… As Confusion Rages In NASS Over N143bn And N189 Billion Proposals
Facts have emerged on Friday about the process of passage of the 2019 election budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) which is getting more confused as Senators and members of the House of Representatives broke alongside party lines.
The arguments have become heated as to which of the two proposals before the National Assembly should be approved by the joint standing Committee that is considering the budget.
While the letter sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu
Buhari on July 17, 2018 contained the sum of N143 billion, the proposal submitted by INEC during the budget defence session contained a sum of N189 billion.
The Joint committee had invited the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood
Yakubu to defend the proposals.
But on Friday, the lawmakers further became divided as to which of the
two proposals to approve.
While lawmakers belonging to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) largely argue for the passage of the total sum of N189 billion, those who belong to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are arguing in
favour of approving only the sum of N143 billion, while carrying over the balance to the 2019 budget.
Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma who also made submission to the joint Committee led by Senator Suleiman Nazif ( PDP Bauchi North), told the lawmakers that though the N189 billion requested for by INEC was the total sum required for election, the President had decided to break the expenses into two due to paucity of funds.
He said that the President Buhari decided to break approval for it into two fold by seeking virement for N143bn for INEC this year while the balance of N45.6billion would be taken care of in the 2019 budget.
He said that if the joint committee wished to approve the entire N189billion without resulting into increase in the N9.12trillion 2018 budget size, the executive would welcome the development.
He said: “Mr President will have no objection to the National Assembly
approving the entire N189 billion INEC budget as long as it does not in anyway, lead to increase in the overall size of the 2018 budget.
“If this is to be done, the N45.6billion the President in his letter proposed to be provided for in the 2019 budget , would also have to be vired along with the N143bn from the N578bn fund appropriated for in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly for the additional 1,403
projects included in the budget”, he said.
When asked by the committee members whether he has authorization to the submission he made for the approval of the N189billion as against N143bn requested for by the President for INEC this year, the Minister said that the National Assembly was free to apply discretion.
He said: “Discretion on which of the requests to be approved by you now, is yours. If you approve the N143bn the President requested for is okay and if you approve the entire N189billion for INEC this year is also alright.
“Any of the two is okay for the executive , except that if you approve the N189billion through virement, the N45.6 billion planned to be captured in the 2019 budget , would no longer be part of the budget estimates for that year.”
Arguments in respect the submissions by the Minister however took partisan lines as PDP like Senators Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South), Isa Misau ( Bauchi Central), Hon Wole Oke ( PDP Osun), Hon Ogbeideihama Omorege (PDP Edo) among others declared that the sum of N143 billion requested by the President should be approved.
APC lawmakers including Senators Ibrahim Kurfi (Katsina Central), Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi ( Niger North) , Ovie Omo – Agege ( Delta Central) and Hon Aisha Dukku ( APC Gombe ) among others however insisted that the entire sum of N189billion should be approved.
Disturbed by the development, Committee Chairman, Senator Suleiman Nazif said that the essence of inviting the Budget Minister and the Presidential liaison officer in the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang as well as INEC officials to the sitting was to ensure transparency, nationalistic and accountability postures of the National Assembly.
He cautioned against partisan approach to the debates.
He said: “We are not here to play politics with the 2019 election budget. No confusion, no ambiguity on submissions made and requests before us.
“It is our prerogative as a committee to critically look into all the details and recommend either of the two requests for approval by committee of the whole at both chambers.”
He accordingly adjourned the sitting sine die.