PUNCH HEADLINE: Come for budget defence this week, National Assembly panels tell ministers


The Senate and the House of Representatives have asked ministers and heads of agencies to heed President Muhammadu Buhari’s sack warning by appearing for the defence of the 2018 budget this week.

The PUNCH’s investigations showed that after Thursday’s late-night meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, relayed the outcome to key committee chairmen working on the budget.

It was gathered on Sunday that chairmen of the committees of both chambers had started sending reminders to ministers to come for budget defence this week.

A senior parliamentary source in the House said, “The chairmen were told to issue fresh reminders to heads of ministries, departments and agencies, who had been uncooperative in their attitude to the budget defence.

“They are expected to improve on their appearances, this week, before the committees to defend their estimates.

“The President seemed not to know the cause of the delay of the budget prior to the meeting.

“However, from the meeting he had with the leadership of the National Assembly, where the Senate President and Dogara were in attendance, Buhari realised that he had to caution his cabinet members.”

He stated that the committees had started sending reminders through their respective clerks.

He said, “They (the committees) are writing to the MDAs and stating clearly the information they are required to submit to the committees.”

The N8.612tn budget has been held up at the National Assembly since November 7, 2017, when the President presented it to the lawmakers.



It was learnt that Buhari, who was worried over the delay, had invited the leaders of the National Assembly to the meeting to discuss it, among other issues.

At the meeting, Saraki and Dogara reportedly blamed ministers and heads of agencies for the delay.

The government officials were said to have always given one excuse or another as the reason they were unable to appear before the committees.

The committees also complained that a few officials, who bothered to appear, were unprepared, as they did not come with the breakdown of their budget proposals.

The PUNCH gathered that of particular concern to the committees was the performance of the 2017 budget.

The President, after the Thursday meeting, had threatened to sack about 50 heads of the MDAs, who had yet to defend their budgets, should they ignore further invitations from the legislature.

Findings indicated on Sunday that many committee chairmen had started sending reminders to the ministers and heads of agencies to appear this week.

“The expectation is that they (ministers and agency heads) will take Mr. President’s warning seriously,” a lawmaker told The PUNCH.

When contacted for his comments, the Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said it was a good development that the heads of MDAs had been cautioned by Buhari.

Gbajabiamila asked them to comply with the President’s directive by coming to the National Assembly.

He said, “My advice to the (heads of) MDAs is that they should report to their various committees to defend their budgets so that it can be passed and the government can continue to function for the benefit of all  Nigerians.

“In the first place, they did not need the prompting of Mr. President to do the right thing; but now that he has, I expect them to obey.”

The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, also told The PUNCH that the outcome of the meeting had “cleared the air on who is delaying the budget.”

“This issue of the heads of MDAs not cooperating; we have been shouting it; but nobody has been listening to us.

“It is always convenient to blame the National Assembly. Now that Mr. President has intervened, we expect maximum cooperation from the MDAs so that collectively, we can pass the budget quickly,” he added.

In the Senate, it was gathered that the committees had been told to take the MDAs as more officials were expected for budget defence this week.

The Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji, told one of our correspondents that the MDAs would be welcome for the defence of their budgets.

He said, “They are supposed to obey the President. This is purely about the executive arm of the government and it is their responsibility. If the head of the executive gives an order, I expect that it will be complied with.”

The Senate had, on February 14, 2018, asked 63 agencies and parastatals under the Federal Government to submit details of their proposed 2018 budgets within one week.

The upper chamber of the National Assembly had lamented that while Buhari complied with the law by laying the 2018 Appropriation Bill along with details of estimates before the lawmakers, agencies of the government disregarded the law.

The lawmakers alleged that ministers and heads of the Federal Government departments and agencies were frustrating legislative work on the budget proposal.

But the Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, had denied the allegation, stating that the National Assembly had enough details to work with and pass the appropriation bill.
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