- Warns executive not to blame NASS for its failures
Indications emerged yesterday that the executive arm of the Federal Government might be walking at crossroads with the National Assembly in the preparation and passage of the 2017 Appropriation Bill, which is yet to be laid before the federal parliament. Demonstrating early sign of anticipatory crisis between the two arms of government, the Senate, in plenary, gave a hard knock on the 2016-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), submitted to the National Assembly for consideration and approval by President Muhammadu Buhari. Also, the Senate cautioned the executive not to blame its ineptitude in delivering good governance to Nigerians on the legislative arm, stressing that the present National Assembly, particularly the Senate, had been performing its duties judiciously.
The Senate, which was angered by a newspaper report, credited to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, observed that the MTEF document recently submitted by Buhari was empty and contained nothing that could facilitate its approval by the lawmakers.
The minister was quoted in the report as saying that the National Assembly’s suspension of debate on the MTEF was responsible for the delay by the executive in the presentation of the 2017 Appropriation Bill to the apex parliament. The issue came up during Senate plenary, when the Leader of the Chamber, Senator Ali Ndume, raised a point of order, citing orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rule 2015 (as amended), upon which he drew the attention of the Senate to the newspaper publication.
The minister had, in a newspaper report, blamed the National Assembly for failure to meet October target for budget submission. Ndume expressed serious concern that the same minister, who failed to honour the invitation of the Senate to come and explain to the lawmakers some of the contents of the MTEF, could go about to castigate the Senate in the media.
His words: “We received the MTEF on 30th September instead of submitting it according to law by 1st of September. That is not even the problem. I have a copy; I went through and the copies have been circulated. I talked to some experts. Even in this chamber, we have people we can call experts. “If you look at this document that they call MTEF, it is empty; it is empty and it doesn’t contain anything. If you have nothing, how do you consider nothing?
Going through and knowing that it is empty, on October 19, I wrote to the Minister of Budget and National Planning inviting him to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, November 1st. But the minister failed to turn up.”
Ndume further expressed worries that the executive arm had already begun the 2017 budget process with what he described as blame game, noting that it would not augur well with the country if the trend continued. “We cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with his blame game. This Senate is Nigerian Senate.
When they bring nothing and we ask for something so that we will do it properly, they spoke to the newspaper to start blaming the National Assembly. I think it is important we discuss this and advise ourselves properly,” he stated.
However, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, Senator Albert Akpan and others who spoke on the matter, pleaded with the Senate not to make trouble with the minister as he was also said to have denied the report, claiming that he was quoted out of context.
Ekweremadu urged that the blame game should be jettisoned by both arms so that they could concentrate on delivering good governance to the people, assuring the executive that the parliament was ready to commence work on 2017 budget as soon as it was laid by the president. The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, also told the Senate that he spoke with Udoma on the media report and he denied accusing the National Assembly as well assured that he would publish his denial in newspapers. He said: “The Leader has made the point that this issue of blame game is totally unnecessary.
And if he has said he is withdrawing, that means he has said it as well that the National Assembly is not responsible for any delay.” It will be recalled that after Saraki read the Buhari’s letter on the 2017- 2019 MTEF, the Senate has quietly kept its consideration on hold, saying that there were some contentious issues to be clarified by the executive before the lawmakers could consider and approve it.
The Senate, also on Tuesday, threw out Buhari’s request for the National Assembly to grant him approval to obtain $29.9 billion foreign loan for infrastructural development. Similarly, briefing the press after plenary, the spokesman for the Senate, Abdullahi Sabi, warned that the executive arm should not cast aspersions on the legislature for its failures, saying that the Senate had been doing its work well.
“We want Nigerians to understand very clearly that in carrying out our duty, we know exactly what we are expected to do, we know how to proceed, we are ready to proceed, we are ready and committed. “If the 2017 budget is ready and they want to bring it, they should bring it. But the point is clear: let us not put each other on arm’s way simply because some officers have failed to discharge their duties accordingly. That is the message the Senate wants to pass.
“And we want to assure Nigerians that for us, we are hoping and praying that we have learnt our lessons in the last budget cycle so that this time around, there won’t be budget padding. “But I’m afraid. It’s good for Nigerians to begin to look. Are we sure that this government is not padded with some people who want to frustrate it? Maybe there is government padding also. We need to look at that,” Sabi insisted.