands, unless the committee reaches a resolution, the national assembly may not cut short its recess to pass the budget – and that doesn’t bode well for the 2019 elections.
What are the issues delaying the consideration of the budget?
TO APPROVE ALL AT ONCE OR SOME FOR NOW?
Buhari sent a supplementary budget of N242 billion for the election, out of which N189.2 billion was budgeted for the electoral body while N52 billion was earmarked for security agencies.
Of the N189.2 billion, the president had requested the immediate approval for N143 billion, saying the remaining N45 billion should be processed with the 2019 budget.
Udo Udoma, minister of budget and national planning, explained that the executive did not want an increase in the overall size of the 2018 budget, hence the request.
But in its own proposal, INEC asked for the N189.2 billion at a go.
Why? INEC’s worry is that if it has to wait till the 2019 budget is passed, it may be left stranded considering the usual delay in the budget passage. The 2018 budget, for instance, was passed in May, whereas the election begins in February.
Members of the committee, momentarily, are in alignment with INEC, suggesting that the entire N189.2 billion requested by the commission should be approved at once to be on the safe side.
They said this is because there is no guaranty that the 2019 budget will be passed earlier than February 2019; so as not to affect election activities.
SOURCE OF THE FUNDS
There are dissenting voices among both parties as to where the funds from the election would come from.
The president had requested that the N189.2 billion should be raised through the re-allocation of funds in 2018 budget. In his letter, he had raised concern about the source of funding for the election, hence the initial N143 billion approval he requested.
Udoma also said the funds can be appropriated at once, but only on the condition that the amount is taken from the N578 billion insertion made by the national assembly into the 2018 budget so as to ensure it does not exceed the already approved N9.12 trillion.
But some of the committee members had opined that the source of funding should be left to the appropriation committee to decide.
APPROVE FOR ONLY INEC OR FOR SECURITY AGENCIES AS WELL?
The lawmakers were divided on whether to isolate the N143 billion meant for the INEC from the N45 billion meant for the various security agencies for election duties in considering the budget.
The security agencies involved include the office of the national security adviser, the Department of State Services (DSS), the Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Immigration Service.
While some of the committee members argued that processing the budget proposal for the security agencies was outside their mandate, opting to refer that aspect to the security committees of both chambers of the legislature, others argued that it should be accommodated because the N45 billion budgeted for security was part of election expenses.
The committee later agreed that while it is ready to consider the INEC budget, it would commence deliberation on the N45 billion for the security agencies as promptly as would be required later in the year.
‘DUPLICATION, POOR PLANNING’
When the INEC delegation first appeared before the house of representatives committee on electoral and political parties matters, the lawmakers had alleged there are duplication of items.
The committee chaired by Aisha Dukku observed that some of the subheads captured in the N189.2 billion proposal for the polls were featured in the commission’s allocation of N45 billion in the 2018 budget.
Dukku had said the commission’s budget was not productive as a result of “poor planning” and that estimates should represent a true picture of the fiscal responsibility act
“For a government that promised change to its people, the foundation of this change ought to be evident in the way we plan our elections and electoral processes,” she had said.
After the last sitting, the senate committee on electoral matters said further deliberations will be held on the budget, after which it will be sent to the appropriation committee of the green and red chambers.