Budget Not Missing, Reps Confirm
The House of Representatives has described as strange rumour on Tuesday claiming that the 2016 Budget proposal was missing in the National Assembly There were reports earlier in the day that the document had been declared missing in the National Assembly. But the House said such report was strange to its members. The House said as of Tuesday (yesterday), 400 copies of the budget had been produced and ready for distribution to members on Wednesday (today). The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, told The PUNCH that the document was intact at the lower chamber.
He said, “Our budget is intact. As a matter of fact, we have already produced 400 copies. They will be distributed to members tomorrow (Wednesday). “So, this talk about the budget missing is strange to us.”
Meanwhile, the Presidency also on Tuesday said President Muhammadu Buhari had not withdrawn the 2016 budget from the National Assembly. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said this in his reaction to enquiries made on the whereabouts of the document. Shehu said the executive arm of government delivered copies of the budget in hundreds to the two chambers of the National Assembly. He said since the document had ceased being the property of the executive the moment Buhari presented it to the National Assembly, enquiries about its whereabouts should be directed to appropriate quarters.
He said, “Nobody, except the President, can withdraw the budget. “As far as we know, he hasn’t done that. “The copies in their hundreds have been delivered to both chambers of the National Assembly. “By tradition, once the budget is submitted, it ceases to be our property. “Enquiries as to where it is should be directed to the appropriate quarters.”
The Presidency’s denial came after Senate President Bukola Saraki met behind closed doors with Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Saraki’s visit came a few minutes after the news broke that the 2016 budget document had been declared missing in the National Assembly. Decked in a white agbada, the Senate president emerged from the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes, into the waiting hands of State House correspondents, who had already gathered in front of the President’s Office. He exchanged pleasantries with the Director-General of the Department of State Services, Mr. Lawal Daura, who was also in the Presidential Villa to confer with Buhari. As soon he was asked to comment on the report that the budget document was missing, Saraki exclaimed, “Ha! ha! ha!” He quickly rushed into his waiting car without answering the question. Buhari had on December 22, 2015 presented a N6.08tn budget for the fiscal year 2016 before a joint session of the National Assembly. It was not clear whether the issue came up during Buhari’s meeting with Saraki. It was gathered that the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, reportedly told his colleagues at a closed session in the Senate that both the soft and hard copies of the 2016 budget were missing from the upper chamber. Ndume, according to some senators, who spoke with our correspondent strictly on condition of anonymity, lamented that the development would not allow the Senate to go ahead with the necessary legislative process on the fiscal document at its plenary on Tuesday. Our correspondent learnt that the senators expressed shock when the news of the missing document was broken by Ndume. This was said to have led to a sharp disagreement between the members of the ruling All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party members in the chamber. Ndume, at the 90-minute closed session, was said to have lamented further that the consideration of the federal fiscal document, which had passed first reading before the senators went on break, would have to wait until the chamber was in possession of new version of the budget proposal. Some members of the PDP in the red chamber allegedly accused the ruling APC Federal Government of being the brains behind the mysterious disappearance of the document. It was learnt that the lawmakers mandated Saraki to immediately liaise with Buhari, with a view to obtaining fresh copies of the document so that the federal legislators would start work on it in earnest. Its Committee on Appropriation, headed by Senator Danjuma Goje, was also directed to contact the Presidency through the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, to facilitate fresh copies of the document. Repeated calls put across to the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, were not responded to while text messages sent to his mobile telephone were not replied as of the time of filing this report. Also, calls to the mobile telephone of Goje did not connect. But Ndume later told journalists in Abuja on Tuesday that the document was neither missing nor withdrawn from the National Assembly, a statement that only helped to compound an already confusing scenario. Ndume said, “Budget cannot be missing. One copy can be laid, it is a symbolic copy. The budget will be in the 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 the Vila 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 a proposal. Once the President signs it, it cannot be amended; we can turn the budget upside down. If you can produce the budget online, how can it be missing?’’ – Punch.