Reps protest as Buhari seeks to present 2018 budget

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Protesting members of the Nigerian House of Representatives

Members of the House of Representatives on Thursday protested as President Muhammadu Buhari requested their permission to present the estimates of the 2018 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly.

The President asked to be allowed to lay the estimates on Tuesday, November 7.

His request was contained in a letter that the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, read to members during plenary in Abuja.

“Pursuant to Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution, may I crave the kind indulgence of the National Assembly to grant me the slot of 1400hrs (2pm) on Tuesday, 7th of November, 2017 to formally address a joint session and lay before the National Assembly the estimates of the 2018 budget proposal,” Buhari wrote.

However, at the House, Dogara had hardly completed reading the letter when lawmakers started protesting.

Amid the shouts of “no,” “no,” some members were heard asking, “What about the 2017 budget? Have they implemented the 2017 budget? No, take it (letter) back.”

Others also said they would prefer to receive the President by 11am and not 2pm.

But, Dogara reminded the lawmakers that under the constitution, they could not refuse to receive the appropriation bill from the President.

He noted that while the constitution provided that the President “shall cause the estimates of the budget to be prepared and laid” before the legislature, it did not provide that lawmakers could refuse to receive it.

“Honourable colleagues, unfortunately, the constitution does not provide that we can refuse to receive the budget estimates,” the speaker added and admitted Buhari’s letter.

The Federal Government plans to spend about N8.6tn next year, a jump of about 15 per cent from the N7.44tn budgeted for the current year.

The figures were contained in the 2018-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, which Buhari had earlier sent to the National Assembly in compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.

The House also asked the Federal Government to stop the proposed restructuring of the Growth and Employment Project and the alleged diversion of the remaining $35m from its account to other uses.

The resolution followed a motion moved by a member from Benue State, Mr. Teseer Mark-Gbillah.

The GEM is an empowerment project conceptualised by the government under the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment aimed at job creation and increased non-oil growth through the empowerment of 4,000 Small and Medium Enterprises across the country.

The House noted that in only three months of appointing a coordinator to run the project, the officer was being paid $4.9m per month.

Besides, the coordinator is alleged to be initiating to restructure the project to move the balance of $35m into the funding of a parallel SME fund.

The House specifically directed the Minister of Finance, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the GEM Project Team and the World Bank to halt the planned withdrawal of the $35m.

The House also ordered an investigation into the matter to be conducted within six weeks.

A second motion moved by Mr. Gabriel Kolawole and passed by the House, sought to investigate the “non-remittance of Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund contributions by the federal, state and local governments and several government statutory bodies.

Meanwhile, the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, on Thursday said the nature of the 2018 Appropriation Bill to be presented to the National Assembly next week would determine how soon it would be passed into law.

Lawan said this in an interview with State House correspondents shortly after he and Senator Sola Adeyeye met President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

He said although it was the desire of all stakeholders that the bill be passed latest by December 31, 2017, the federal lawmakers would carry out a thorough job on the document.

Lawan said, “It (passage of the budget by December 31) depends on how it goes; you know we are supposed to be working on the same page, working for the same people of Nigeria and we will like to see the National Assembly working in tandem 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 and there is fairness and justice in the distribution of projects across the country.”

He added, “We will like to see that done but we shouldn’t just do that at all costs, we should be looking at the benefits that could accrue from doing that and whether it is possible to just do it at once or maybe reduce the period in two phases or even more.”

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