2016 Budget: Between Buhari and Senate of jokers

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CAN anybody dispute that Nigeria as a country is governed by joke? This has nothing to do with the political party in charge whether APC or PDP as they are a bunch of the same people circulating from one platform to the other without recourse to the issue of integrity or ideological believes. How can the annual budget of a country presented by the president to its National Assembly be declared missing?
Call it a two-way failure, this is the lowest Nigeria, as a nation, have sunk. How do we expect the serious-minded international community to look at us? Did it not occur to the Senators that making this joke public would definitely embarrass not only the Presidency, but equally the National Assembly and even the entire country? Can you imagine that to the president, the drama over the 2016 budget document is “laughable”, according to House Presidential Liaison Officer Sumaila Kawu? This is a shame because there is nothing there to laugh about.
It is painful that such an issue that is causing Nigeria and Nigerians so much embarrassment is casually being treated by the senate as a joke. Anybody who knows the weight of this allegation will sincerely sympathize with President Muhammadu Buhari but far more for Bukola Saraki as senate president because this is an issue that dangerously borders on reputation. In this case, who would Nigerians believe now- the president or senators?
Do we need anybody to tell us that this sad development was not a matter of lack of communication between the Executive and legislature but an act of mischief by those behind it?
Did the presidency steal the document? And why should the presidency steal a document it can easily recall? Does the law prohibit the Presidency from making any amendment to a bill it submitted to the National Assembly? Walahi, the senate should be ashamed of themselves.
Circumstances around the budget document submitted by President Buhari on December 22 last year became an issue on Tuesday 12 January 2016 when it emerged that the proposal as submitted by the President could no longer be traced and that a new version submitted by Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), was different in content from what was originally tendered for discussion by the president.
As later declared by The Senate Ethics committee in its findings released two days after (Thursday 14th January), the budget did not actually disappeared but was allegedly tampered/doctored/altered from its original form by the Presidency. The same alteration of the budget document, as alleged, was done in the House of Representatives, but House officials were quick to intercept the doctoring and insist on the circulation of the original proposals as submitted by the President.
Speaking on the missing or rather altered budget controversy, the Senate Bukola Saraki was reported as saying: “We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016 Appropriation Bill. Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought to the Senate.
“What we found out is that the document submitted by Senator Ita Enang, upon our resumption, has some differences, discrepancies with what was originally laid by Mr. President in the joint sitting of the National Assembly. We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr President as soon as we receive soft copy of the original document from the executive.
“However, the Senate in defence of its own integrity and honour will not work with what has not been laid on the floor of the National Assembly. We are constitutionally mandated and duty bound to consider only that budget that had been so laid by Mr President.
“Right now, for reproduction, we are awaiting the soft copy of the originally submitted budget so that the National Assembly can reproduce the copy itself. That is the only time we can have confidence in the document we want to work with.”
This is a case of making a mountain out of a molehill. In a sane setting, by now our senate should be talking on the observed discrepancies. What is the actual difference between the old copy as submitted by the President and the alleged new version? The Senate should tell us in concrete terms the “discrepancies” and the magnitude of alterations made to the original budget.
Truth be told, this whole joke by the senate was to openly embarrass the Presidency over its expressed panic orchestrated by worries over the benchmark crude oil price used in the initial proposal as it has become unreasonable to stick to $38 per barrel as originally syndicated given the rate of the downward spiral in global crude oil prices.
The senate would have realised that there couldn’t have been any need for the Presidency to covertly withdraw the document because of the concerns for the state of the global oil market. The government’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) was packaged conscious of what was happening to the prices of crude oil and took into consideration a situation like that.
For sure, part of this controversy was also created by the president’s men who may have overstepped their bounds in trying to swerve the opinions of the lawmakers on debates on certain aspects of the budget particularly the benchmark crude oil price and some other expenditure projections as initially proposed.
As acknowledged by the House Presidential Liasson Officer Sumaila Kawu, “We lobbied the National Assembly on the benchmark; as the Executive, we have to take account of the volatile nature of oil price and this was not illegal or alien to legislature world over and it has nothing to do with stealing or smuggling it out of the senate.”
No doubt, most Nigerians still believe that Buhari meant well but he should put his house in order, enough of these many lapses. As acknowledged by the House Presidential Liasson Officer Sumaila Kawu,
If the senators have conscience and are actually representing our collective rather than their narrow-minded self serving interests, they would have known that this unnecessary joke, delay and politics with the document could worsen the country’s economic crisis as the nation grapples with the impact of plunging oil prices? But how would they bother when they rake in tens of millions every month while the people they are representing are wallowing in extreme hardship. Yeye country ruled by yeye people!
(IFEANYI IZEZE lives in Abuja: [email protected]; 234-8033043009)