The Senate Monday said that it disowned the second version of the 2016 budget distributed by Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, because it failed integrity checks.
The red chamber also described the call for President Muhammadu Buhari by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over the budget controversy as the biggest joke of the year.
Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, who briefed reporters in Abuja on Monday ahead of resumption of plenary today, where it is anticipated that the president’s letter on the contentious budget issue would be read, insisted that there was no need to dissipate energy on the 2016 Appropriation Bill since the Senate was in control of the situation.
Ndume also insisted that the insinuation that the 2016 budget was missing should be completely discountenanced.
He said that nobody ever declared the budget missing especially when President Buhari did not read the budget off-hand.
According to Ndume, what happened was that some copies of the budget submitted to the Senate were subjected to integrity checks and they failed the checks when compared with the original copy read and presented to the National Assembly by President Buhari on December 22, 2015.
He noted that through the integrity checks, the Senate discovered some loopholes that made it to confirm the existence of two versions of the 2016 budget.
Giving more details on why the Senate rejected the second version of the budget, Ndume said that the integrity checks showed that some projects that were not accommodated in the original budget presented by President Buhari, were curiously injected into the latest copy.
He said that the Senate was jolted by the discovery even though the newly included projects did not affect the sum total of N6.08 trillion initially proposed by the president.
He said, “There were issues with the budget that some people were not comfortable with. There were integrity checks and it was discovered that there were some loopholes.
“We asked the Ethics and Privileges Committee to find out what actually happened and it was discovered that there were two versions of the budget.
“It is not that the figure submitted by Mr. President has changed. It is still the same thing. It is not that what Mr. President submitted is sacrosanct, that it cannot be changed. It can be changed.
“It is not that the N6.08 trillion budget Mr. President submitted to us has changed or any of the subheads have changed. They are still the same.
“The President did not submit a failed document. The President submitted a budget, which went through integrity checks.
“I have my soft and hard copies of the budget. I spent most of the weekend looking at the budget.
“What I tried to do was to make a comparative analysis. So, I could not find the difference. But then they told that the difference is not in the sub-total or sectoral allocation. They did integrity checks and they gave me an example.
“That if a certain amount was allocated to do two things and they felt that that amount can be used to do four things. They said instead of two things, do four. They are still talking about spending the same amount but getting more for it.
“But what I can tell you now is that the budget that was submitted originally, there were certain integrity checks on it that made some changes in the quantity but not in the total”.
On what informed the integrity checks, the Senate leader said that the move became necessary in order to match figures with projects.
Asked when the budget is likely to be passed considering the controversy trailing it, he said that the National Assembly is targeting end of February to round off on the budget but for “this mix up”.
Ndume however assured that “we are committed to turning out the budget on time”.
On the call to impeach President Buhari over the budget controversy, he said that the talk of impeachment by the PDP is the biggest joke of the year.
He asked, “What are we to do with PDP for what they did to this country in the past 16 years. We are to kill PDP.
“Buhari is the kind of leader we want in Nigeria. The good thing is that now we have a president, before we had something else”.
On the oil benchmark of $38 per barrel, he said “We passed the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) at $38 dollar per barrel. And now crude oil is selling for $29 at the international market.
“We are praying that every time it goes up. But if it remains like that, we really have to do something. But it’s not something that Senator Ali Ndume will do alone. It is when the Senate sits down to consider this issue that I can come back to you again and speak on behalf of the Senate”.