National Assembly, Presidency Reach Budget Deal

Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja

After weeks of wrangling over the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly and the presidency finally reached a compromise on the finer details of the budget, which will be submitted this morning to President Muhammadu Buhari so that he can give his assent to the bill today or tomorrow, THISDAY has learnt.

Confirming the détente, sources in the legislature and presidency said the reconciliation committee set up last week by the executive and the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve the “grey areas” in the budget submitted its report in the wee hours of wednesday morning to the presidency, but work continued at a frantic pace up till last night after some observations were made by the presidency on the details, in order to clean up the bill preparatory to its submission to the president wednesday.

After trading blame for weeks, the leadership of the National Assembly and the presidency met last week and resolved to end the budget impasse by constituting a reconciliation committee comprising members of the executive and the presidency.

According to a source in the legislature, the compromise reached was to retain the main underlining figures and parameters of the budget, but the executive gave some room to the National Assembly to alter, where necessary, up to 20-30 per cent of the budgets of federal ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

He said: “This was agreed in recognition of the independence of the legislature with respect to appropriation, and so that it does not end up being a rubber stamp for the executive.”

Based on this principle, the source added, the joint committee of the National Assembly and the executive reviewed the subheads of the MDAs to ensure that where budget cuts or additions exceeded the 20-30 per cent threshold, they were amended in line with the agreement reached on the budget.

The source said: “Having reached this compromise, all the grey areas have been resolved,” adding that with the submission of the details of the budget and the two follow up meetings, work was expected to be finalised on the budget details last night.

“Upon the completion of work, the budget details will be signed tomorrow (Wednesday) morning by the Chairmen of the Appropriation Committees in both chambers of the National Assembly, following which the document will be sent to Mr. President.

He added that with the grey areas resolved and the last minute work to tidy up the budget last night, Buhari would most likely assent to the Appropriation Bill by wednesday or thursday.

A presidency source also told THISDAY that the budget crisis was already over because the National Assembly eventually changed its initial stance not to review the budget, but subsequently succumbed to the wishes and demands of Buhari.

He disclosed that the preview of the revised budget details was submitted to the presidency at the weekend. His disclosure was confirmed by another top presidency source.

The presidency source disclosed that members of the reconciliation committee from the executive met with their National Assembly counterparts at 3 pm yesterday in Abuja and were still meeting as of press time, to harmonise their differences with a view to ensuring that the document was one clean copy devoid of major variables.

According to him, the final copy was expected to be sent to the presidency without delay “once all the ‘Is’ had been dotted and the “Ts’ crossed”.

He said: “We received the preview of the budget details. We are meeting with them about 3 pm to 4 pm, because it was to be consensual work. The ministers will look at what they have done so that it will be agreed to fully that this is what will be presented. We have received the preview copy, not the final copy that will be forwarded to the president.”

He affirmed the remark by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo at the weekend in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, that Buhari would assent to the budget this week.

“The assurance to Nigerians will be kept because the vice-president is the head of the economic team,” he said.

He however declined to provide insight into some of the changes made in the budget by the reconciliation committee, adding that with the resolution of the grey areas, the 2016 budget would meet the yearnings of Nigerians.

“They (the grey areas) are being eliminated one by one. And Nigerians will be happy when the budget is signed. They are being eliminated and reduced. It will be a budget for Nigeria made by Nigerians,” he added.

The source further said that the resolution of the budget impasse was a win-win affair without one arm of government lording it over the other.

“We want to make sure that it is done properly so as to keep each other’s powers intact. The executive has its powers, very enormous, and the powers of the legislature are preserved.

“In matters like this, it is the legislature that is the oga (meaning the boss). So we the executive have to respond. We are the ones begging them to pass budget,” he added.

Source: ThisDay