President Muhammadu Buhari may be in for another showdown with members of the National Assembly on resumption of plenary in January if the executive fails to release funds appropriated to the federal parliament in the 2018 budget.
Some of the federal lawmakers, who spoke with our correspondents on Friday, alleged that the executive arm of government had withheld their money as a form of punishment.
The National Assembly increased its budget from N125bn allocated to it in 2017 to N139bn in 2018. They, however, said rather than implement the N139bn allocated to them in 2018, the executive was still paying them based on the N125bn appropriated for them in the 2017 national budget.
The development worsened penultimate week, forcing the House of Representatives to summon the Minister of Finance, Aisha Mohammed, to explain the delay in the release of the funds, categorised as first-line charge.
But the minister attributed the non-implementation of the 2018 National Assembly budget to a gross revenue shortfall recorded by the Federal Government in the current fiscal year.
Obviously not satisfied with the minister’s explanation, the representatives demanded immediate full payment of the monthly release to the assembly put at N11bn monthly.
They lamented that the executive was still releasing N10bn monthly to the federal parliament based on the 2017 appropriation despite the fact that the 2018 national budget was assented to in June this year.
The Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Lasun Yusuf, said, “Clearly, the Appropriation Act has been breached; the law has been breached. Each month, the National Assembly receives money less by N1.2bn.”
A member of the House of Representatives from Ondo State, who spoke with one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said his colleagues booed the President while presenting the 2019 budget proposal last week to show their grievances.
He said, “We will show him (Buhari) our true colours in January if he fails to release our money in full. He is deliberately treating us like this to ensure that we have nothing to mobilise our constituents for the February 16 elections.
“The Buhari government has also failed to fund our constituency projects, thereby depriving us of the opportunity to count them as part of our achievements.” Another member from Oyo State, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that his colleagues were warming up for a showdown with the President, if he failed to fund their budget in full.
He stated, “That is exactly why we booed him when he came for the budget presentation and he should expect more in the New Year. As it is now, we cannot meet our obligations to our constituents, staff and National Assembly maintenance.”
According to investigations by our correspondents, based on the new arrangement, a senator now goes home with N11m as monthly running cost while their counterparts in the House collect N8m.
A senator from the North-West confirmed off record that the National Assembly budget was not being properly funded, adding that the development was affecting their financial obligations.
The senator, representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, in March, revealed that he and his colleagues received N13.5m monthly as “running cost.” He said the amount did not include a N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances, which they also received.
A legislative source, also in March this year, confided in SUNDAY PUNCH that because of their high number (360), members of the House received slightly lower amount for the running cost than senators.
The source had said, “For the money to go round, the Reps usually take lower than senators. Depending on the flow of allocation into the account of the National Assembly, the running cost for members is between N9.3m and N12m. There are times though when what is available is N8m.”
The senator representing Zamfara Central Senatorial District, Kabir Marafa, said some of his colleagues actually complained about the inadequate funding of their constituency projects when President Buhari was presenting the budget.
He, however, directed one of our correspondents to the Committee on Senate Services to know the implementation of the National Assembly budgets. Attempts to speak with the Chairman, Committee on Senate Services, Ibrahim Gobir, failed as calls made to his mobile did not connect and he had yet to respond to a text message sent to his telephone as of the time of filing this report.
The Deputy Majority Leader of the House, Mr Idris Wase, who admitted that the legislature was underfunded, said it was due to revenue shortfall recorded by the Federal Government.
Wase said, “Yes, there was an increase in the budget to take care of other issues regarding the funding of the welfare of workers and infrastructural needs of the institution.