Controversy over budget’s whereabouts
What is the fate of Budget 2016? Contrary to the promise by the National Assembly that it will make its consideration a priority on resumption from the Christmas/New Year break, it was not discussed yesterday.
Both chambers yesterday returned from recess. The House shifted work on the budget till next week. Instead, it gave priority to its bills.
The Senate held a stormy session over alleged “disappearance” of the hard copies of the budget proposal submitted to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, last year.
The senators were said to have been “troubled” that the fiscal document presented suddenly developed wings and “disappeared”.
The “missing document” was said to have been the subject of a closed session summoned by Senate President Bukola Saraki, shortly after the lawmakers reconvened from their break.
Copies of the budget proposal were not distributed to the lawmakers before they vacated went on break.
The disappearance of the hard copies of the document was said to have been disclosed by Senate leader Ali Ndume during a closed session that lasted over one hour, 30 minutes.
Reporters were not briefed after the session but Ndume roundly dismissed insinuations that the fiscal document was missing.
Ndume wondered how anybody could say that the budget proposal was missing when the document is not money.
The alleged disappearance of the document is coming a few days after news of the withdrawal of the budget estimates made the rounds.
In fact, an official in the Presidency also hinted of a likely retrieval of the document for some amendments.
But Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters Senator Ita Enang dismissed insinuations that the budget proposal was withdrawn.
Consideration of the fiscal document was, however, not listed in the Senate Order Paper yesterday.
It was gathered that senators at closed session mandated the Senate President to liaise with President Buhari on the missing document.
Senate President Saraki was at the Aso Villa for a brief meeting with President Buhari.
Saraki, who came out from the President’s office after about 30 minutes, declined to speak with reporters.
When asked by reporters about the document’s whereabouts, Saraki exclaimed: “Ha, ha, ha”, and jumped into his vehicle.
It was gathered that Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators accused the Presidency of being behind the disappearance of the documents.
But All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers were said to have taken exception to the accusation as they considered it uncalled for.
Ndume said: “Budget cannot be missing. One copy can be laid; it is a symbolic copy. The budget will be in custody of both chambers; it cannot be stolen; it cannot be missing. Once the budget is laid in the National Assembly, it has become the property of the National Assembly.
“Saraki’s visit to Villa is for Senate to know the President’s priority. We want to see how we can fast-track the passage of the budget before the end of February. What is before the Senate is proposal. Once the President signs it, it cannot be amended. We can turn the budget upside down; it cannot be missing. If it is online, you can produce the budget; how can it be missing?”