The National Assembly yesterday reversed its decision on the 2011 budget - criticised by the executive as high - and began considering amendments that will reduce total national budget by N600 billion and cut lawmakers’ allocation by more than 50 per cent.
The House of Representatives approved two swift readings on Tuesday while the Senate took one reading of a review sent by President Goodluck Jonathan the same day, proposing that federal spending be reduced from initially passed N4.97 trillion to N4.41 trillion.
If the final readings, expected today from chambers are given, the bulk of the budget slash will come from the National Assembly allocation, which the lawmakers arbitrarily moved during earlier appropriation from N112.24 billion to N232.74 billion - more than 100 per cent raise.
The sharp increment drew criticisms and the executive warned that the total budget, with about N1.9 trillion deficit, was not sustainable and needed a review.
In the proposed reduction, the National Assembly budget was reduced to N120 billion, a little above the original figure submitted by Mr Jonathan in November 2010.
Mr Jonathan’s amendment now comes as the legislature winds down its session, amid unresolved financial crisis rocking the House of Representatives over unpaid allowances and corruption charges against its leadership.
As of Tuesday, lawmakers speaking unofficially confirmed the House had not still sourced much-needed funds to clear members’ allowances owed after the released money was confiscated by a bank in lieu of unauthorised loan allegedly taken by the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole.
The loan, which makes it hard for the leadership of the House to pay the entitlements of members, is at the heart of restiveness among the lawmakers, some of whom have launched efforts to sanction Mr Bankole. The other leaders of the House have, however, rallied around the Speaker.
Eseme Oyibo, the spokesperson of the House, said this was done to ensure that the session ends without rancour.
With no bank willing to grant fresh loans, according to sources, one of the options remained for the House to speedily facilitate a compromise on the budget, from where the backlog could be cleared from subheads that received rolled-in allocation.
Though obviously affected by the large reduction, the House read Mr Jonathan’s amendment twice on Tuesday and is expected to give a final approval today. The Senate took only the first reading, but is also expected to pass the amendment today for presidential assent before May 29.
“We will consider this tomorrow, 10am, after the committees looked into them,” Mr Bankole said after the second reading of the bill.
The new budget is expected to help deal with an overhanging deficit by trimming a perennially overbloated overhead and running cost. The oil benchmark, increased by the lawmakers from $65 per barrel to $75, is also to be reversed.
At several fora after the first budget was passed, the minister of finance, Olusegun Aganga, has warned that increasing the benchmark from $65 could hurt the economy should the oil price fall in the year, since the excess crude oil account was almost completely depleted.
In the new amendments, big budgetary heads like defence, police formation and commands, and the presidency, are to be reviewed downward, although with low margins compared to the National Assembly. Education received a reduction too from N311 billion to N304 billion.
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