As Nigerians wait with bated breath to see if the 2016 budget bill will be signed into law this week following the arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari from his trip to China, a rare insight into how monies meant for critical projects are diverted to others has been given by a Senator who spent eight years in the Upper House of the National Assembly. He revealed that the National Assembly Appropriation Committees alter votes without recourse to Standing Committees, who submit proposals to them. Bassey Ewa Henshaw, who is from Cross River State, in whose capital the controversial Lagos – Calabar coastal rail line is intended to terminate, in a material sent to The Guardian however, conceded that ministers who brought in fresh projects for inclusion in the 2016 budget ought to have been advised to get President Muhammadu Buhari to send further communication to the National Assembly detailing the omissions and requesting their inclusion. “Important matters of this nature are best handled through his kind of formal communication. But there again, one can appreciate possible hesitation to adopt this approach in view of the initial embarrassment and uproar occasioned by the clandestine handling of the budget after it was laid by Mr. President,” he added. There have been talks over the weekend that following a meeting of a section of the National Assembly leadership on the one hand and Presidency officials and ministers on the other, a resolution of the impasse may come this week. The removal of the coastal rail line was one of the major reasons the President declined to assent to the budget document because it formed part of the discussions he was going to have in China, where he returned from yesterday morning. The immediate past chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Senator Ewa-Henshaw, gave an instructive exposè into how the budget preparation machinery of the Assembly works. His words: “Having said this, the situation in the National Assembly has brought to the fore, a serious problem that has existed in the National Assembly for a long time and has been begging for resolution. This is the need for a clearer definition of the powers and responsibilities of the Committees on Appropriation vis-à-vis other Standing Committees. By the rules of the Senate (as well as the House) the Committee on Appropriation is required to assemble and collate sectoral budgets finalised by the various standing committees into an integrated, well-ordered national budget. But from the inception, the penchant of the Committee on Appropriation to alter submissions of other Standing Committees has gone on unchecked.
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