Barely two days after it rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s bid to borrow $29.96 billion, the Senate yesterday dumped the president’s 2017 to 2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).The upper chamber described the fiscal document which is a prelude to the presentation of the 2017 budget as “completely empty” not worthy of its consideration.
Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, who tore the document into shreds, drew the attention of the Senate to a publication where the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma reportedly blamed the National Assembly for the inability of the Presidency to present the 2017 budget in October 2016 as promised.
Ndume who relied on Order 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules, prayed the Senate to resolve to call Udoma to order.
He noted that it was unfortunate that the Presidency had started once again the blame game that rubbished the 2016 budget.
He said that it was wrong for the Presidency to give Nigerians the impression that the National Assembly was responsible for the avoidable delay in presentation of the 2017 budget especially when it was obvious that the MTEF submitted to the National Assembly was empty.
The Senate Leader noted that when the leadership of the Senate discovered that the MTEF was empty, Udoma was invited to brief the leadership on grey areas of the MTEF/FSP on Tuesday.
He said that the Senate leadership was stunned when Udoma failed to honourthe invitation.
He also said that the minister failed to submit vital documents the Senate requested from him.
The Senate Leader who displayed a copy of the MTEF repeatedly said furiously,“this document is empty, it is completely empty and you cannot build something on nothing.”
Ndume said, “The report with the headline which says, “Budget 2017: Blame National Assembly for failure to meet to meet October target”.
“The Minister of Budget and National Planning Udoma Udoma stated that the suspension of the debate of the MTEF/FSP which lays the foundation for the budget has stalled the Ministry’s plan to transmit the 2017 budget to the National Assembly.
“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?
“Going through and knowing that it is empty, on October 19, 2016 I wrote to the Minister of Budget and National Planning. I crave your indulgence to highlight some of the contents and in the third paragraph, I stated: “To enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from holistic perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday 1st November. The minister failed to turn up.
“Before then, I said you are requested to please send the following documents ahead of the meeting because that is what will make us have something to consider: draft copy of Medium Term Development Plan upon which the 2017 to 2019 MTEF is founded.
“Secondly, I requested that a comprehensive report on the implementation of 2016 budget as of third quarter. And thirdly, fiscal rates taxes, charges etc used to derive the projected revenue.
“Finally, a report on the structure, composition of the debt, funding, sources, how the borrowed funds are to be spent as well as repayment plan and schedule.
“Up till now, there is no communication to that.
“Finally, I have a copy of the request for approval of the Federal Government 2016 to 2018 external borrowing plan, which was thrown out last.
“This is the document that we received. The first paragraph says: “I wish to refer to the above subject and submit the attached draft of Federal Government 2016-2018 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan for consideration and early approval by the National Assembly to ensure prompt implementation of the projects”.
“I don’t know whether the Senate President has the attached document that you did not circulate to us. But as far as I’m concerned there is no attachment here.
“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.”
Also a copy of the letter dated October 19, 2016, and signed by the Leader of the Senate, Senator Ndume, requested Udoma to submit some documents before the scheduled date of briefing the Senate leadership.
Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki, who appeared not to have found the unfolding development funny, informed the Senate that he personally called Udoma over the issue.
Saraki said that the Minister has denied blaming the National Assembly for the delay in presenting the 2017 budget.
He said that the Senate should be mindful of issues that could breed controversy ahead of the presentation of the 2017 budget.
Saraki said, “I saw this article too. I had taken up the Minister and he denied the article. He said he was going to debunk it. Be that as it may, I think the matter should not be stressed.
“The Leader has made the point that this issue of blame game is totally unnecessary. And if he (Udoma) that he is withdrawing, that means he has said it as well that the National Assembly is not responsible for any delay.”
Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, assured that the National Assembly was ready to receive the 2017 budget from the Presidency any day.
Ekweremadu said, “Now that the statement has either been denied or withdrawn, we need to tell Nigerians the truth. We are here on a full job. 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.”
Senate spokesperson, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi on his part, wondered “if this government is not padded with people who want to frustrate the government.”
Senator Abdullahi also warned about the danger of starting the 2017 budget with controversy.