Senate adopts corrected version of 2016 budget

President Buhari while presenting 2016 budget at the National Assembly
President Buhari while presenting 2016 budget at the National Assembly
• House divided over Buhari’s letter
• Senators begin debate today
AFTER the controversy that trailed the 2016 budget, the Senate unanimously adopted a corrected version of the fiscal plan sent to it by President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday.
It also resolved to begin work on the budget today even as the upper legislative chamber declared that it had taken Buhari’s corrected version as the substantive budget proposal.
Shortly after the plenary session commenced, the Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, read Buhari’s official communication to the upper chamber, a copy of which he also sent to the House of Representatives, in which he lamented that errors in the budget document were not corrected before the presentation to the joint session of the National Assembly in December.
In the House of Representatives, a deft handling of the matter by Speaker Yakubu Dogara helped to make short-lived a disagreement at the commencement of plenary yesterday.
The letter tagged “2016 Budget Proposals,” which acknowledged the confusion that had been generated by efforts to ensure that there were no errors in the document, however, attracted some criticisms from senators because of the error in dates as the president, in the first line of the letter wrote 2016 when it should have been 2015.
The letter reads: “It would be recalled that on Tuesday 22nd December, 2016, I presented my 2016 budget proposal to the joint sitting of the National Assembly. I submitted a draft bill accompanied by a schedule of details. At the time of submission we indicated that because the details had just been produced, we would have had to check to ensure that there are no errors in the detailed breakdown contained in the schedule. That has since been completed and I understand that the corrections have been submitted.
“The National Assembly will therefore have the details as submitted on the 22nd and a copy containing the corrections submitted last week.
It appears that this had led to some confusion. In this regard, please find attached a corrected version. This is the version that the National Assembly should work with as my 2016 budget estimates. The draft bill remains the same and there are no changes in any of the figures”
Shortly after reading the letter, Saraki asked the Senate Leader, Muhammed Ali Ndume, to move a motion for the adoption of the document as the authentic budget proposal.
Saraki explained that the adoption of the president’s latest communication was to enable the Senate to have it on record that the authentic document that would serve as the 2016 budget was the one attached to yesterday’s letter.
However, the letter read by on the floor by Dogara immediately stirred some members of the opposition with the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor querying the propriety of the correspondence. He said the president should have allowed the parliament to effect the necessary corrections by the relevant committees of the chamber.
Ogor cited Sections 81 and 84 of the constitution, which he said did not give the president the powers to amend the budget, adding that such powers lie only within the purview of the legislature. He therefore called on the House to disregard Buhari’s letter.
But in his intervention, Dogara cautioned that there was no where in the letter where the president said the budget was amended, adding that it is only the president that has powers to make corrections to the budget if he observes any defect.
This was greeted with the shouts of “no, no!” by the opposition lawmakers on the floor, a development which for some minutes, prevented the speaker from concluding his submission.
Also, a point of order by Linus Okorie faulting the speaker’s adoption of a ‘strange’ procedure at the commencement of session was thrown out by Dogara who presided at the resumed plenary.
Okorie had faulted the speaker over the decision to proceed with the session without making reference to President Buhari’s letter to the chamber contrary to the House’ rules. He proceeded to call on his colleagues to discard the letter since the speaker failed to follow the House Rules in the presentation.
But Dogara urged Okorie to take another look at the order he cited.
“Look at the opening, it states:’Unless the House otherwise directs’,” a reply which got a huge applause from the majority All Pogressives Congress(APC) members
The controversy and confusion that greeted the presentation of the 2016 budget got worsened when the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, (Senate) , Ita Enang introduced through the ‘backdoor’ some other copies which were different from the original copy.
What Enang did was allegedly informed by desperation on the part of the presidency to correct the aspects of the budget that had suffered so much criticism.
Buhari was said to have been embarrassed as some of the figures proposed for operations in the presidency and the State House were being publicly criticised as outrageous and higher than those of his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Given Buhari’s austere nature and the change agenda of his party, the figures for the subheads in the budget for the Office of the President, Vice President, and a few ministries, which went viral on the social media and had become a major topic of discussion on both the print and broadcast media, were a huge embarrassment.
To reflect the public mood, the president was said to have directed the recall of the 2016 budget from the National Assembly for review.
Ordinarily, the review process should have entailed a written request from the president to the National Assembly calling for the withdrawal of the budget.

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