The National Assembly on Thursday formally okayed a budget of N4.987tn for 2013, slightly raising the total figure by about N63bn.
The original proposal by President Goodluck Jonathan was N4.924tn.
The passage which was done independently by both arms of the assembly – the Senate and House of Representatives – was hailed by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party and Jonathan’s Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi.
Before giving its final nod to the budget, the Senate said it had identified entirely new projects designated as ongoing in the 2013 financial document.
The members warned that with the passage, the Executive now had no excuse not to fully implement the budget.
Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mohammed Maccido, while presenting the Joint Committee report, said, “There should be a verifiable template for budgeting, especially on capital projects. If the painful sight of abandoned projects in Nigeria will be a thing of the past, then ongoing projects must be properly defined.
“A situation where projects not found in 2011 and 2012 budgets are found in 2013 as ongoing is very misleading.
“In the same vein, a situation where uncompleted projects are not included in the budgets of succeeding years is wasteful.”
He said that the Executive must be more thorough in compiling annual budgets, adding that it was noticed that some critical areas were still underfunded.
Before passing the budget, the Senate went into a closed-door session to iron out the thorny issues in the budget.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session said the Executive must begin the implementation of the budget on January 1, 2013 and should ensure that it was fully implemented within the fiscal year.
He said, “This should challenge the Executive to properly implement the budget. There should be no more excuses. The 2013 budget should be fully implemented.
“The committees of the National Assembly should from January 1, 2013 begin their oversight of the implementation of the budget.”
In the House of Representatives, members slashed the recurrent expenditure by over N100bn and increased capital projects allocation to N100bn.
In the original proposal, Jonathan had set aside N2.41tn for recurrent expenditure, but the lawmakers slashed it to N2.38tn.
Similarly, they raised capital vote to N1.62tn, up from Jonathan’s N1.54tn.
The sum of N591.7bn was earmarked for debt servicing, while N387.9bn was allocated to statutory transfers. The crude oil benchmark also increased from the Executive proposal of $75 to $79 per barrel.
The Chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Mr. John Enoh, gave reasons why the House rejected the $75 crude oil benchmark proposed by the Executive.
He explained that the House was concerned about cutting the deficit and reducing borrowing to fund the budget.
According to him, the extra $4 to be saved from raising the benchmark to $79 will be used to “bring the deficit of N1.03tn down to around N887bn.”
Enoh added that the budget passed by the House reflected a debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio of 1.8 per cent, as against the 2.7 per cent in the Executive proposal.
“So, going by the work done on this budget, domestic borrowing has now dropped to a little above N500bn”, he said.
There was a bit of drama in the House before the passage of the budget.
Many lawmakers jubilated when the presiding Deputy Speaker, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, called for the consideration of the report of the House Joint Committee on Appropriation/Finance on the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
Members wanted the budget to be passed quickly. They kicked against a move by Enoh to make a “brief synopsis” of the report of the committee. They shouted, “carried”, “carried”, “no need”, “no need”, “no need.”
Ihedioha insisted that there was the need to hear from the committee that worked on the budget. It took a few minutes to restore order in the chamber.
The lawmakers had initially threatened not to pass the budget on the grounds of alleged “poor implementation” of the 2012 budget.
They had held a lengthy closed-door session over the budget on Wednesday.
It was gathered that at the session, they reviewed their stance and came to the conclusion that Nigerians might blame them for delaying the 2013 budget.
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, admitted that the 2012 budget had dominated discussions at the closed-door session.
He said the session resolved that to ensure a comprehensive implementation of the 2012 budget, the capital component should be extended to April 2013.
Mohammed added, “We resolved that the 2012 budget should not stop us from passing the 2013 budget.
“We opted for a roll-over, which the Executive did not want.
“If we didn’t do that, by December 31, they will start talking about mopping up the unspent funds for 2012.
“But, for us, implementing the budget and touching lives are most important.”
He claimed that the collective decision to pass the budget was responsible for the jubilant mood in the chamber on Thursday.
The House kept its word not to have any dealings with the Securities and Exchange Commission until its Director-General, Ms. Arunma Oteh, was removed from office.
The House stated in the Appropriation Bill passed on Thursday that the agency must not spend any funds in 2013 without appropriation by the National Assembly.
A clause dedicated to SEC in the bill reads, “All revenue however so described, including all fees received, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally and externally generated revenue shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters, nor liabilities thereon incurred except with the prior appropriation and approval by the National Assembly.”
Mohammed later said, “We want to see which money will be used to run SEC in the years ahead. It is a resolution of the House that Oteh should go and we will continue to keep the situation that way. Oteh must go; if she doesn’t go, we will not have any dealings with SEC or touch their budget. We are on the same page with the Senate on this and it is only a matter of time.”
The House thereafter adjourned for the Christmas/New Year. But it will reconvene on January 16.
Meanwhile, the PDP and Emodi have commended the members of the National Assembly for passing the budget on time.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary , Chief Olisa Metuh, added that the passage was a clear indication that democracy was not only gaining firm footing but was safe in its hands.
The statement says, “The seriousness and the high degree of scrutiny which guided the consideration of the 2013 budget proposal, serves directly, the long stringent quest for transparent and workable national budget. We commend them for this.”
Emodi, in a statement after the passage of the budget, said the early passage of the budget would facilitate its better implementation.
“The budget is a government’s most important economic policy tool. By the early passage of this budget, the executive and the legislature have indeed made a joint statement that they are truly partners in governance and are increasingly taking steps to place Nigeria on a path to economic growth and prosperity,” she said.