On Friday, the national assembly denied allegations that it altered the 2018 budget for selfish reasons, saying any change made in the document was for the sake of “equity”.
While signing the N9.1 trillion budget on Wednesday, President Muhammadu Buhari accused the lawmakers of reducing allocations for important projects and injecting 6,043 projects.
However, in a statement issued by the two chambers of the national assembly, the lawmakers said the president was not properly briefed on details of the budget.
They also defended the new projects injected into the document, and threw more light on why some allocations were slashed.
Below are highlights of their response:
‘CHANGES MADE TO ADDRESS GEO-POLITICAL IMBALANCES’
In defence of the adjustments and reductions in the locations, costs and number of projects in the budget, the lawmakers said the measure was to “address geo-political imbalances that came with the executive proposal.”
“The introduction of new projects was done to ensure the promotion of the principles of federal character as contained in section 14, subsection (3) of the 1999 constitution. The number of projects had to be increased in order to give a sense of belonging to every geo-political zone of the country to ensure socio-economic justice, equity, fairness, and to command national loyalty,” they said.
“It is therefore very clear that the three arms of government benefited from the increase which was mutually agreed on with the ministry of budget and planning. In fact, we have correspondences addressed to the leadership of the national assembly from ministry of budget making requests on how to spread the increment arising from the Benchmark differentials.”
‘EXECUTIVE TO BE BLAMED FOR DELAY IN BUDGET PASSAGE’
The national assembly also shifted the blame of the delay in passage of the budget to the executive arm of government. The budget was passed seven months after it was submitted in November last year.
According to the lawmakers, “although the budget was submitted in November, as of March 15th 2018 (five months and eight days after the budget submission), Mr President was still directing the secretary to the government of the federation to compel the heads of ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government to appear before the committees of the national assembly to defend their respective budget.”
The directive had come on the heels of claims by the lawmakers that the MDAs were frustrating efforts to pass the budget early.
“In addition, up till April (6 months after the budget submission), the executive was still bringing new additions to the 2018 budget which the national assembly in good faith and in the spirit of collaboration and harmonious working relationship accepted,” they added.
‘ALTERATIONS NOT AFFECTING IMPLEMENTATION’
The lawmakers also argued that while it is true that reduced allocations of some projects, amounts of the reductions made were unduly exaggerated as we did not make any substantial reduction on any project to the extent of affecting its implementation.”
They said the cuts amounting to N347 billion which were made from “low priority areas to higher priority areas”. And the reason? “To support the generation of employment for our youth by MSMEs.”
“We took the decision to reduce the funds in some areas in order to ensure balance and equity in the spread and utilization of our national funds,” they added.
‘N3.7BN ADDITIONAL FUNDING FOR MEAL SUBSIDIES FOR UNITY SCHOOLS DESPITE N3BN CUT’
TheCable had reported that a total of N3 billion was reduced from the funds allocated to the 104 unity schools in the country.
Defending this action, the lawmakers said the step was taken “after careful consultation by the committees of the national assembly with stakeholders in the sector.”
They also said an additional N3.7 billion was provided for “meal subsidies” in Unity Schools.
‘ENUGU AIRPORT GOT N200M MORE THAN IS REQUIRED’
Another issue that drew widespread criticism was the reduction of N2 billion meant for construction of terminal building at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
The lawmakers, however, said this was because of the discovery that N1.7 billion of the N2 billion had already been paid.
They said: “For the avoidance of doubt, it is necessary to again clarify that during the budget defense and oversight processes, the national assembly discovered that out of the N2 billion contract for the Enugu Terminal Building, N1.7 billion had already been paid to the contractor. And what is left to complete this project is just N300 million.
“Hence, the national assembly approved N500 million for the project — which is even N200 million more than was required.”
‘OUR ALLOCATION LESS THAN 2015
The national assembly got a share of N139 billion from the budget as against the N125 billion it got in 2017. This is despite outcry that the earnings of the lawmakers are at the expense of the masses.
In defence of the increase, however, the lawmakers said it is still N10.5 billion lesser than the N150 billion they got in 2015 “despite increased national challenges that requires: frequent public hearings held on almost a daily basis at high costs; and intense oversight, which has become more thorough and incisive in order to check the executive.”
“The N139.5billion budget of the national assembly represents less than 1.5percent of the entire N 9trillion budget. Does it not make sense to use 1.5 percent to protect the other 98.5 percent?” they asked.