Budget chief: National Assembly feeding Nigerians with stories to justify budget distortions

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Two members of the Executive and Legislative arms of government clashed yesterday over the 2018 budget, with the Director of Budget, Mr. Ben Akabueze, accusing the National Assembly of feeding Nigerians with stories in bid to justify the unilateral distortion of the budget by the legislature.

Mr. Akabueze, who appeared along with a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Road Safety Commission, Mr. Yunusa Abubakar, on Channels Televisoon Sunrise Daily Current Affairs Programme, lamented that despite the engagement of the NASS by the Executive throughout the budget process, what the lawmakers eventually passed did not reflect what was agreed between them.

The Budget director general also flayed the lawmakers for significantly reducing the allocations for vital federal infrastructure and channeling the money to individual projects at local and state levels.

Akwabueze also lamented the wanton introduction of projects that were unknown to the Executive into the budget, thereby making a mockery of the entire budget of the federal government.

But Yanusa Abubakar, countered the director general, saying that the lawmakers discussed and got the nod of the executive to introduce new projects and adjust some allocations in the budget.

Akabueze who appeared on the programme alongside the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Federal Road Safety Commission, Hon. Yunusa Abubakar, insisted that although the National Assembly approached the Executive on the issue of crude oil benchmark increase and what to do with the increase, what the National Assembly eventually passed did not reflect either the discussion or the resolution, including the benchmark price of crude oil which was agreed at US$50 per barrel.

The Director General explained that in April, this year, the National Assembly advised the Executive of its decision to raise the oil price benchmark from $45 per barrel proposed by the Executive to $50 per barrel. They also indicated intention of using US$2 from the increase to fund their own project and therefore requested the Executive to submit a list of additional projects it wanted considered for appropriation to cover the resultant balance of US$3.

In response, the Executive decided that from its share of the US$3 increase it would use US$1.75 for new projects and the remaining US$1.25 to reduce deficit in the budget.

According to him, the Executive communicated same to the National Assembly and therefore submitted projects totaling N152.6bn and further requested them to consider applying at least N109bn of the extra revenues toward reduction of the budget deficit.

He said while the Executive submitted its request including the list of new major projects which could not be included in the initial budget, the National Assembly jettisoned the list from the Executive, applied only a small fraction to finance deficit and the remaining went into their own projects, as well as increasing the allocation to the National Assembly.

He emphasized that the projects sent by the Executive are not included in the list of new projects inserted into the budget by the National Assembly.

Akabueze also pointed out that although the National Assembly discussed increasing the crude oil benchmark from US$45 to US$50, it went ahead to increase it to US$51 without the knowledge of the Executive. He claimed the Executive only had knowledge of the increase to US$51 after the budget must have been passed by the National Assembly.

While also dismissing as untrue Abubakar’s position on the issue of counterpart funding for the affected capital projects, the Director General also disagreed that the National Assembly increased allocation for the East West road, a claim Abubakar immediately withdrew, saying he wanted to mention another road, not the East West road.

Abubakar had claimed that the National Assembly approached the Executive on the need to increase the oil price benchmark when it was obvious that oil price was enjoying favourable rise in the global market. He said both the executive and the National Assembly agreed on both the increase and the sharing formula between the two arms of government.

While giving the impression that the Executive was in full knowledge of what the National Assembly intended to do with its own share, he added that the legislature decided to cut allocations to some critical national capital projects to fund local projects after careful consideration of the component counterpart funding agreements on those projects.

He also explained that some of the critical projects including the East West Road had their allocations increased from the original allocation by the Executive.

Responding, Akabueze said: “I can say without any iota of equivocation, that there is no truth in what he has just said. What he has just narrated is not in tandem with the facts on ground.”

Mr Akabueze did not also agree with Abubakar that the Ministry of Budget and National Planning draws up budget plans and allocates funds for government operations.

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