The presidency may have finally caved in to the demands by members of the National Assembly for the release of N100 billion meant for constituency projects before they consider and approve any request from the executive arm of government.
Several legislative approvals sought by President Muhammadu Buhari have suffered defeats or delays in recent weeks, particularly the request for the $30 billion external borrowing plan, the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), and virement of N180 billion in the 2016 budget.
THISDAY gathered that so far, about 50 per cent of the constituency funds have been quietly released through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, National Commission for Refugees and other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government.
Sources told THISDAY that the leadership of the National Assembly secured commitments from the presidency for the release of the funds.
“Recall that the Senate President met with the president several times last week. So the commencement of the release of the funds would smoothen the path for the approvals being sought by the executive,” a source told THISDAY.
The source, however, noted that while the lawmakers may soft pedal on their initial stance, many of them remain sceptical that the funds would be completely released by the finance ministry.
“The sour relations between both arms of government lingers, so both view each other with suspicion and do not trust each other. Many of the lawmakers are however not convinced that all the money will be released, particularly when considering utterances of the executive.
“Maybe only some lawmakers will eventually benefit,” the source explained.
Another source, who confirmed that the constituency funds were being released, however noted that the executive arm of government is currently making efforts to repair its fractured relations with the legislature.
“Before now, only Dogara (Speaker) and Gbajabiamila seemed to be the sort of balancing forces in the legislature, but obviously the Senate carries more weight.
“If the president cannot have his men there, he has to find a way to work with whoever is there. The House alone cannot pass his requests,” the source said.
Indications that the lawmakers may be somewhat appeased emerged as the leadership of the House of Representatives yesterday passed a motion mandating its Committee on Appropriation to consider the request for the virement of N180 billion.
Other committees to which the virement are related to would also serve as sub-committees of the Appropriation Committee to consider the request. These include the Committees on Nigerian Air Force, Youth Development, Niger Delta and Works, among others.
The motion was sponsored by the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who recalled that the communication from the president requesting the virement of the funds was read on the floor of the House on October 25.
Presiding, Deputy Speaker Yussuff Sulaimon Lasun put the question on whether the prayer should be accepted. The motion was not subjected to debate as is normally the practice.
A few lawmakers uttered the “ayes” and Lasun hit the gravel before allowing any dissenting voice to register a vote.
No protests however followed the action, indicating that some lobbying by the House leadership might have worked.
Gbajabiamila was observed also engaging several members, including key members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in discussions before he read the motion.
The request would however be returned to the floor of the House for consideration of the committee’s report. At this stage, the request could be accepted or rejected.
Presenting the motion, Gbajabiamila stated that N180 billion appropriated for special intervention (recurrent) and special intervention (capital) is to fund some critical recurrent and capital items.
Gbajabiamila added that the request is intended to address shortfalls in the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation scheme, and military operations in the North-east, among other projects.
“The Nigerian Air Force needs to cover the foreign exchange differentials in the procurement of its critical equipment and augment the contingency vote, and also to provide for the inadequacy in the provision for the NYSC programme in the 2016, among others,” he said.
Gbajabiamila further explained that several MDAs presented issues pertaining to salary shortfalls as it affects those that are not listed on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).
Also, the House resolved to summon the Director General of the Budget Office, Mr. Ben Akabueze, over his directive to heads of agencies of government to remit treasury capital funds already released to them.
The DG allegedly directed the management of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to remit N8 billion to the treasury out of N10.3 billion released for the execution of capital projects, leaving the agency with N2.3 billion only.
He is expected to appear before an ad hoc committee to explain what the House said was a worrisome trend.
The resolution followed a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Agbedi Frederick (Bayelsa PDP), who highlighted the compelling need for FERMA to repair and maintain dilapidated roads across the nation.
He recalled that the sum of N21.8 billion was appropriated for the agency in the 2016 budget, of which N10.3 billion was released in October.
The lawmaker added that the agency had prioritised its capital projects, and contractors who had submitted tenders were bound to lose by the directive of the Budget Office.
“The directive of the DG, Budget Office of the Federation cannot be said to be virement, as virement can only be approved by the National Assembly, which has not done so in this case,” Agbedi said.
He warned that the planned execution of capital projects by agencies would be crippled if the directive is allowed to stand.
Just like the House, the Senate yesterday also commenced legislation on the president’s request for virement of N180.8 billion from the 2016 budget.
Accordingly, the Senate mandated its Committees on Appropriation and Finance to expeditiously treat the president’s request and submit its report within one week for final approval.
Buhari had asked the National Assembly to approve the virement of N180,839,254,439 billion from N500 billion appropriated for the Special Intervention Programme in the 2016 budget to finance other key projects.