Twenty-one Federal Government agencies, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Central Bank of Nigeria, have bowed to the House of Representatives by submitting budget details of their expenditure for this year.
The budget details of the agencies were the cause of a row at the House on Tuesday last week, which stalled debate on the country’s 2014 budget by lawmakers.
The agencies, described as “big earners and big spenders”, rarely bring their budget details to the National Assembly.
It is one of the issues at the centre of the yearly budget dispute between the Executive and the National Assembly.
Last week, an All Progressives Congress member, Mr. Emmanuel Jime, had stalled the debate after he raised a point of order on the fact that the budget details of the agencies were not attached to the national budget.
Jime had cited Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which he said required that the agencies must attach the details of their budgets to the national budget for consideration by the National Assembly.
He noted that rather than comply with the Act, the 2014 budget only came with the “abridged version” of the budget of the agencies without the details.
Jime had stated that the House would be breaking the law by going ahead to debate the budget.
In a bid to douse the tension, the Speaker, Mr. AminuTambuwal, had named a six-member advisory committee to study the Act vis-a-vis the position of the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, John Enoh.
This, according to him, is to enable the House to move forward on the issue.
Enoh, a PDP lawmaker, had argued that it was the responsibility of standing committees overseeing the agencies to call for the budget details if they so wished.
Findings indicated that the agencies budget details were “hurriedly” distributed to lawmakers between Wednesday last week and Monday (yesterday).
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that lawmakers considered the move as an attempt to preempt the report of the committee.
The committee is set to submit its report on Tuesday (today) to the House to decide whether to debate the national budget of N4.6tn.
Sources close to the committee confided in our correspondent that the agencies planned to spend a whopping N12tn this year on their operations.
“The figure is mind-blowing. We are faced with a situation in this country whereby the budget of agencies set up by the government is far above the annual budget for the entire country.
“While the whole country is to spend N4.6tn in 2014, the NNPC, CBN and other agencies listed under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, will be spending N12tn.
“Go and work out the difference; these were the details they wanted to conceal from the National Assembly but for the motion by APC lawmakers on Tuesday last week”, one of the sources said.
Although the advisory committee had a “24 hour” deadline to produce a report, The PUNCH gathered that the members did not meet on Tuesday last week as it was initially required of the members.
It was learnt that the committee did not meet because of the membership registration by the APC.
The House had also suspended sitting for Wednesday and Thursday last week, a development another source said had made the 24-hour deadline “unnecessary because the House is on break and many members, including some of the committee members, travelled to their constituencies.”
However, investigations revealed that the committee met on Monday ahead of Tuesday’s (today) presentation of its report.
Findings showed that between Wednesday and Monday when the committee sat, the details of the budgets of the agencies were hurriedly distributed to members.
Our source said, “This is a move to preempt the report of the committee. They knew that the matter had to do with compliance with the law; so they quickly provided the details in order to preempt the report of the committee.
“The idea is to say after all, the details are available, let the debate proceed.
“The report of the committee would have clearly stated that the earlier format of the budget was in breach of the Act; that was what they wanted to avoid.”
It was gathered that members were delighted that the protest which stalled the debate had paid off.
Another member of the House said, “Nigerians are the better for this; nobody knew before now that these agencies would spend N12tn because the details were never made available to the National Assembly. But now, we know.”
The Chairman of the committee, Mr. Albert Sam-Sokwa, could not be reached for comments on Monday.
However, the Chairman, House Committee on Justice, Mr. Ali Ahmad, who is a member of the six-member advisory panel informed The PUNCH that the report would be submitted today(Tuesday).
“Sure, we are submitting a report on Tuesday; but don’t ask me about what we discussed. I will not tell you that aspect”,he said.