National Assembly sets November 28 target for budget passage

The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, made this known when he addressed journalists after the budget presentation by President Muhammadu Buhari. He stated that the lawmakers had the desire to reverse the budget calendar to January-December.

Kalu said, “We are committed to realizing this switch from what it used to be to what it ought to be – January-December budget calendar. Luckily enough, the House has inaugurated all the standing committees. The House, in order, to achieve this objective of reversing the calendar will be suspending the plenary – not suspending the House – to enable us to go into our various committees to interact with the MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies. To achieve that, we have set up a road map.”

The House’ spokesman said while the appropriation bill was presented on Tuesday, the House would debate the general principles of the budget on Wednesday and Thursday, after which it would be passed for second reading and referred to the standing committees, also known as Sub-Committees on Appropriations.

President Muhammadu Buhari laying the 2020 budget estimates. Photo 2: L-R: Buhari; President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Dr Ahmad Lawan; and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, during the budget presentation at the National Assembly in Abuja

Kalu also said the House would adjourn plenary on Thursday till October 30, 2019, to allow the committees to hold budget defense sessions with Federal Government ministries, departments and agencies.

He added that the leadership of the House would meet with the leaders of the standing committees at 7pm on Thursday to discuss the road map for timely passage of the budget.

The lawmakers also said the National Assembly would hold a public hearing on the budget between October 21 and 22, 2019.

Kalu said, “From Wednesday, the 30th of October to Tuesday, the 5th of November, 2019, we are going to have submission and defense of budget reports to the Committee on Appropriations. It is important to note here that the termination date for submission of budget and defense of the same budget will be on the 5th of November. After the 5th of November, we will not accept any submission or defense by any MDA.”

“From Wednesday, the 6th of November to the 27th of November, 2019, we are going to have the collation and harmonization of reports by the Appropriations Committee. It is our expectation – and we are working towards that with this road map we have set – that on the 28th of November, 2019, we will have the presentation of the report by the Committees on Appropriations to the Senate and the House. What it means is that our expectation is that we want to be done with this exercise on the 28th of November, 2019. We will be done with the budget.”

“Our idea is that from the beginning of December 2019, the budget is ready. You are aware that if we are able to achieve this by the first week of December or the last week of November, we will be on time to make sure that from January 2020, we will kick-start with our new budget of 2020. It is a great achievement.”

Meanwhile, the Presidency dismissed the fears by Nigerians that the increment of the Value Added Tax from 5 per cent to 7.2 per cent, as reflected in the 2020 budget, would cause more hardship for them.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Reps), Mr Umar el-Yakub, who addressed journalists after the budget presentation, said the revenue from the higher VAT would be used to develop the health and education sectors.

When asked if the Presidency was aware that VAT increment could worsen the plight of Nigerians, el-Yakub said, “No.” He added, “The government is proposing a marginal increment of the VAT to finance the budget. As you heard Mr President say, most of the money would be going to the state governments. However, to explain further, there was a long list; Mr President took time to read out the list of those exempted from the VAT increment. And certainly, those that have been exempted, which are essentially food, medicine, education and health care, are actually those that would have affected the ordinary Nigerians.”

“So, the straight answer to your question will be no. I believe that it will not worsen the plight of the ordinary Nigerians. As a matter of fact, considering that the revenue generated would be invested in infrastructure, it would further enhance the welfare and wellbeing of ordinary Nigerians.” El-Yakub also stated that the legislature would approve the new VAT rate before the executive would implement it.

Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress on Tuesday said the proposed 2020 budget of N10.33trn would help to fight insurgency, revamp power sector, rail and road infrastructure, among others.

It commended the executive and legislative arms for their commitment to ensure the return of the passage of budget to January-December cycle.

The APC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, said the budget was aimed at consolidating the gains the Buhari administration had made in revamping power, rail and road infrastructure.

It stated, “It will help in the fight against emerging crimes, insurgency and rehabilitation, rebuilding of the North-East particularly through the newly-established North-East Development Commission, among other critical interventions.”

Quoting the President’s budget speech, the statement added, “There is a renewed government’s commitment to plugging revenue leakage with the continued strict implementation of the Treasury Single Account. We congratulate the leaders of the two chambers of the 9th National Assembly –Senate President Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila – for creating a convivial environment for the budget presentation exercise, a welcome departure from the usual tense and adversarial atmosphere of the previous four years.”

Also, the Buhari Media Organization said the budget would go a long way in ensuring that the country finally began implementing its national budget from the first day of the fiscal year.

In a statement by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and the Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the BMO stated that the move was in line with Buhari administration’s goal of leaving the country better than it met it.

The statement said, “For far too long, Nigeria has had a budget cycle that runs contrary to what is obtainable in developed economies and other countries on a growth trajectory.”

According to the BMO, in line with his pledge to effect a quantum change in the polity, the President has proved what three predecessors failed to ensure normal budget cycle.

The BMO noted that by announcing that emphasis would be on completion of ongoing projects rather than starting new ones, the President has shown his readiness to depart from previous trends where annual budgets focused on new projects.

It also called on the Federal lawmakers to ensure that the passage of the 2020 Appropriation Bill in good time to ensure that the Buhari administration’s goal of institutionalizing the January to December budget cycle was realized.

Source: Punch NG

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