By Muyiwa Adeyemi and Azimazi Momoh Jimoh
The 2019 budget may spend longer time at the National Assembly.Although the Senate had twice given its sub-committees deadlines to conclude work on processing the budget bill, findings showed there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
The Senator Danjuma Goje-led Committee on Appropriation told the upper legislative chamber last week that less than 10 committees had submitted their reports for further scrutiny and processing.This disclosure attracted warning from Senate President Bukola Saraki who made it clear that all committees must submit reports to the committee by last Friday 5, 2019, to enable it to process and submit its own report to the Senate on April 9.He hinted that the Senate was committed to passing the budget bill before proceeding on Easter break April 16.
It was however discovered yesterday that many sub-committees were unable to meet the Friday deadline. The committees blamed the delay on the failure of many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to defend their budgets. Saraki had said: “Let us agree that they (sub-committees) will submit by Friday (April 5). We will suspend plenary just for a week till April 9. We should be able to reconvene here by Tuesday and lay the report. And we should pass this budget by the 16th, because we have the Easter break coming as well. We don’t have that luxury of time.”
It would be recalled that President Buhari submitted the N8.83 trillion 2019 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 19, 2018.The campaigns for the February and March general elections had made it impossible for the National Assembly to begin the consideration of the budget bill because all lawmakers were involved.
The budget proposal as presented by Buhari was based on an oil price benchmark of USD60, crude oil production of 2.3 mbp/ as well as exchange Rate N305/USD. Other assumptions of the budget proposal include real GDP growth of 3.01 per cent, and inflation rate of 9.98 per cent. The budget proposal is made up of N4.04 trillion recurrent expenditure while N2.03 trillion is for capital development.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Communications, Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, yesterday disagreed with the Senate Committee on Communication that his ministry abandoned 104 projects. He said only 82, not 104 projects, could be questioned for not taking off.
The minister who spoke to reporters in Ibadan, said the projects were never abandoned as claimed, but stopped from being awarded when petitions emanated from different quarters over the contractors billed to handle them. Shittu said it would be inconceivable for any minister under the leadership of Buhari to abandon projects. He said the president could not have made any mistake in appointing any of the current ministers in a selection process that lasted six months.
The committee presided over by Senator Isah Misau, who stood in for the chairman, Senator Gilbert Nnaji, faulted the ministry’s poor budget performance for 2018, saying it would be difficult to have N18.1b approved for the ministry in the 2019 budget.
According to the committee, out of the 121 projects budgeted for in 2018, only 17 have reached varying degrees of completion, leaving a larger percentage either not funded or executed at all, two months to the end of the budget year.
Shittu said: “To start with, the projects which are the subject matter of discussion have not yet been awarded. So, the proper thing would be that there is delay in awarding them. If they are accusing me of delay, something must have caused the delay. To award a contract, fund must be available and also must be allocated for the specific project. And you will recall that the current system is what we called the envelope system because each project is in its own envelope.”