Members of the House of Representatives are demanding increased funding of the 2017 budget as a condition for treating the 2018 budget expected to be presented to the National Assembly on November 7 by President Muhammadu Buhari, Saturday PUNCH has gathered.
Lawmakers have generally assessed the funding of the budget, particularly the capital component, as “poor and far from encouraging.”
Investigations showed that very dear to the hearts of the members were their zonal intervention projects, which have so far been neglected by the Executive.
There is a provision of about N100bn in the budget for the zonal intervention projects of members of the National Assembly.
However, Saturday PUNCH learnt that the releases so far made did not cover the zonal projects.
One source stated, “Nothing has been released for the constituency projects of members. These people are politicians and elections are not far away.
“They have to present something to their people as dividends of democracy to guarantee some votes at the next polls. If the zonal projects are not funded, there will be setbacks for the 2018 budget.”
Another top official of the legislature also informed Saturday PUNCH that it was unlikely that members would approve the 2018-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, which must be done before touching the 2018 budget.
The official explained, “You know that the MTEF is a requirement of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
“Without the approval of the MTEF, there will be no new budget. So, let the executive wake up.”
The Federal Government plans to spend N8.60tn in 2018. While work is progressing on next year’s budget, the 2017 budget of N7.441tn is still running until May 2018.
However, members are worried over the slow releases of funds for the current budget.
For instance, out of the N2.2tn budgeted for capital projects in the 2017 budget, only N336bn has been released till date.
Findings further revealed that out of the N336bn, the Ministry of Power/Works/Housing got the highest allocation of N90bn.
The Ministry of Defence got N71bn; Ministry of Transportation, N30bn; Agriculture, N30bn; and Water Resources, N12bn.
All other sectors, combined, received a total sum of N103bn, bringing the grand total to N336bn.
Asked to comment on the development, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, told Saturday PUNCH that members wished the funding of the budget was sped up.
“They (the executive) have done some releases, but it can be better. What we notice is that some ministries and agencies are well-funded, but many others have no money at all. So, let them spread the releases so that all the agencies can begin to work on capital projects,” Namdas stated.
But, he declined to speak on the threat by members not to touch the 2018 budget if their zonal projects were not funded.
On whether the country would run two budgets concurrently from January 2018, assuming a new budget is added to the one of 2017, Namdas replied that the budget known to law “for now is the 2017 budget.”
He also explained that receiving the 2018 budget from the President did not mean that it would be passed the next day.
“We are still implementing 2017 budget. If the 2018 one comes, it will take some period to pass it. It will not start running immediately.
“So, in actual sense, it is 2017 that will be running, while work is in progress on 2018’s.
“I am certain that by the time it will be passed and signed into law, the period left for 2017 will be almost negligible,” he added.
The Leader of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, had while speaking with reporters after a meeting with President Buhari on Thursday said the early passage of the 2018 budget would depend on the time it was submitted by the executive and what the budget contained.
He further explained that federal lawmakers would not pass the budget by December 31st “at all cost.”
Lawan said although it was the desire of all stakeholders that the bill was passed latest by December 31, he and his colleagues in the National Assembly were determined to do a thorough job.
The Senate leader said, “It (passing the budget by December 31) depends on how it goes. You know we are supposed to be working for the same people of Nigeria and we will like to see the National Assembly working with the executive arm of government.
“You know these things will be determined by what the budget looks like, the estimates presented to us, because naturally, we always try to do a very thorough job, a very patriotic job to ensure that the budget is implementable, to ensure there is equity, fairness, and justice in the distribution of projects across the country.”