The Ministry of Budget And Planning has come out with its position on the controversies surrounding the 2016 budget.
The ministry in a statement said the President is yet to take a position on the budget after receiving the budget details from the National Assembly on April 7.
On the controversial Calabar-Lagos rail project, the ministry confirmed that there were indeed some errors in the initial budget proposal sent to the National Assembly by the President in December.
The statement, however, added that the errors were corrected, submitted and subsequently accepted by the relevant committees of the National Assembly.
The statement read in part, “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 60billion Naira 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.”
The statement added that it was the corrected version that was defended by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and his team.
It has been a tug of war between the executive and the legislature over the 2016 budget, as the National Assembly insists that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was excluded from the budget.
At a news conference in Abuja, spokesman of the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, insisted that there was no project as to Lagos-Calabar rail in the 2016 appropriation bill presented by President Buhari to the National Assembly.
He criticised the late presentation of the project by Minister of Transport, Mr Chibuike Amaechi.
Also, in a strongly worded press statement, the spokesperson of the Senate, accused the Presidency of setting Nigerians against the National Assembly.
He accused the Minister of Transport of mischief and demanded an apology from him if he is not able to show evidence that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was included in the budget, otherwise he should resign forthwith.
In another development, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, confirmed that although the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the original document presented to the National Assembly by the executive, the Minister of Transport later informed the Transport Committee of the omission and sent a complimentary copy of the Ministry’s budget to the committee with the inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar rail project.
The back and forth arguments between Nigeria’s Executive Arm of Government and the National Assembly over the 2016 budget appear to be intensifying, as the lawmakers insist that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was not included in the 2016 budget.
Nigeria’s 2016 budget is one of the most controversial bill in recent time, with issues of its late submission to reports of it being missing then found, then reports of appropriation being padded.
After several months of debate and scrutiny, the budget was passed by the National Assembly but the Executive Arm of Government seem not satisfied with the final product from the lawmakers.
There have been reports quoting the executive as saying that the budget was distorted, with the removal of certain items and addition of some others that were not initially in the budget.
One of such projects that the executive claims were removed is a rail project that will connect the south-south region and the south-west – Calabar-Lagos rail project.
Countering the widespread reports that the National Assembly removed the project from the 2016 budget, the spokesman for the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas, told a news conference in Abuja on Monday that a late presentation of the project by the Minister of Transport, Mr Chibuike Amaechi, was out of place.
He pointed out that the President was the only one constitutionally empowered to make budgetary proposals to the parliament.
Also, the Senate spokesman, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi, in a strongly worded press statement accused the presidency of setting Nigerians against the National Assembly.
He accused the Minister of Transport of mischief and demanded an apology from the Minister if he was not able to show evidence that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included in the budget. He also requested that he should reign if he could not present the evidence.
In another development, however, the Chairman Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator Gbenga Asahafa, in a statement confirmed that although the Lagos-Calabar rail line project was not in the original document presented to the National Assembly by the executive, the Minister of Transport had later informed the Transport Committee of the omission and sent a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee with the inclusion of the Calabar-Lagos rail project.
But the National Assembly apparently did not treat the proposal.
The National Assembly will resume plenary on Tuesday, April 12, and all eyes would be on the parliament to see what its next steps would be on the budget controversy.
A Nigerian lawmaker, who played a major role in the scrutiny of the 2016 budget submitted to the National Assembly, has dismissed claims that lawmakers allegedly distorted the budget and removed the Calabar-Lagos rail project.
He said that the House had on the contrary helped the Executive Arm of Government to regularise the budget, insisting that the executive had no understanding of the document.
After the National Assembly passed the budget and returned it to the executive, there were reports, quoting the executive as saying that the rail project was removed and that the budget was tilted to favour some parts of Nigeria.
One of the reports had quoted the executive as saying that the National Assembly distorted the budget and removed the 60 billion Naira meant for the Calabar- Lagos rail project.
Defending the National Assembly’s input in the budget, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin, said they did a thorough job on the budget.
“We gave the ministers opportunity to defend their budget before the committee came up with a good report which we studied, placing it side by side with the submission of the executive.
“What we sent to the Executive Arm of Government is an implementable budget.
“I was shocked that such statement can actually come out. I have stated yesterday (Sunday) evening that the rail project was not included in the submission that came to the National Assembly neither was it included in the report of the committee. We do not have the Calabar-Lagos rail project in any of the documents submitted to the National Assembly.
“The national assembly cannot remove what is not there.
“It is very obvious that some people want to set Nigerians in collision with one another. It is a very sad situation and we need to actually be more patriotic to the country,” he stated.
On the claim that some pars of Nigeria were favoured, Honourable Jibrin dismissed the claim, saying “the fact that I am the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee does not exclude people of Kano from being Nigerians. If any project goes to Kano or my constituency, it is very unfair for anyone to start complaining simply because I am Chairman of Appropriation Committee.
“The reality of the matter is that we did not try to corner anything. Projects are spread across”.
“They Don’t Even Have A Budget”
The lawmaker said that the National Assembly had helped the executive to correct the budget and address the confusion created by the document which he attributed to the fact that it was prepared by a task force.
“I do not believe that the Executive Arm of Government really understand the document they sent to the National Assembly or they have even properly studied the document that we sent back to them.
“In the first place you saw all the confusion, from the point of preparing the budget to the controversy of bringing the budget to the National Assembly and accusation of trying to pull out the budget from the National Assembly through subterranean means.
“Then again the President bringing another version of the budget to the National Assembly and that very new version was what head of Ministries Department and Agencies, Ministers and the rest came to the National Assembly to disown.
“So, if you want to even look at it from that dimension, you will see they don’t even have a budget,” he insisted.
Honourable Jibrin defended his claims further, saying: “Now, I give you an example. Why I am giving you this background is for you to understand when a statement comes from that part of the government, we should begin to think, do they even understand the document?
“Yesterday’s evening, the same Minister of Transport was still arguing with the Speaker at the Presidential Villa that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included in the budget. It tells you he does not understand the budget”.
He alleged that the beginning of the confusion was the attempt of Ministers, who came in after the budget had been prepared by the permanent secretaries in charge of the ministries, to alter the budget.
“The whole responsibility was taken away from the budget office. A task force was set up to prepare a budget headed by a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of budget and that task force was powered by the consultant that was brought in to implement the zero budgeting system.
“At the end of the day, the poor Director General of the budget office was sacrificed, used as a scapegoat. Now they want to use the National Assembly as a second scapegoat and we are saying no. You can’t use us. We are not part of it.
“You created all the confusion there. We have helped you to manage it but again, when you try to drag us into that, we are not going to accept it,” he further claimed.
He said that the committee discovered that the total sum of the Ministry of Transport was poorly calculated, which he blamed on the task force.
“The budget was overblown by 54 billion Naira. In the line items, there was nothing like Calabar-Lagos. What we have was Lagos-Kano, a rail line from the southern part of the country to the northern part. It was underfunded and we took a portion of that 54 billion to complete Lagos-Kano rail project so that we can be done with that. And now, with the total amount we have for that project, it can be completed.”
On the ramming funds, he said that money was not provided for airport security and navigation equipment, which the National Assembly decided to appropriate funds for from the excess fund.
“It is only when we have air crashes and the rest that we start complaining and we took part of that money to carter for that necessities and the remaining part of the money was invested in Baro Port to open up the port.
“We need just a few billions to put in Baro and in the next eight months, the President will commission the Baro Port and this will open up the economy and create opportunities,” he told Channels television.