The Senate on Thursday dismissed the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Sustainability Paper sent to it by President Muhammadu Buhari, describing the documents as “empty” and not worth considering.
Senate’s action is coming two days after it rejected the president’s plan to borrow $29.690 billion to execute key infrastructural projects across the country between 2016 and 2018. It said the plan lacked detailed information.
It also came on the same day the Senate denounced presidential aides as being “incompetent”, saying they failed to present a comprehensive proposal on Mr. Buhari’s bid to borrow $30 billion.
Mr. Buhari had on October 4 sent the MTEF and FSP, ahead of the 2017 budget, to the Senate and the House of Representatives for consideration.
The Senate complained that the details of the fiscal proposals, which in Nigeria’s public finance architecture are the precursors to the annual budget, were not attached to the president’s letter requesting the consideration.
At plenary on Thursday, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, raised a point of order drawing the attention of his colleagues to a newspaper report with a headline, which suggested that the National Assembly was to blame for failure to meet the October target for the submission of the 2017 budget proposal.
He said the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, was quoted as saying in the publication that the suspension of debate of the MTEF/FSP had stalled the ministry’s plan to transmit the 2017 budget to the legislature.
Mr. Ndume expressed displeasure that the executive arm had resorted to blaming the legislature over the avoidable delay.
He said, “As the Leader of this Senate and I am responsible for presenting communications, bills from the Executive. You will recall that we received the MTEF on 30th September. Instead of submitting it according to law not later than 1st of September, that is not even the problem.
“I went through and the copies have been circulated. I talked to some experts. Even in this chamber, we have people that you can call experts. If you look at this document that they call MTEF, it is empty. And it doesn’t contain anything. If you have nothing how do you consider nothing?”
Mr. Ndume said on October 19 he wrote Mr. Udoma and his Finance counterpart, Kemi Adeosun, seeking the details of the MTEF/FSP but that he was yet to get any response from the duo.
He said he invited both ministers to meet with the Senate on November 1 to review the MTEF from holistic perspective but that they failed to turn up.
He further explained that in the letter he requested that a comprehensive report on the implementation of the 2016 budget as of third quarter as well as the fiscal rates taxes and charges used to derive the projected revenue.
“Up till now, there is no communication to that,” the senate leader lamented.
Mr. Ndume warned that the legislature could not afford to begin the 2017 budget process with blame game.
He said, “We cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with this blame game. This Senate is Nigerian Senate. We have the opposition that is co-operating with us and we have the majority in this Senate.
“So, it is not like we are working against the government but we know what we are doing. And we should do it right.
“When they bring nothing and we ask for something so that we will do it properly, they run to the newspaper to start blaming the National Assembly.”
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said he called Mr. Udoma on phone to discuss the matter and that the minister was ready to retract what he reportedly said about the MTEF and the blame on the legislature.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Gas, Albert Bassey, also said, “I called the Minister of Budget and he confirmed that he was quoted out of context that he will address this.”
On his part, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, gave assurance that the Senate was ready to consider the 2017 budget provided things were done right.
“We are ready to take the budget presentation anytime … in doing so, the executive must be reminded that everything must be done right. All arms of government must live to its responsibility. The issue of blame game should be put behind us,” he said.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr. Udoma, denied snubbing the Senate.
In a statement by his media aide, Akpandem James, Mr. Udoma expressed surprise at the accusation by Mr. Ndume.
He said the proposed meeting with the Senate was eventually moved by agreement; and wondered why Mr. Ndume would go on the floor of the upper legislative chamber to say he failed to turn up, when he was aware that the meeting was rescheduled.
“Senator Udoma was equally surprised that even after the newspaper that published the story, which quoted him as blaming the National Assembly for the delay in the presentation of the 2017 budget, has published that the reporter never spoke with the Minister, Senator Ndume still went ahead to make an issue out of the matter on the floor of the Senate,” his aide said.