There were indications in Abuja on Tuesday that President Goodluck Jonathan has withheld his assent to the 2013 budget.
Though spokesman for the President, Dr. Reuben Abati, told The Punch exclusively that the budget, already passed by the National Assembly over two months ago was at the harmonisation stage, our correspondents learnt that Jonathan had refused to sign the document.
He is said to be miffed by the inclusion of “strange” constituency projects in the final draft on his table.
The Punch investigations on Tuesday showed that the President had been miffed because the said constituency projects were not in the original document submitted to the National Assembly by the executive.
Although there are no overheads or sub-titles for constituency projects, the disputed projects were said to have been included in the capital expenditures of government ministries, departments and agencies.
“The President is not comfortable with the alterations in the National Assembly, particularly the inclusion of constituency projects, which shot up the budget. That is why he has not signed it,” a senior official in the Presidency, who asked not to be named because he was not officially permitted to speak on the issue, confided in one of our correspondents.
As part of measures to ensure that the budget runs its full circle, the President had on October 10, 2012 presented the 2013 appropriation of N4.924tn to the National Assembly while the federal lawmakers formally passed the budget on December 20.
By the time the budget emerged from the National Assembly, the total had risen from N4.924tn to N4.987tn.
But the budget was not transmitted to the President until January, 2012 when his Special Adviser on National Assembly, Senator Joy Emordi, said the process was delayed at the Legal Department of the legislature.
In the original proposal, Jonathan had set aside N2.41tn for recurrent expenditure, but the lawmakers slashed it to N2.38tn and raised capital vote to N1.62tn, up from Jonathan’s N1.54tn as well as increased the crude oil benchmark price from the executive proposal of $75 to $79 per barrel.
The senior official in the presidency, who spoke with one of our correspondents, said the President was not too comfortable with some of the projects which were included in the budget by members of the National Assembly.
The official said, “What happened was that in the 2012 budget, the National Assembly members put their constituency projects into that budget. So they met the President in November to ask for those projects to be executed but the President reneged.
“And as of that time, these projects were not in the 2013 budget. So since they observed that these projects were not to be implemented in the 2012 budget, the lawmakers tried to smuggle them into the 2013 budget.
“Also some aspects of the budget were padded up by the National Assembly and the President was not comfortable with those figures.”
It was however, learnt on Tuesday that the President had reached out to the lawmakers to ensure that the signing of the budget was not further delayed.
Before giving its final nod to the budget in December last year, 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 had no excuse not to fully implement the budget.
Abati said, “I am aware that the President directed ministers and the Budget Office to look at the budget as passed and submit their observations within a given deadline before his recent trip to Switzerland.
“That was why he rushed back from Switzerland to look at the observations and he immediately called a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly.
“At this stage, what they are trying to do is to harmonise the budget. Both parties are looking at it. Honestly, I don’t know the details of the differences but it is a general examination of the budget. I am sure that the differences will be resolved quickly.”
When contacted, Emordi said that she was not aware of the disagreement over the constituency projects.
“Honestly, I am not aware of any such thing,” she said.
The presidential adviser said the budget had not been signed because the President discovered some typographical errors in it, adding that the errors completely altered the budget of some MDAs.
She dismissed reports of a possible return of the entire budget to the National Assembly.
She, however, said, the errors were not sufficient to necessitate a wholesale return of the budget.
Emodi said, “The budget will not be returned to the National Assembly. What happened was that during typing, some things were omitted in the details and the affected MDAs will come to the National Assembly on Thursday to point out the areas where those omissions were made.
“It is a typographical error and the affected MDAs would meet with the relevant committees and clarify those areas. There is nothing like returning the budget.
“People are saying that the budget was sent three months ago, that is not fair. The budget details were sent to the President on January 14 and he is still looking at them before signing.
“Those talking about budget row are not fair; there is no disagreement over the budget.”
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, on Tuesday said the executive should be blamed for any further delay in the signing and implementation of the budget.
Mohammed said, “Let them cite the projects they said are not supposed to be there. It is better for them to prove it or it will be the case of giving a dog a bad name just to hang it.
“We have to wake up to the reality that budget is not a garbage in, garbage out issue. The parliament is not expected to be a rubber stamp and we are not a rubber stamp in the House of Representatives.”
Mohammed also observed that there were constitutional procedures for registering objections to a money law passed by the National Assembly, adding that the Executive should apply the procedures rather than speaking behind the scenes.
Spokesman for the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said it was speculation to say that the National Assembly’s constituency projects were responsible for the delay in the signing of the budget.
In a response to a text message Abaribe said, “There has been no official communication from the executive with regard to the budget.
“So what you allude to amounts to speculation. We do not react to speculation.”