Finally, the National Assembly, on Tuesday passed the 2019 Budget with a slight adjustment of its portfolio from N8.83 trillion to N8.91 trillion.
The 2019 Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 19, 2018 has eventually been passed by the legislature, although it took the federal lawmakers more than four months to scrutinise and approve the budget for the 2019 fiscal year.
Apart from the fact that a day after the budget estimate was presented before a joint sitting of the National Assembly, the two chambers proceeded on Christmas break that dragged on till the first week in January, while the consideration of the budget estimates was also politicised at some point.
The bill went through first reading at the House of Representatives upon resumption from vacation in January, but the Senate leadership didn’t deemed it fit to include it in the Order Paper until the end of March. Even at that, the Senate didn’t commence debate proper on the budget until early April.
The bulk of the job was left in the hands of the Appropriation Committees of the two chambers that had to wait for the sub-committees to submit their proposals before the main committees now formally presented their reports at plenary in the two chambers.
In the course of the budget defence by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), which held March and April, some Ministers and heads of agencies were even queried by the committees over the way they utilised past budgets of their ministries and agencies.
A case in point was that of the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah and the Acting Managing Director of Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA), Nerhemba Nongo, who were accused of misappropriating NEPZA funds.
Thus, a few days before the passage of the 2019 budget, the Senate committee on Trade and Investment directed Enelamah and Nongo to return N14.3 billion allegedly diverted from 2017 NEPZA budget back to the national treasury.
The Upper legislative chamber in a letter written to that effect by Chairman of its Committee on Trade and Investment, Senator Mohammed Nakudu Sabo (Jigawa South West), warned the Minister and NEPZA boss to either comply with the directive or be ready to face serious legislative action against them.
The anger of the committee, according to Senator Sabo, rose from alleged fraudulent way the diverted N14.3billion was hurriedly transferred from NEPZA account into that of a private company called Nigerian Special Economic Zone Company Account between 8th and 10th of April, 2019 despite earlier warnings.
The diverted money, according to the Chairman, was first warehoused in NEPZA account with the CBN from 2017 budget allocations before moving it into the private company account much later.
“To prevent this fraud, my committee wrote a letter to the CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele on the 8th of April not to release the money but very annoyingly, the money is confirmed to have been released and transferred by NEPZA in collaboration with the minister into a private company account.
The NEPZA MD had on April 11, while defending his parastatal’s 2019 budget estimate before the committee, declared that warehousing of the N14.3 billion was not done fraudulently but in line with the Country’s Industrial Revolution Plan and approval of a memo submitted to that effect by Enelamah in June, 2018.
According to him, in 2014, the Federal Government of Nigeria introduced the Nigeria Industrial Revolution Plan (NIRP) in its bid to promote diversification of the economy and address the fundamental issues affecting productive activities.
“Subsequently, the present administration also introduced the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). The ERGP adopted the substantial ideas and strategies identified in the NIRP,” he said.
But while the response of the Trade and Investment Minister to the letter was still being awaited, the National Assembly last Tuesday passed the 2019 budget and jacked it up by N90 billion from N8.83 Trillion to N8.91Trillion.
The breakdown of the N90 billion added to the budget include N23.67 billion as severance gratuity for outgoing legislators and their aides and induction; N10 billion as federal government intervention for tackling humanitarian crisis in Zamfara state and N66 billion as additional fund for security agencies including Army, Navy, Air Force, Police to tackle insecurity and all forms of crime in the country.
The budget reports were presented at plenary of the two chambers by Chairman of Senate committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe Central) and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Hon Mustapha Dawaki, before the two chambers dissolved into their respective Committees on Supply to consider the budget report clause by clause.
Presenting the budget report, Goje explained that the N23.678billion severance package for outgoing legislators also included induction programme/Inauguration of the ninth assembly.
Goje explained further that in implementing the just approved N30,000 minimum wage for public servants, the N160 billion proposed as service wide votes was appropriated for, under the Public Service wage adjustment for the MDAs.
All the parameters upon which the budget estimates were based by the Executive were retained by both Senate and House of Representatives.
The parameters are $60 per barrel oil price bench mark, 2.3 million barrel per day production level, N350 to one U S dollar as exchange rate.
But major highlights of the budget as passed are N502.058 billion for Statutory Transfers, N500billion for Special Intervention and, N4.055trillion for recurrent expenditure. Others are N2.094trillion for Capital expenditure, N1.908 trillion as fiscal deficit within the ambit of 1.37% deficit to GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Within the service wide votes allocation in the approved budget, N5billion is earmarked for payment of outstanding death benefit to civil servants and police personnel, N15billion as additional support for Universities and N65 billion for Presidential Amnesty Programme on reintegration of transformed ex-militants.
Within the Capital expenditure component of the budget, N394.906 billion is earmarked for the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, N107.218 billion for the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, N159.125 billion for Ministry of Defence and N92.178bn for Ministry of Water Resources.
Others are N58.689 billion for Ministry of Education, N179.384bn for Ministry of Transportation, N53.678 billion for Ministry of Interior etc. However, in the recurrent expenditure and component of the budget, the Ministry of Interior has the highest appropriated votes of N564.222 billion, followed by Ministry of Education with N463.395 billion.
Speaking after it passed third reading, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki said: “With passage of this bill for third reading today, the executive must ensure full implementation of the budget, sector by sector for the benefit and wellbeing of Nigerians.
The House of Representatives at Tuesday’s plenary also appropriated N8, 916, 964, 099, 373 (Eight trillion, nine hundred and sixteen billion, nine hundred and sixty-four million, ninety nine thousand, three hundred and seventy-three naira) for the 2019 fiscal year.
This followed the consideration of the Hon. Mustapha Bala Dawaki-led Committee on Appropriation Bill for an Act to authorise the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation the total sum of N8.916 Trillion.
But bothered by the quantum of money allocated to the office of the National Security Adviser as against what came to sections of the National Assembly, Kano lawmaker, Hon. Damburam Nuhu, on his part, said it was important for Nigerians to note that one office got as much as N86bn.
“My worry is we are passing a budget of N86.8bn for the office of the National Security Adviser alone and the entire budget of the National Assembly N128bn.
This comprises the recurrent plus the capital and everything, which is not only for legislators; it is also for the commission and all other aides and co.
“The people of the country need to know that, if a single agency like the National Security Adviser’s office will be taking N86bn, then, there is cause for worry. When people say, perhaps, we are taking too much in this place; that is why I am raising this observation for everybody to know,” he stated.
Other caveats in the budget include that “The department of government charged with the responsibility of certifying that due process have been complied with in the processing of implementation of projects shall ensure that all processes of approval are completed within the specified period as provided for in the Public Procurement Act.
“All accounting officers of Ministries, Parastatals and Departments of Government who control heads of expenditure shall upon the coming into effect of this bill, furnish the National Assembly on quarterly basis, with detailed information on the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the agency in any form whatsoever.
“All accounting officers of Ministries, Parastatals and Departments of Government who control heads of expenditure shall upon the coming into effect of this bill, furnish the National Assembly on quarterly basis, with detailed information on all foreign and domestic assistance received from any agency, persons or organisation in any form whatsoever.
For the purpose of this bill, the term ‘schedule’ includes the detailed estimates of expenditure.”
With the passage of the 2019 budget by the legislative arm, the onus now lies on President Buhari to sign the bill into law as soon as it is transmitted to him.
Also last Tuesday, the Senate commenced moves to override President Buhari’s veto on the Industrial Development Act (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill.
The bill, which was earlier rejected by President Buhari, seeks to provide for additional incentives for some categories of investments and increase the value of the minimum qualifying capital expenditure (QCE) required from companies applying for Pioneer Certificate. The proposal seeks to amend Sections 1, 2, 3, 11 and 25 of the Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief) Act.
It also provides that companies that are in the process of expanding their operations to cover Pioneer Industries and/or Products will be eligible for the issuance of the Pioneer Certificate, even as companies whose applications were previously denied on the grounds of expansion will be able to reapply for fresh consideration.
The Pioneer Certificate grants tax holiday to companies making investments in designated industries for an initial period of three years, extendable for one or two additional years.
Tagged: ‘Industrial Development Act (Income Tax Relief) Amendment Bill, 2019 (SB. 734), the proposal which passed First Reading at Tuesday’s plenary is sponsored by Senator Sabo Mohammed.
According to the 1999 Constitution (As Amended), for the bill to become law, it will require two-thirds approval of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Specifically, Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution provides that two-third of both legislative chambers of the National Assembly (73 senators and 240 members of House of Representatives) are required to override the President’s veto.
President Buhari had in 2018 declined assent to the bill on the ground that the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment was consulting with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on the ‘tax holidays incentive regime for Expansion Projects’.
This, the President explained, would pave the way for Presidential Orders and executive bills for approval by the National Assembly.
However, on April 10, the Senate adopted the report of its Technical Committee on Declined Assent to Bills by the President.
In rejecting the President’s submission, the David Umaru-led panel had argued that the President was at liberty to either propose an amendment to the law or repeal same.
“There is nowhere in the world where the President can propose to stop the lawmaking process by an Executive Fiat or Order. The President cannot withhold assent to a bill on the mere fact that consultations are ongoing, which would enable him come up with a new bill.
“It should be reiterated that the procedure adopted by the Senate in passing the bill was all-inclusive, needless to say that a well-advertised Public Hearing was conducted, which provided the needed platform for all interested stakeholders to present their submissions on the bill.
“Mr. President’s reason(s) for withholding assent to this bill are far-fetched. Accordingly, it is the Committee’s view that the Senate and indeed the National Assembly should override the veto,” the report read.
Elumoye is a Senior Correspondent with THISDAY reporting on Legislative affairs especially the Nigerian Senate.