By G9ija

President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday expressed strong reservations on the “worrisome changes” made by the National Assembly to the 2022 Executive Budget proposal.

The President stated this on Friday in Abuja when he signed into law the 2022 Appropriation Bill and the 2021 Finance Bill in the presence of the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, and some members of the Federal Executive Council.

He recounted that during the presentation of the 2022 Appropriation Bill, he had said the fiscal year 2022 would be very crucial in his administration’s efforts to complete and put to use critical agenda projects, as well as improve the general living conditions of the people.

“It is in this regard that I must express my reservations about many of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the 2022 Executive Budget proposal,” President Buhari was quoted as saying in a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu.

“Some of the worrisome changes are as follows: Increase in projected FGN Independent Revenue by N400 billion, the justification for which is yet to be provided to the Executive; Reduction in the provision for Sinking Fund to Retire Maturing Bonds by N22 billion without any explanation; Reduction of the provisions for the Non-Regular Allowances of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Navy by N15 billion and N5 billion respectively.

“This is particularly worrisome because personnel cost provisions are based on agencies’ nominal roll and approved salaries/allowances. Furthermore, an increase of N21.72 billion in the overhead budgets of some MDAs, while the sum of N1.96 billion was cut from the provision for some MDAs without apparent justification; increase in the provision for capital spending (excluding capital share in Statutory Transfer) by a net amount of N575.63 billion, from N4.89 trillion to N5.47 trillion.”

The President was also concerned about the reductions in provisions for some critical projects, including N12.6 billion in the Ministry of Transport’s budget for the ongoing rail modernisation projects; N25.8 billion from Power Sector Reform Programme under the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; N14.5 billion from several projects of the Ministry of Agriculture, and introducing over 1,500 new projects into the budgets of the ministry and its agencies.

He also expressed his reservations on the inclusion of new provisions totalling N36.59 billion for National Assembly’s projects in the Service Wide Vote which negates the principles of separation of powers and financial autonomy of the Legislative arm of government; the changes to the original Executive proposal are in the form of new insertions, outright removals, reductions and/or increases in the amounts allocated to projects; the reduction of provisions made for as many as 10,733 projects and introduction of 6,576 new projects into the budget by the National Assembly, as well as reduction in the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce ‘empowerment’ projects.

“The cuts in the provisions for several of these projects by the National Assembly may render the projects unimplementable or set back their completion, especially some of this administration’s strategic capital projects,” President Buhari decried. “Most of the projects inserted relate to matters that are basically the responsibilities of state and local governments, and do not appear to have been properly conceptualised, designed and costed.

‘‘Many more projects have been added to the budgets of some MDAs with no consideration for the institutional capacity to execute the additional projects and/or for the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.”

He declared that it was surprising that despite the National Assembly increasing projected revenue by N609.27 billion, the additional Executive request of N186.53 billion for critical expenditure items could not be accommodated without increasing the deficit, while the sum of N550.59 billion from the projected incremental revenues was allocated at the discretion of National Assembly.

“I signed the 2022 Appropriation Bill into law to enable its implementation to commence on 1st January 2022,” said the President. “However, I will revert to the National Assembly with a request for amendment and/or virement as soon as the Assembly resumes to ensure that critical ongoing projects that are cardinal to this administration, and those nearing completion, do not suffer a setback due to reduced funding.”

President Buhari, however, commended the understanding and speedy action of the National Assembly on the matter.