The House of Representatives has blamed President Muhammadu Buhari for the delay in the laying of an Appropriation Bill for 2019 before the National Assembly.
The lower chamber of the National Assembly decried the delay by the President to assent to a constitution amendment bill, which prescribed September deadline for presentation of national budget to the legislature.
Buhari presented the 2018 budget on November 7, 2017, but had yet to notify the National Assembly of the date to present the 2019 budget to the legislature as of Wednesday.
The President only recently presented the 2019-2021 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper to the National Assembly, which contained the economic assumptions with which next year’s budget would be prepared for consideration and passage.
Speaking with our correspondent on Tuesday, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, said the executive would have acted on the budget promptly if there was a law setting a deadline for its presentation, passage and signing into law.
Namdas said, “It is in the interest of both the government of the day and Nigerians that budgets are presented in time. There was this clamour by the government to see whether we can go back to a January-December budget cycle. And for us to achieve that, they have to be consistent in bringing the budgets early.
“That is why the National Assembly passed a bill that budgets should come three months earlier (than end of the year), which has not been assented to up till now. That would have helped to return to the new cycle. For example, last year it was on December 7 and now it is December 20, and have not been able to see it (budget). If we are going back and forth, we will find it difficult to get to the time.”
The House’s spokesman noted that Buhari had not broken any law by not presenting the budget in time as the constitution sets no deadline.
He said, “The only way we can return to January-December and have no delay is to make presentations in time, and that can only happen if there is a legislation that stipulates that budgets should be presented very early – by September. So, if the President assents to it, that means there is a timeline and the executive will work towards always ensuring that the budget is presented as and when due. But because it has not been assented to, it has left the window open.
“Even Section 80 of the constitution says the President can present the budget at anytime. That means that even if the President presents the budget in December, he has not committed any offence. Assuming the bill we passed, which states that it must be presented three months before time, had been assented to, doing so after would have attracted sanctions.”
Namdas however warned that apart from the electioneering, the Yuletide season could delay the passing of the budget.
The lawmaker said, “Even if there are elections, we must not tie it to the elections, because December is a festive period. We are not going to tie it to the elections because it will mean that if there are no elections, they can bring the budget at anytime. The most important thing is that budgets should be presented in time.”
The Senate on November 11 absolved the National Assembly of blame in the delay in passing next year’s budget.
The Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi, had advised the Presidency to desist from playing politics with sensitive issues like the budgeting process.
Olujinmi noted that a recent statement attributed to Buhari, blaming the National Assembly for the annual delay in the passage of the Appropriation Act had shown that the executive arm was not saying the truth.
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, later said the legislature was committed to passing priority bills. He assured Nigerians that legislative duties in the National Assembly would not be relegated to the background because of the electioneering.
Saraki, according to a statement by his Special Assistant on Print Media, Chuks Okocha, was responding to comments by the Acting British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Harriet Thompson, who visited him at the National Assembly.