Osinbajo, National Assembly reach truce on 2017 budget

From Fred Itua, Abuja

Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, and the leadership of the National Assembly, led by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, on Wednesday night resolved the contentious issues in the 2017 budget at a meeting in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

According to a credible source, the meeting commenced at about 8.30pm and ended about 9.30pm.

He disclosed that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, principal officers of the Senate and House of Representatives as well as chairmen of the Senate and House appropriation committees accompanied Saraki to the meeting with Osinbajo. From the Presidency, Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Director-General of Budget Office, Mr. Ben Akabueze, joined the Acting President.  Saraki, on Tuesday night, shortly after a meeting with chairmen of all the standing committees of the Senate, met privately with Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa.  At the meeting, it was gathered that the leaders of the National Assembly urged Osinbajo to ensure the implementation of the 2017 budget as it relates to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). The National Assembly leaders, it was learnt, also told Osinbajo to ensure that ongoing projects captured in the 2016 budget were completed in the 2017 budget.

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The lawmakers also complained about abuse of extant laws by heads of MDAs, who spend money not ear marked in the budget. Saraki, it was gathered, specifically made a reference to the ongoing rehabilitation of the runway of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. He complained that the funds being spent by the Ministry of Transportation were not budgeted for (or approved) by the legislature.  The source said: “The meeting lasted for about an hour. The Senate President earlier met with Osinbajo on Tuesday night. On Wednesday night, they had an expanded meeting, as it involved all the leaders of both chambers of the National Assembly.

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“Appropriation Committee chairmen of both chambers were around. Ministers of Finance and Budget as well as Director-General of the Budget Office were there. It was agreed that the Federal Government would not abandon any project started in 2016. “They talked about the implementation of the budget, with special emphasis that the implementation of this year’s budget should be more than what we had last year. They talked about the gaps in the budget and how MDAs spend money not appropriated for.”

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Earlier on Tuesday, all the standing committee chairmen attended a closed-door meeting with the Senate President. During the meeting, it was learnt, complaints from lawmakers dominated the discussions. Lawmakers, sources said, told Saraki that there were too many inconsistencies in the 2017 budget document. The lawmakers alleged that the N500 billion intervention fund provided in the 2017 budget was vague. They also highlighted details that were not provided on how the Federal Government would disburse the intervention fund to end users.

Heads of MDAs, particularly the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, were named among those who refused to appear before the respective committees to defend the budgets of their agencies.

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