Samuel Ogidan; Ahmed Musa
Abuja – The debate on the 2020 budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly on Wednesday took party line as opposition senators kicked against sustainability of the budget.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) lawmakers on their part reacted, describing it as a budget of continuity that would help the government to realise its long dream of diversifying the economy.
Recall that Buhari had on Tuesday presented a budget of N10.33 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly.
Leading debate on the budget, the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi, took a swipe at the budget, noting that not only is the budget very low to GDP ratio, but also very low revenue to GDP ratio.
He said that when viewed in terms of per capita, “the 2020 capital expenditure of N2.46 trillion is paltry. The pace of funds releases to the MDAs in the 2019 budget is contrary to efforts to strengthen the country’s full recovery from the recent recession.”
While the Senate Minority Leader, Eyinnaya Abaribe, said the Appropriation Bill was a budget of taxation based on 7.5 percent VAT and other increments, Gabriel Suswan expressed worry over the VAT that had been moved from 5 percent to 7.5 percent.
Abaribe noted that debt servicing is higher and projected growth 1.9 percent less the growth of 2.7 percent.
He said even though they want to work with the executive, they must work with fact, noting that the budget is not sustainable.
Suswan (PDP-Benue North-East) said that the budget was very ambitious as it intended to address the infrastructural deficit.
He said that the economy had contracted to a level that the Senate needed to critically address some very “germane and pregnant issues.”
He said: “Along with the appropriation submitted by the president, was a Financial Bill and that bill has five thematic areas.
“I am worried about the area that talks about revenue. I am worried with that because Value Added Tax (VAT) that had been moved from 5 percent to 7.5 percent is one of the sources that we intend to raise revenue, finance critical areas of education and the health sector.
“In the same budget that we propose 2.93 Gross Domestic Product growth, we have also taken these policies, policies that will further contract the economy.
“This is because if we say that VAT will be moved from 5 percent to 7.5 percent, the exemptions from the VAT are small because most of the aggregate economic activities are small business enterprises.”
He explained that most of the small business enterprises would be unable to address the issue of 7.5 percent VAT, adding, “7.5 percent VAT is on the high side and has exempted mostly food items.”
On the sectoral allocations, Suswam said that the money for education and health was insufficient, adding that to address infrastructure from a holistic point of view, “outside of roads and power; education and health should have also been enhanced.”
Jibril Barau, chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, said that the sectoral allocation of N262 billion to Works and Housing, and Power, N127 billion, showed that government was serious in providing the necessary infrastructure to drive and sustain the economy.
He said that government was serious to actualise its long term objective of diversifying the economy.
Ike Ekweremadu (PDP-Enugu West) said that he was pleased with the emphasis on road sector development and the marginal increase in allocation to Human Rights Commission.
“These are indeed very commendable steps. The president has done his best by the presentation of the Appropriation Bill pursuant to section 81 of the constitution.
“Now the job is left with us to consider and make appropriate adjustments. We cannot blame the president or anybody else to fail in this responsibility of adjusting the proposal where necessary.
“Once the budget is passed, the rest is implementation.”
He said that in order to ensure full implementation of the budget, revenue generation must be emphasised and certainly not at the expense of ordinary Nigerians.
Ekweremadu said that there was the need to block all leakages, adding, “I am happy that the Federal Government is now clear on their position on IPPIS that Federal Government agencies on the civil service of the federation must be captured under IPPIS.”
He further said that there was the need to show more interest in mineral sector development.
“We need to remove so much emphasis on oil and gas and see what we can do to take advantage of all the deposits of solid minerals in our country,” he said.
Supporting President Buhari on VAT increment, Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central) said that Nigeria has the lowest VAT in Africa, adding that the previous government wanted to increase it but for political reason did not.
He said the increase of VAT by the present administration is to improve infrastructure, adding that those criticizing it that the increment will affect the masses are wrong.
Aliero urged his colleagues to accept the increment, even as he commended President Buhari for increasing the foreign reserve.
While Kabiru Gaya said that the benchmark should be moved from $57 to $60 and that private sector should be encouraged to raise money for road projects. Okey Jev (Benue-North West) expressed concern that the president didn’t say anything about the state of the nation.
Noting that for the first time debt servicing was more than the capital budget, the senator, however, said that if the Orosanye committee recommended the merger of ministries, he sees no reason in creating new ministries and that ministries should be merged.
Querying the N10.33 trillion budget, George Thomson Sekibo (Rivers East) said that the president has to fast-track development.
He advised that the government should cut its coat according to available materials and not according to the size, adding that the capital projects which affect the people are not taken serious and that there is need to redirect the budget.
Gbajabiamila Shuts Down Dissent As Reps Start Debate On 2020 Budget
Meanwhile, Femi Gbajabiamila, speaker, House of Representatives, on Wednesday foreclosed any possibility of opposition to the 2020 budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday without attaching the details.
This was as the speaker ruled one of his colleagues, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), out of order for raising issues of urgent public importance.
Chinda had pointed out that the presentation as made by the president on Tuesday violated not only the constitution but also the House standing rules.
President Buhari had on Tuesday during the joint session of the National Assembly, stated that what he was presenting were highlights of the budget as his ministers would come with the details at a later date.
“During this address, I will present highlights of our budget proposals for the next fiscal year. The Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning will provide full details of these proposals subsequently,” the president had said on Tuesday.
However, when the speaker called on the House Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado Doguwa (APC, Kano), to move for debates on the general principles of the Money Bill, Chinda, an opposition member, moved a point of order challenging the budget presentation.
Citing Order 12, Rule 19 Sub-Rule 1(a), page 73, paragraph two of the House standing order, Chinda noted that accepting the budget estimates as laid by the president without details of expenditures and projected incomes was against the House rules.
Urged by the speaker to read out the provision of the said rule, Chinda read: “During each year, there shall be introduced into the House, an Appropriation Bill which shall contain the estimated financial requirements for expenditure on revenue accounts on all the services of the government for the succeeding financial year.
“The details of these financial requirements shall be contained in the estimates which shall be presented at the same time.”
Chinda noted that since the president, by his own admission, violated the rules, the onus was on the House to correct the anomaly by insisting on getting the details before members could be asked to express their opinions via debates.
At this point, Speaker Gbajabiamila said: “Hon. Chinda, you’ve been in this House long enough to know that when we take bills for second reading, what do we do? We debate the general principles, and not the details. So, on that note, I rule you out of order.”
The point of order was thereby rejected and the House leader was asked to move for the commencement of debates on the Money Bill.
However, during the debate no dissenting views were aired, obviously taking cues from what had transpired earlier involving Chinda and the speaker.
While the House Minority Leader, Godwin Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), was on the floor when the drama unfolded, his deputy, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu), was at a press conference on the need to fix the Enugu International Airport.
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