By Ignatius Okorocha
The Senate on Tuesday suspended debate on the N10.509 trillion revised 2020 budget forwarded to it for consideration by President Muhamnadu Buhari based on non-inclusion of N186 billion provided for health sector.
The upper legislative chamber had in giving the request expeditious consideration, carried out debate on general principles of the fresh proposal along with those of the revised 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper ( FSP) the very week they received them which led to passage of MTEF/FSP last week Tuesday.
Consequently, effort to receive report of the already considered revised 2020 budget from its committee on Appropriation for possible passage suffered a setback at the Tuesday plenary.
Trouble started when the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, called on the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Jibrin Barau (APC Kano North), to lay the report as listed on the Order Paper.
Senator Barau on the strength of recognition given to him for that purpose, stunned the Senate by saying that the Budget Office failed to capture the entire N500 billion intervention fund for COVID-19 in the appropriation bill.
According to him, while N314 billion is captured as part of the intervention fund, the balance of N186 billion proposed for health sector, was not captured.
“Upon making such observation at committee level, we quickly inform the Budget Office of the omission last week.
“Though the Budget Office as part of excuses given for the omission said since the entire N500 billion was captured in the MTEF/ FSP documents already passed by the Senate, that there was no need for it to be fully captured in the budget.
“But we rejected that excuse in line with sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution which empowers the National Assembly to appropriate every single Kobo for the executive before spending.
“On the strength of our superior argument, the budget office admitted wrongness of the omission but promised to write a letter to us to be used as evidence of helping them to include it.
“But the expected letter never came till now, making us not to be ready for presentation of any report now.
“If by the end of today, the office still refuses to send the letter to us, we shall be left with no other alternative than to print out our report today based on proposals contained in the Appropriation bill for consideration in plenary tomorrow”, he said.
Angered by the development, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan said: “The Senate hereby advise those responsible for the budget documents and expected letter to do the needful without further delay. They need to be meticulous and responsible.
“The National Assembly cannot be a destination where lack of efficiency on somebody’s job would be entertained.
“If we put figures without documents, they will accuse us of padding. We must have the documents printed today unfailingly, lay it tomorrow and give it final consideration on Thursday”, he said.