‘The alterations we made to Budget 2018 are justifiable’ — house of reps replies Buhari

The house of representatives says the alterations made to the 2018 budget are justifiable.

AbdulRazak Namdas, spokesman of the lower legislative chamber, said this in a statement issued after President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 9.12 trillion budget into law.

Buhari had expressed reservations with some alterations in the budget, wondering why the lawmakers introduced 6,403 projects into it.

“The national assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion. Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the national assembly have not been properly conceptualized, designed and costed and will, therefore, be difficult to execute,” the president had said, disclosing that he would send a supplementary budget.

But in his response, Namdas said the national assembly “has a job to do”.

He also absolved the lawmakers of blames for the delay in the implementation of the January-to-December budget cycle, one of the complaints raised by Buhari.

Namdas said heads of ministries, department and agencies (MDAs) should take responsibility for the delay.

“The house of representatives is appreciative of President Muhammadu Buhari in signing the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law and wish to make the following observations,” the statement read.

“That the budget is usually a proposal by the executive to the national assembly, which the latter is given the constitutional power of appropriation to alter, make additions, costs or reduce as it may deem necessary. The Legislature is not expected to be a rubber-stamp by simply approving the Executive proposals and returning the budget to Mr. President. Therefore, the additions Mr. President complained of in his speech are justifiable.

“We are on the same page with Mr. President in his desire to return our budget cycle to January-December. By the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, the budget estimates should be with the national assembly around September of the year. In the case of the 2018 budget, the estimates came behind schedule in November 2017, even though this attempt was seen as one of the earliest in recent years. Going forward, we urge the executive to speed up the reporting time to the National Assembly by complying fully with the FRA.

“Besides, there were delays that should be blamed on the heads of MDAs. Mr. President will recall that he had to direct ministers and heads of agencies to go to the National Assembly to defend their proposals. This came after the National Assembly had persistently raised the alarm over the non-cooperative attitudes of these government officials. On this grounds, the delay in passing the budget cannot be blamed on the legislature.

“New projects in budget. On this aspect, we have to remind Mr. President that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positively. Some of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man.”

He also defended the N14.5 billion increase in the budget of the national assembly, saying the lawmakers slashed their budget compared to 2015.

“Before 2015, the budget of the national assembly was N150 billion for several years. It was cut down to N120bn in 2015 and further down to N115bn in 2016. In 2017, the budget was N125bn and N139.5bn in 2018. This means that the budget of the national assembly is still far below the N150bn in the years before 2015.

“While we commend Mr. President for a good working relationship, we also wish to state that we have a job to do, which requires adequate funding as well. The additional costs and projects to the budget were done in good faith for the sole purpose of improving the lives of Nigerians.

“Finally, we welcome the proposal by Mr. President to forward a supplementary budget to the national assembly to address other areas of pressing demands and commend the President and the entire executive arm for a cordial working relationship.”