As the National Assembly opens 2017 budget defence wednesday, the Senate has assured Nigerians that it will deploy all powers within its reach to avoid a repeat of the woes which accompanied the 2016 budget process.
The 2016 budget process was the most controversial appropriation process in Nigeria’s history as it was characterised by a range of controversies which began with secret swapping of the budget by the executive, replacement of the initial document by President Muhammadu Buhari, as well as alleged padding of the budget by both the executive and the legislature.
However, Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, told journalists in National Assembly tuesday that this year’s budget process would be devoid of rancour witnessed in 2016 because both arms of government had learnt their lessons.
Lawan said part of the efforts being made by the Senate to ensure that it plays its own role decently this year is the schedule of a meeting by the Senate leadership with committee chairmen today to discuss how a seamless budget process will be achieved.
“The leadership will meet tomorrow (today) with committee chairmen on the way forward for the budget. After the meeting, committees will begin the budget defence. We don’t envisage any issue. Everybody has learnt his lesson. We are all working for the smooth passage of the budget,” Lawan said.
He added that the meeting would help to prepare the committee chairmen ahead of the take-off of the budget process with a view to guaranteeing a crisis-free budget process and smooth passage.
After the budget scaled second reading on the floor of the Senate last Thursday, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, tasked the Appropriation Committee and all its sub-committees to factor into the appropriation process the useful contributions of his colleagues during the debate.
He also said the leadership of the Senate had opted to bring into the 2017 budget process, two innovations meant to enhance the budget process. The innovations are a meeting with the committee chairmen today and a public hearing scheduled to hold on February 7 and 8.
He also tasked the committees to review the proposed expenditure in a way that could pull Nigeria out of economic recession and simultaneously lay the foundation for inclusive growth and the pursuit of made in Nigeria products.
Saraki also enjoined the committees to ensure that the budget was well scrutinised to the extent of discovering fraudulent duplication of items such as computers and cars there-in.
Saraki said: “The committees should please be very vigilant on these areas to block leakages. The other area is the issue of independent revenue and to ensure that more money can come in to government coffers. In the area of infrastructure as well and that is where we play our own role to see that the bills that we have, that we want to accompany the Appropriation Bill with, we can finish them on time, that will allow private sector participation here.
“In line with our processes for 2017 and budget processes, the two innovations that we are bringing in – one is a public hearing which is going to take place likely in the week between the 7th to the 8th of February on the budget and also the meeting with the leadership and chairmen of the committees which was scheduled to take place today but I am going to announce a new date for. And also while we are doing this exercise, one issue raised by our colleagues is the equitable distribution of projects. I will like all our respective committees to take care of that to give a sense of belonging by all and I hope that in this area, we would ensure that we do our best in ensuring that this exercise is better than that of last year. I hereby refer the bill to the Committee on Appropriation to report back in three weeks,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Lawanyesterday met with Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, to brief him on the progress made so far by the upper legislative chamber in the consideration of the 2017 Appropriation bill by the National Assembly.
Answering questions from State House Correspondents after he met with the Osinbajo, Lawan said senators on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition parties were unanimous in the support for President Muhammadu Buhari to succeed.
Asked why he was at the Villa, the lawmaker said: “I’m here to meet the acting president to brief him on what the Senate is doing on the Appropriation Bill 2017. You know we have suspended plenary for three weeks. The idea is to have ample time to focus on the appropriation bill. The committees will start to work from this week meeting the MDAs on the budget defence that they need to do.
“Secondly, you know that the acting president is an APC Acting President of this our administration. As a new Senate Leader, it is also important that I come here to this office to tell the acting president and our administration that the APC caucus in the Senate is now a united caucus.
“We are ready as a caucus to support our administration; we are also ready as a Senate, that is both the APC and the minority parties, to work for the betterment of Nigerians. Our colleagues in the opposition have always been supportive and being there for the Senate to function.
“So, on the whole the development is to ensure that this government delivers in its campaign promises to Nigerians by the executive and the legislature working hand in glove and in a synergistic manner in that our campaign promises become real and available to all Nigerians for the betterment of the country.”