Lawan, Gbajabiamila promise prompt action on budget

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THE N13.08 trillion 2021 Appropriation Bill would get prompt attention, federal lawmakers assured Nigerians on Thursday.

President Muhammadu Buhari presented the draft estimate of the bill to the National Assembly yesterday at a joint session.

Senate President Ahmad Lawan and House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila gave the assurance in their opening and closing remarks. Sources said the second reading of the Appropriation Bill will likely begin next week.

Lawan and Gbajabiamila assured executive of the readiness and the determination of the National Assembly to pass the budget before the end of the year.

The Senate President in his opening remarks said: “Mr. President, a year ago, Tuesday, 8th October, 2019, when you presented the 2020 Budget Estimates to the first Joint Session of the ninth National Assembly, we promised you and Nigerians our readiness and determination to consider and pass the Budget before the end of the year.

“We considered that necessary in order to reverse the irregular and unpredictable budget cycle that had impacted adversely on our economy over the years, to the more desirable January – December cycle.”

Lawan recounted how the two-chamber assembly worked assiduously to process last year’s budget within the time frame they set, commending his colleagues’ sense of dedication to duty and patriotism.

“The eventual passage of the Appropriation Bill 2020 and signing into law in record time was a clear testimony of the benefits of the legislature and the executive working together for the good of the people,” he said.

He, however, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic changed some projections in the budget.

Lawan said: “Mr. President, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our plans, as it shut down economies and affected our income and expenditure projections.

“Its effect on the global oil market, which is central to our revenue outlay, was devastating. It necessitated a review of the entire budget, which we did with profound sense of purpose, duty and patriotism.

He said the situation informed a downward review of the budget.

The Senate President said: “We made necessary reductions, re-ordered priorities and changed sources of funds and loans given the grim realities from the pandemic. We were convinced that the steps we took went a long way in stabilising our economy and in ensuring that funds were provided for critical programmes.

“Mr. President, as we are about to begin another fiscal plan, we shall be influenced by the desire to consolidate on our gains, coming from the hard lessons of the pandemic, and on the urgency of sustaining our diversification programmes, not only because of the unpredictable nature of oil revenue but because of recent uncertainties arising from the corona virus.”

He said the National Assembly would immediately swing into action to ensure the passage of the bill before the end of the year, noting that the implementation of this year’s Appropriation Act has shown a remarkable improvement over the previous years.

“Certainly, the injection of funds for the various programmes and projects had helped our economy. We expect that before the end of this fiscal year, the 2020 Budget would have been implemented 100 per cent. This will be a historic feat.

“Mr. President, it is our hope that the 2021 Budget will be targeted at consolidation of the gains made by the 2020 Budget. The 2020 Budget was targeted at sustaining growth and jobs. We need to not only protect jobs but create more.”

He urged the Federal Government to explore the Public Private Partnership (PPP), Build Operate Transfer (BOT) and many other funding options that could reduce borrowing.

Gbajabiamila said there is no going back on the promised January – December budget cycle, saying the old era was gone for good.

The speaker said: “When just over a year ago, we gathered in this chamber to receive the budget proposal and begin the appropriation process, we made specific commitments to the Nigerian people. We promised that we would pass the budget promptly, free of the rancour that had bedevilled the process in time past. We delivered on that promise.”

He thanked his colleagues for the dedication and commitment they showed last year during the appropriation process.

Gbajabiamila said: “Senators and members of the House of Representatives toiled night and day, sometimes through the night and into the wee hours of the morning, to ensure that we achieved our commitment to return to the January-to-December budget cycle as envisaged by the constitution.

“I do not doubt that we will exhibit the same commitment to nation-building and deliver a good budget on time. We cannot afford a return to the old practices, and we must do everything in our power to avoid such an outcome.

“We also promised to pass a budget that reflected our priorities – healthcare, education, public infrastructure and the development of an economy that is less dependent on fossil fuels and gives to all Nigerians, the ability to achieve their dreams equal to their effort and commitment.”

Announced a new protocol for MDAs’ appearance at budget defence sessions, the Speaker said: “Let me also use this opportunity to announce a new protocol in the House. Henceforth, all Ministries, Departments and Agencies who come to defend their budget proposals, will do so without their security details. We must take this course of action to prevent the unacceptable proliferation of side arms in the hearing rooms during such engagements.

“Additionally, the House intends to adhere to the COVID-19 social distancing protocols, and we need to be able to limit the numbers of people in these hearing rooms at any point in time. ….we must make sure that we are better prepared for next time because there will be the next time.”

He also assured of speedy action on the estimate.

“We will give the proposal a thorough and speedy consideration. The National Assembly will collaborate with the MDAs of the Executive to deliver a budget that meets the needs and matches the ambitions of the Nigerian people.”

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