President Muhammadu Buhari has questioned members of the National Assembly for making what he calls “worrisome changes” and introducing 6,576 new projects into the 2022 budget proposal.
The president expressed his reservations Friday after signing the 2022 Appropriation Bill of N17.127trillion into law, as well as the 2021 Finance Bill.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila of the House of Representatives were present when the president expressed his objections.
He said most of the projects inserted related to matters that were basically the responsibilities of state and local governments, and did not appear to have been properly conceptualised, designed and cost.
The president expressed his reservation on the: “Inclusion of new provisions totalling N36.59 billion for National Assembly’s projects in the Service Wide Vote,’’ which, according to him, negates the principles of separation of powers and financial autonomy of the legislative arm of government.
“The changes to the original executive proposal are in form of new insertions, outright removals, reductions or increase in the amounts allocated to projects.
“Provisions made for as many as 10,733 projects were reduced while 6,576 new ones were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly.
“There was reduction in the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce ‘empowerment’ projects.
“The cuts in the provisions for several of these projects by the National Assembly may render the projects unimplementable or set back their completion, especially some of this administration’s strategic capital projects.
“Most of the projects inserted relate to matters that are basically the responsibilities of state and local governments, and do not appear to have been properly conceptualised, designed and cost.
“Many more projects have been added to the budgets of some ministries, departments and agencies with no consideration for the institutional capacity to execute the additional projects and/or for the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.”
Some of the worrisome changes, according to President Buhari, include “Increase in projected Independent Revenue by N400 billion, the justification for which is yet to be provided to the executive, reduction in the provision for Sinking Fund to Retire Maturing Bonds by N22 billion without any explanation, reduction of the provisions for the Non-Regular Allowances of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Navy by N15billion and N5 billion respectively.
“This is particularly worrisome because personnel cost provisions are based on agencies’ nominal roll and approved salaries/allowances;
“Furthermore, an increase of N21.72 billion in the overhead budgets of some MDAs, while the sum of N1.96 billion was cut from the provision for some without apparent justification;
“Increase in the provision for capital spending (excluding Capital share in Statutory Transfer) by a net amount of N575.63bn, from N4.89 trillion to N5.47 trillion.”
The president also expressed concern in the reductions in provisions for some critical projects, including N12.60bn in the Ministry of Transport’s budget for the ongoing rail modernisation projects; N25.8bn from Power Sector Reform Programme under the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; N14.5bn from several projects of the Ministry of Agriculture, and introducing over 1,500 new projects into the budgets of this ministry and its agencies.
Buhari said it was surprising that despite the National Assembly increasing projected revenue by N609.27 billion, the additional executive request of N186.53billion for critical expenditure items could not be accommodated without increasing the deficit, while the sum of N550.59 billion from the projected incremental revenues was allocated at the discretion of National Assembly.
He announced that he would revert to the National Assembly with a request for amendment as soon as the assembly resumes to ensure that critical ongoing projects cardinal to the administration do not suffer a setback due to reduced funding.
While fielding questions from State House reporters, the Senate president said nobody should worry about some of the observations raised by the president as he was happy with majority of what the National Assembly had done.
He said, “This is based on judgements when we asked for more resources coming from the independent sources, especially from the government own enterprises of about N400 to N500 billion is because we believe that this government own enterprises should contribute even much more. In fact, I hold the opinion that they should have contributed about a trillion, at least not N500 billion or so.
“So, I believe that the National Assembly was right in its judgement, but there is nothing wrong in the executive arm of government coming back to the National Assembly to see how we are able to dialogue and go through the process and see where the misunderstanding is. But I don’t think that is supposed to be a worrisome development for us.”
Gbajabiamila, while reacting to questions, said there would be enough time to work on the 2023 budget as mentioned by the president.
After appending his signature, President Buhari had said the 2022 budget provided for aggregate expenditures of N17.127 trillion, an increase of N735.85 billion over the initial executive proposal for a total expenditure of N16.391 trillion.
The president explained that N186.53 billion of the increase however came from additional critical expenditures he had authorised the minister of finance, budget and national planning to forward to the National Assembly.
He announced that as the 2023 budget would be a transition budget, work would start in earnest to ensure early submission of the 2023-2025 medium-term expenditure framework and fiscal strategy paper, as well as the 2023 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly.
The president, in a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu, noted that the MDAs had been allowed to continue to expend the funds released for their 2021 capital budgets till March 31, 2022 to enable them complete the implementation of their 2021 capital projects and optimise the impact of the capital budget on the economy.
Buhari said that being a deficit budget, the specific borrowing plan would be forwarded to the National Assembly shortly and looked forward to their cooperation for a quick consideration and approval of the plan when submitted.
Increment marginal, will not affect implementation – Economist
A Professor of Economics and the Director, Centre for Economic Policy Analysis and Research, at the University of Lagos, Ndubisi Ifeanyi Nwokoma, said the changes introduced to the 2022 budget by the National Assembly would not affect its implementation.
He said the changes were “marginal” and it would be resolved amicably by both chambers given the cordial relationship between the two arms of government.
“I am sure they would resolve the issue. These are issues that would be resolved. I am not sure that would affect the implementation, if at all anything will, it will not necessarily affect it. This is just a minor shake off.
“These are minor issues compared to the quantum of the budget. N17.13 trillion was what was signed while N16.3 trillion was sent to them.”