Senate, Presidency bicker over budget

Two days after it rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2016-2018 External Borrowing Rolling Plan request, the Senate yesterday faulted the proposal and the 2016-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), describing them as empty.

Senate Leader Ali Ndume, who drew the attention of the House to a Daily Sun publication of November 2, 2016, lampooned the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, for blaming the National Assembly over the delay in the presentation of 2017 budget.

Relying on Order 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules, Ndume urged his colleagues to call the erring minister to order. He said the delay in the presentation of the 2017 budget was not orchestrated by the National Assembly, but the executive arm which has not provided the necessary framework.

Speaking specifically on the borrowing plan and the MTEF/FSP, Ndume described the proposals as empty and shallow. He maintained that the National Assembly could not work with the current empty documents. He said Udoma failed to brief the Senate leadership on the details of the borrowing plan on Tuesday.

But a source in the office of the Senate President, however, said Udoma communicated informally to Saraki and the leadership. According to the source, Udoma declined to appear because he did not have the necessary documents requested by the Senate in the letter. “He communicated and that is why the Senate was not hard on him (Udoma),” the source added.

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Ndume noted: “The Sun newspaper of yesterday (Wednesday, November 3) has a report with a heading which says ‘Budget 2017: Blame National Assembly for Failure to Meet October Target.’ And in that, it said the minister stated that the suspension of the debate on MTEF and FSP, which lays the foundation for the budget, has stalled the ministry’s plan to have laid the 2017 budget before the National Assembly.

“We received the MTEF on September 30, instead of submitting it according to law by September 1, not later than. That is not even the problem. I have a copy, I went through and the copies have been circulated. I talked to some experts. Even in this chamber, we have people we can call experts.

“If you look at this document that they call MTEF, it is empty. It is empty and it does not contain anything. If you have nothing, how do you consider nothing? Going through and knowing that it is empty, on October 19, I wrote to the Minister of Budget and National Planning.

“In the third paragraph, I stated, ‘To enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from a holistic fiscal perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, November 1.’

“Finally, I have here also a copy of the request for approval of the Federal Government’s 2016-2018 external borrowing plan which was thrown out last Tuesday. We cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with his blame game.

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In a letter dated October 19, 2016 and signed by Ndume, the minister was expected to brief the Senate leadership on some key issues contained in the MTEF/FSP documents.

“To enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from a holistic fiscal perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 at the National Assembly by 2pm,” Ndume said in the invitation letter of invitation to Udoma.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, while intervening, said the minister has denied the newspaper publication and has maintained that he was misquoted. Saraki urged his colleagues not to dwell on what may likely wet the ground for controversies ahead of the consideration of the 2017 budget.

“I saw this article too. I had taken up the minister and he denied the article. He said he was going to debunk it. Be that as it may, I think the matter should not be stressed.

“The Leader has made the point that this issue of blame game is totally unnecessary. And if he has said he (Udoma) is withdrawing, that means he has said it as well that the National Assembly is not responsible for any delay,” Saraki pleaded.

Senator Albert Bassey Akpan from Akwa Ibom State, wondered why the public is often misled to turn against the National Assembly. He said as a parliament, they are the true conscience of the people. Also, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, also defended the minister. He said the National Assembly is ready to accommodate the presentation of the budget by the executive.

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At the end of the brief debate, no official position was taken by the Senate. Meanwhile, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Publicity, Abdulrazak Namdas, yesterday explained why the House was yet to make its position known on Buhari’s $29.96 billion loan request.

Namda, who spoke at the weekly briefing of his committee, said the House was still consulting and the request has not been jettisoned. He also denied that the House had passed a pro-Sharia bill, adding that: “I am not aware that such a bill was passed. It is just a rumour, you can check the House Order Paper to confirm this”.

Also,  Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives),  Suleiman  Kawu Sumaila, has expressed confidence that the House  will approve the president’s borrowing plan.

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