…C’ttee rejects INEC’s 189bn request
…Electoral umpire to defend budget today
A glimmer of hope on the early resolution of the impasse over the passage by the National Assembly of President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for the appropriation of funds for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the 2019 polls emerged on Monday, following the adoption by the joint Committee on Electoral Matters of the Senate and House of Representatives of the N143 billion requested by the Presidency as against the N189 billion demanded by the electoral umpire.
In rejecting INEC’s budgetary request of N189 billion to conduct next year’s general election, the joint committee however, summoned the electoral body to appear before it today (Tuesday) to defend the request for funds from the Presidency.
Our correspondents recall that last week, the joint committee was split along party lines on whether to adopt the figure of N143 billion as requested by the Presidency or the N189 billion the INEC said it needs to enable it conduct the elections without the commission running into any hitches.
While the All Progressives Congress (APC) members of the joint committee were in favour of adopting the entire amount requested by INEC, their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) colleagues opposed the stand, insisting that the committee consider the budget based on the figure from the President since the balance of N45.6billion will be appropriated in the 2019 budget.
According to the joint committee, it reserves the prerogative in approving either of the two figures (N143bn and N189bn) in contention after it met with the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, the management of INEC and the minister had informed lawmakers to use their discretionary powers in approving whatever figure they deem fit.
Udoma, last week told the joint committee that even though the N189 billion requested for by INEC was the same amount the President wrote in the covering letter to the National Assembly, but because of funding constraints, the President decided to seek the virement of N143 billion for INEC this year while the balance of N45.6 billion would be taken care of in the 2019 budget.
“Mr. President will have no objection to the National Assembly approving the entire N189 billion INEC budget as long as it does not in anyway lead to increase in the overall size of the 2018 budget.
“If this is to be done, the N45.6 billion the President in his letter proposed to be provided for in the 2019 budget, would also have to be vired along with the N143 billion from the N578 billion fund appropriated for in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly for the additional 1,403 projects included in the budget.
“Any of the two is okay for the executive, except that if you approve the N189 billion through virement, the N45.6 billion planned to be captured in the 2019 budget, would no longer be part of the budget estimates for that year,” the minister had said.
Chairman of the joint committee, Senator Suleiman Nazif (PDP, Bauchi), commenting on the stalemate then, remarked that the essence of inviting the minister, the Presidential Liaison Officer in the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang and INEC officials was to enable Nigerians see that the consideration of the budget is transparent, nationalistic and non-partisan.
“It is our prerogative as a committee to critically look into all the details and recommend either of the two requests for approval by the committee of the whole at both chambers,” he said while adjourning the joint committee’s sitting sine die.
However, when the joint committee resumed sitting on Monday, it endorsed the adoption of the initial N143 billion submitted by President Buhari.
The lawmakers made the announcement after a closed door meeting chaired by Senator Nazif.
Nazif, who read out the resolution of the joint committee to newsmen, said that “as you are aware, our last meeting was held on August 17.
“We decided to resume today (August 27) to consider the harmonised budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“The joint committee has sat and we have deliberated on a position to adopt the N143 billion earlier presented to us by President Buhari.
“It is the wish of this committee that INEC presents the N143 billion as requested by Mr. President.
“This committee therefore adjourns and will reconvene tomorrow (today by 1 pm) to consider the N143 billion INEC budget”.