Buhari queries ‘worrisome changes’ made by NASS to 2022 Budget

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Although President Muhammadu Buhari signed Nigeria’s 2022 budget into law on Friday, he raised reservations about some of its content, particularly the ‘worrisome changes’ made by lawmakers.

Mr Buhari’s remarks were contained in a statement by his spokesperson, Garba Shehu, to announce the president’s signing of the budget.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the president signed the budget at the Presidential Villa in Abuja on Friday.

The signing of the budget came two weeks after the Senate and House of Representatives passed the bill presented by the president a few weeks earlier.

The lawmakers had approved a total expenditure of N17.1 trillion against the N16.3 trillion proposed by the president in October. Over N700 billion was added to the proposed appropriation.

The National Assembly also increased the Oil Benchmark Price from $57 to $62. The increase, they said, was to reflect the current market values of the oil barrel in the international market. Nigeria’s daily oil production rate was pegged at 1.86 million per barrel.

In the budget, statutory transfer was put at N869.6 billion, debt service at N3.88 trillion, recurrent (non-debt) expenditure at N6.9 trillion and capital expenditure at N5.46 trillion.

Buhari Speaks on Budget Increase

During the budget signing ceremony, Mr Buhari explained that of the N735 billion increase in total expenditure, N186.53 billion came from additional critical expenditures that he had authorised the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to forward to the National Assembly – details of which he said will be made public.

He also said the 2023 Budget will be a transition budget which will be submitted early to the National Assembly.

In this regard, he directed Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to cooperate with the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, more specifically with the Budget Office of the Federation, to realise the objective.

‘Worrisome changes’

Despite the commendations he had for the National Assembly, the president also expressed reservations on some changes to the budget which he described as ‘‘worrisome’’.

Some of the changes, he noted, are the increase in the federal government’s projected ‘Independent Revenue’ by N400 billion; for which, he said, the justification is yet to be provided.

The president also complained that the National Assembly reduced the provisions for the Non-Regular Allowances of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Navy by N15 billion and N5 billion respectively.

‘‘This is particularly worrisome because personnel cost provisions are based on agencies’ nominal roll and approved salaries/allowances.

‘‘Furthermore, an increase of N21.72 billion in the Overhead budgets of some MDAs, while the sum of N1.96 billion was cut from the provision for some MDAs without apparent justification.

‘‘Increase in the provision for Capital spending (excluding Capital share in Statutory Transfer) by a net amount of N575.63 billion, from N4.89 trillion to N5.47 trillion.’’

More changes

The National Assembly also made reductions in the provisions for some critical projects, some of which the president frowned at.

The reductions include N12.6 billion in the Ministry of Transport’s budget for the ongoing rail modernisation projects; N25.8 billion from Power Sector Reform Programme under the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; N14.5 billion from several projects of the Ministry of Agriculture, and introducing over 1,500 new projects into the budgets of this ministry and its agencies.

Mr Buhari also queried the lawmakers for including new provisions totalling N36.59 billion for National Assembly’s projects in the Service Wide Vote which, he said, negates the principles of separation of powers and financial autonomy of the legislative arm of government.

‘‘The changes to the original Executive proposal are in the form of new insertions, outright removals, reductions and/or increases in the amounts allocated to projects.

‘‘Provisions made for as many as 10,733 projects were reduced while 6,576 new projects were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly.

‘‘The cuts in the provisions for several of these projects by the National Assembly may render the projects unimplementable or set back their completion, especially some of this Administration’s strategic capital projects.

‘‘Most of the projects inserted relate to matters that are basically the responsibilities of State and Local Governments, and do not appear to have been properly conceptualised, designed and costed. And many more projects have been added to the budgets of some MDAs with no consideration for the institutional capacity to execute the additional projects and/or for the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.’’

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The president also expressed surprise that despite the National Assembly’s increase of projected revenue by N609.27 billion, the additional Executive request of N186.53 billion for critical expenditure items could not be accommodated without increasing the deficit, while the sum of N550.59 billion from the projected incremental revenues was allocated at the discretion of National Assembly.

He said he signed the budget to enable implementation to start from January 2022 but would revert to the National Assembly with a request for amendment and/or virement when the lawmakers resume from their current recess.

Those who witnessed the signing of the budget include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and other members of the Federal Executive Council.

With the president’s assent, the bill has become law and the implementation is expected to commence in January for the 2022 fiscal year.

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