Less than a week after the House of Representatives raised the N180 billion virement request of President Muhammadu Buhari by N28 billion, the Senate on Tuesday increased it by N34 billion. This brings the money to N214billion.
But during the consideration of the report by the Committee on Appropriation on the virement of funds appropriated for special investment (recurrent) and special intervention (capital) for funding of critical recurrent and capital items in the 2016 Appropriation Act, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu declared that virement is unconstitutional.
Citing Section 81(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Ekweremadu noted that the portion of the law allows the President to submit a supplementary budget to the National Assembly in the event of any shortfall in the budget.
According to him, the Appropriation Act and Supplementary Act are provided for in the Constitution but virement has no place in it.
He, therefore, implored the Senate and all those piloting the affairs of the state to correct the anomaly and stick only to constitutional provisions.
Senator Abdullahi Adamu drew the attention of the Senate to the fact that Section 24 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) provides for virement, stressing that FRA is also part of the laws by which the country is governed.
Adamu said: “Nobody in his senses will doubt or contest the very clear provisions of the constitution with respect to budgetary appropriations. However, there is a Fiscal Responsibility Act and Section 24 provides for virement. While we accept the intervention, we don’t want to create the impression to have meant a wrong thing in totality because there is a FRA which is recognised by the constitution.”
Consequently, Adamu, in appreciating Ekweremadu’s observation pointed out that President Buhari did not breach the law by submitting the virement to the National Assembly.
Reacting to the constitutional question raised by Ekweremadu, the Senate President Bukola Saraki, appreciated the clarification. He said that what the Senate was doing was to help the Executive arm of government tackle the “menacing economic problem” in the country.
Thereafter, the Upper House approved the virement after raising it to N214 billion.
The Lower House had increased the same virement to N208, explaining that the additional funds was due to the shortfalls discovered during the meeting of the National Assembly Joint Appropriations Committee with heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government.
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