Alleged Missing Projects: Buhari Withholds Assent, To Return ‘Mutilated’ Budget To NASS

2016-budget-presentationThe 2016 Appropriation Bill has again been bogged down by controversies following the purported removal and ‘mutilations’ of some major items by the National Assembly.
The Executive on Thursday received details of the Bill from the National Assembly on Thursday prompting indications that President Muhammadu Buhari would immediately sign the highly-anticipated 2016 Appropriation Bill into law.
However, that was not to be as the emergency Federal Executive Council (FEC) held on Friday to review the details sent by the legislature, identified eight major infractions.
This development is now stalling the signing into law of the bill by the president until his return from a week-long trip to China.
But he plans to engage the National Assembly in talks with a view to resolving the issues, The Nation quotes sources familiar with the matter as saying.
In contention are funds proposed by the executive for key infrastructure projects but which were either removed from the budget or allocations slashed drastically by the National Assembly in the details presented to him.
One of these is the Coastal Railway project which Buhari plans to discuss with the Chinese government during his visit.
The president will depart Abuja today for Beijing on the invitation of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
Government earmarked N60billion counterpart funds for the project but the NASS removed it completely from the budget details.
It was gathered that Buhari had planned to assent to the Appropriation Bill on Friday but the “strategic and fundamental errors/oversights” in the details may now delay it by a week.
The Presidency also found that the National Assembly expunged the Calabar – Lagos rail line project from the budget details; reduced allocation to the completion Idu-Kaduna rail project by N8.7b; slashed allocations for the completion of all major road projects across the country; proposed new roads for which studies have not been conducted; dropped proposals for the purchase of essential drugs for major health campaigns like Polio and AIDS; cancelled or reduced allocations for diversification projects under Agriculture and Water Resources; and diverted funds for rural health facilities and boreholes for which provisions had been made elsewhere.
Shedding more light on the issue, a well-placed source said: “The National Assembly transmitted the details to the President on Thursday, April 7, 2016 and because he was desirous of giving assent to the Appropriation Bill before leaving for China, he directed that the Ministers should review the provisions/appropriations of their respective ministry to fast-track the process.
“The document was distributed same Thursday to all ministers and a meeting was agreed for Friday to get everything sorted out for the President’s briefing and assent. That was why the Vice President, who is the Head of the Economic Team presided over the meeting and not the President.
“At the meeting, it was noticed that some very key aspects of the Budget, which have to do with government’s core infrastructural focus were removed. One of which is the subject of the President’s trip to China – the Coastal Railway project – for which a counterpart funding of N60b was provided, but which was completely removed by the National Assembly”.
The Executive is working on two major rail arteries, among other rail projects, to service the northern and eastern part of the country – the Lagos-Kano line and the Calabar – Lagos line.
The source said that while the provision for the Lagos-Kano rail line was left untouched, the Calabar – Lagos line was removed entirely.
Both projects are to be funded jointly by China and Nigeria.
The source said that the amount proposed for the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail project which “has reached an advanced stage was reduced by N8.7b, a development which will make it difficult for the project to be completed”.
Continuing, the source said: “The other fundamental area noticed was in respect of completion of on-going road projects. While the Executive had provided for the completion of all major road projects across the country, the National Assembly reduced the amounts provided and instead included new roads which studies have not even been conducted.
“The amounts provided by the National Assembly for the projects can neither complete the on-going road projects nor the new ones proposed. At the end of the year no significant progress would have been made”.
Asked of the next step, the source said: “Because of these observations, the President is engaging further with the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve them and hopes that it would be resolved by the time he returns from his trip to China.
“The President is desirous of signing the bill into law so that the implementation of the provisions could begin in earnest for the benefit of the people.
“That is why the moment he received the document on Thursday, a meeting was convened for Friday to immediately start work on it”.
Another source in the cabinet said: “We have all completed the review of the budget details sent to the Presidency by the National Assembly”.
All ministers were directed to send their observations (if any) on their allocations to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma.
The Ministry of Budget and National Planning will thereafter compile all observations and comments in line with the proposals of the Executive arm and guide the president accordingly.
The newspaper quoted another reliable source as saying ministers and members of the president’s economic team stopped him from signing the ‘mutilated’ budget.
The ministers, according to the source who was at the Friday meeting, lamented the “reckless mutilation” of the original documents which the president tendered to the National Assembly, noting that the details were clearly un-implementable.
The source disclosed that Buhari, who had earlier been scheduled to address the nation after signing the budget, had to call off the broadcast.
Asked what steps the Presidency would take next, the source said two options are open for the president: send back the Appropriation Bill to the lawmakers with a detailed note on the mutilation and a call for rectification or sign the budget and then ask for modifications.

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