President Muhammadu Buhari has threatened to sack chief executives of federal parastatals and agencies that fail to appear before the National Assembly to defend their budgets, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
It was learnt that Buhari made his position known during a meeting he had with the leadership of the National Assembly at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday evening.
A source who was at the meeting told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity that Buhari took the decision after the federal lawmakers succeeded in convincing him that they should not be blamed for the delay in passing the appropriation bill so far.
The source said the lawmakers told the President that out of about 60 government parastatals and agencies, only about 10 chief executives had appeared before them to defend their budgets.
The federal lawmakers were also said to have reported some ministers who they claimed had not been cooperating with them to the President.
The source mentioned the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; and the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, as some of the ministers whose cases came up at the meeting.
The source, however, did not disclose the response of the President on the ministers’ cases.
The source said, “You know that the budget delay, by popular sentiment, is being blamed on the National Assembly. They defended themselves very well before the President that ministers and chief executive officers have not been coming to the National Assembly to defend their budgets.
“They cited some ministers like the Minister of Power, Works and Housing that he has not gone to defend his budget up until now. I am sure you have also been following the exchanges between them and the Minister of Solid Minerals.
“The President was extremely unhappy with what he heard. His directive to the SGF was that they should start fishing out chief executives who fail to defend their budget, because he was told that out of about 60 of them, only about 10 have appeared. He has asked that ministers should supervise them. It is a serious issue.
“He made it clear that by the time people are being sacked, there will be sanity.”
When asked if a new deadline was set at the meeting for the passage of the appropriation bill, the source said the National Assembly would wait for the MDAs to comply with the President’s directive, after which the bill would enjoy speedy processing.
At the end of the meeting on Thursday night, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, had told State House correspondents that Buhari had directed all ministers and parastatals to appear before the National Assembly to defend their budgets.
Mustapha said, “The President gave them (the lawmakers) update on security, economy, job creation, processes in the National Assembly especially with regards to the budget and the need to conclude on it.
“Mr. President has given an instruction that all ministers and parastatals should ensure that they appear before the National Assembly to defend their submissions so that we can get this out of the way.
“You know this is a very dynamic year and there are preparations for elections and we are having quite a lot of security challenges and so if we don’t appropriate, where will the money come from?”
Meanwhile, another source in the Senate who had details of the meeting also told one of our correspondents that Buhari invited the NASS leadership to know what had been responsible for the delayed passage of the appropriation bill.
Buhari was said to have been shocked when he was presented with facts on the low turnout of heads of the MDAs at the budget defence sessions held by Senate and House of Representatives’ Committees.
The source said, “Leaders of the National Assembly discussed the budget with the President. The President did not have full information that officials in the executive have been responsible for the delay. He thought the National Assembly was frustrating the passage but they told him they were not.
“The National Assembly leadership showed him the list of MDAs that have yet to come forward for budget defence or provide details of their budgets to the relevant committees. He was informed that about 70 per cent of the MDAs had not been cooperating with the legislature. The President was surprised.
“This is why the President ordered the SGF to issue a memo to all the MDAs, asking them to comply with National Assembly’s demands within one week. He wants everything to be sorted out within the time frame.”
The legislature and the executive have been passing the buck on which arm of government is responsible for the delayed passage of the budget, which President Muhammadu Buhari laid before a joint session of the Assembly on November 7, 2017.
On Monday, the Senate had said it was still uncertain when the 2018 Appropriation Bill would be passed by the National Assembly.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, had said, “The budget process is on and I cannot tell you this is the specific day it is going to end. All I can tell you specifically is that we are working very hard on it and we want to assure Nigerians that at the end of the day we will have a budget that will serve the purpose of Nigerians.”
The Senate had on February 14, 2018, asked 63 agencies and parastatals under the Federal Government to submit details of their proposed 2018 budgets within one week or risk sanctions.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly had said that while Buhari had complied with the law by laying the 2018 Appropriation Bill along with details of estimates before the lawmakers, agencies of the government had disregarded the law.
On February 28, the Senate had told Nigerians to blame members of Buhari’s cabinet and the ministries, departments and agencies for the delay in the passage of the appropriation bill.
The lawmakers alleged that ministers and heads of Federal Government departments and agencies were allegedly frustrating legislative work on the budget proposal with their foreign trips and non-cooperation with the lawmakers.
But the Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze, had denied the allegation, saying the National Assembly already had enough details to work with and pass the appropriation bill.
Speaking with State House correspondents after the meeting, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, also disclosed that the meeting was on the budget, security and other national issues.
He said the National Assembly leadership also gave the President their opinions during the interaction.
Saraki said the legislature was working on the budget, noting that some agencies had yet to defend their budget. “We are hoping that with this, they will come and defend their budget,” he said.
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