N37bn budget padding: I have no problem with NASS — Buhari

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…Says no disagreement can alter dynamic relationship between presidency, NASS

…Orders Amendment Budget Proposal be prepared, submitted to parliament

Abimbola Abatta and Uthman Salami

President Muhammadu Buhari, in reaction to the N37billion budget padding, has declared that contrary to insinuations making the rounds, there is no animosity between the National Assembly and him.

He also pledged not to truncate and tamper with the dynamic relationship between the presidency and the National Assembly.

According to him, the presidency and “the parliament under Lawal and Gbajabiamila are committed to a good neighbourly relationship and this or any other disagreement between the two arms of government will not alter the dynamics of that relationship.”

This is even as the President directed that an Amendment Budget Proposal should be prepared and submitted to the Parliament once they return from their recess.

President Buhari disclosed the above on Sunday while debunking the claim that the presidency is “angry” at the Parliament.

Recall that Nigerian NewsDirect had last Friday reported how Buhari faulted the National Assembly over the alterations made to the 2022 Executive Budget proposal.

It was learnt that the National Assembly had reduced provisions made for 10,733 projects while 6,576 new projects were introduced into the budget.

Quering the development, Buhari said some of the “worrisome” changes made by NASS bordered on increase in projected FGN independent revenue by N400 billion; reduction in the provision for sinking fund to retire maturing bonds by N22 billion; reduction of the provisions for the non-regular allowances of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Navy by N15 billion and N5 billion respectively.

However, a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media & Publicity, Garba Shehu said, “Presidency wishes to clear the air regarding the widely-viewed/reported episode on Friday, December 31st at the State House during the signing of the 2022 Budget and Finance Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari; specifically on the insertion in the 2022 Appropriation Act, of 6,576 new schemes worth about N37 billion by the National Assembly.”

It read further, “While it is true that the President expressed disagreement with these and many of the other alterations, including the “reduction in the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce ‘Empowerment Projects’, innumerable lies are being spread about the President being “angry” at, had ‘blasted’ or ‘lashed out’ at the Parliament. This cannot be farther from the truth.

“As the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan said shortly after the budget-signing ceremony, disagreements as the ones listed by the President are normal in the everyday Executive-Parliamentary relationship because, as he explained, ‘executive and legislative judgements don’t always have to be the same.’

“While we note that there are people who are trying to create a fiasco between the two arms of government on account of the budget, we assure that they will, in the end, be disappointed.

“The Executive and the 9th National Assembly have since moved away from the wild, destructive political games of the past, conducting themselves in a way that puts national interest supreme in their decisions.

“We doubt if there is a patriotic citizen who wants to see the return of the operating environment engendered by the 8th Senate when an elected government was held in chains, held hostage to the desperate political ambitions of a clique, and the public denied needed services including that which impinged on national security.

“Happily, the 9th National Assembly is more about policy than politics.

“Under the constitution, both arms of government are coequal and at the same time, independent and interdependent. The rule of the game is cooperation and the President, as a democrat fully accepts this.”

On the rationale for assenting to the 2022 Appropriation Act, the press statement revealed: “Mr. President was clear and candid in expressing his reservations with the numerous changes to the 2022 Budget made by the National Assembly, which would hamper its implementation.

“However, to respond to critics that question why assent to the Budget if it was so severely tampered with, we wish to respond as follows:

“(1) Need to Save Value-Additive Projects, Programs & Policies:

“Although over 10,733 projects were reduced and 6,576 new projects were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly, there are tens of thousands more provisions in the 2022 Budget, all of which, when efficiently and effectively implemented, will have significant developmental impact on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Nigerians.

“Given Mr. President’s commitment to improving the lot of the Common Man, it was felt that it would not be wise to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Ongoing Capital Projects, Critical Recurrent Votes, Priority New Projects – all feature in the 2022 Budget and Mr. President’s forbearance in assenting to the Budget will save these provisions from implementation delays and other challenges.

“(2) Dealing with Modern Democratic Norms:

“President Buhari is a democrat who deeply believes in the supremacy of the Constitution, with its checks and balances across the three arms of Government.

“In terms of the passage of legislations like the Appropriation Act and other Money Bills, the National Assembly has equal responsibilities with the Executive.

“Indeed, if Mr. President had declined assent to the 2022 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly has powers to override the President’s veto if they can drum up a 2/3 majority vote. This is the constitution.

“Happily, this situation has not arisen during the tenure of Mr. President’s Administration, and the Executive’s relationship with the Leadership of the 9th National Assembly is much improved over what happened with the 8th National Assembly.

“It is on account of his confidence in the strength of this excellent working relationship that Mr.  President has directed that an Amendment Budget Proposal should be prepared and submitted to the National Assembly, once they return from their recess.

“It is hoped that the National Assembly will carefully consider and approve the 2022 Amendment Budget Proposals, once presented to them in due course, for the benefit of all Nigerians.

“It is important therefore that, in place of ‘anger’ or confrontation, President Buhari showed the democracy-loving side of his personality as he signed the budget at the same time calling for dialogue with the parliament to resolve the contentious issues.”