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2017 budget: We won’t be stampeded into a shoddy job —NASS

•Says exchange rate unrealistic; revenue sources abstract •MTEF prepared after wide consultations—Budget ministry

Even before it is submitted, the 2017 budget appears doomed to long bickering and controversy, as the National Assembly on Sunday, fired a warning shot at their counterpart in the executive, as well as Nigerians, not to expect early passage due to alleged unrealistic projections.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 4, sent the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) upon which budgets for the three years would be based.

In the letter accompanying the documents, the president said “2017-2019 MTEF and FSP articulates the Federal Government’s economic, social and developmental objectives, as well as the strategies for achieving these defined objectives and priorities.”

In all, he projected a total spending of N6.847 trillion, 33 per cent of revenue from oil-based and crude production of 2.2 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N290/US$.

In addition, a deficit N2.22 trillion is envisaged while oil benchmark is $42.50 per barrel.

Already, government has been having difficulties funding the 2016 budget because of difficulties in sourcing enough funds from projected sources as a result of such projections.

The N1.8 trillion initial deficit projection has since widened because of vandalism of oil facilities, inability to meet tax projections and inability to source envisaged foreign loans.

However, investigations at the National Assembly revealed that legislators regarded the documents as scanty and shoddily packaged and that the assumptions were greatly unrealistic.

Legislators are complaining that the MTEF document, as presented, was a sham, as it did not take the $30 billion loans being planned by the country into consideration.

They also said the exchange rate pegged at N290/$ was unrealistic; sources of revenue abstract; while unrelenting militant activities in Niger Delta rendered crude oil production forecast unrealistic.

“What magic wand does President Buhari intends to wave to stop militants from suddenly blowing up oil and gas facilities?,” a member wondered in an interview.

Assembly men, who spoke with the Nigerian Tribune, also slammed the executive for the “total absence of diversification into new areas like agriculture and solid minerals, which would have reduced the economic weight of oil.”

In the estimation of the executive, the MTEF should have been passed since the end of October, while budget estimates were to have been submitted early this month.

However, a member of the National Assembly told the Nigerian Tribune, at the  the weekend that “We have started preliminary legislative work on the 2017 MTEF, but I must tell you from my own personal opinion that the document is highly deficient.

“No realistic predictions or assumptions. But we will reshape it and redirect it to make it work. We will not rush on it as the executive will always make us do. No matter the blackmail in the name of delays, we will not be cowed. We shall take our time to diligently work on it.”

Chairman of House Committee on Legislative Budget, the primary group saddled with the responsibility of analysing budgetary documents before forwarding them to the Appropriation Committee, Golu Timothy, cited the example of the almost $30 billion loans being proposed by President Buhari and said it was not included in the MTEF.

“Look at the issue of the proposed $29 billion loan, it’s not contained in the budget. How can you forecast such an economic plan without a projection? What is the purpose of MTEF? But we shall fine-tune it for the interest of the nation,” he declared.

He explained that it was the consensus of most members of the National Assembly that Nigeria currently “needs a comprehensive economic master plan and financial blueprint to overcome recession. Nigeria is equal to the task. We can do it even now. We made serious mistakes in the past, but we can arrest and address them now.”

In a reaction, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning insisted that the vexatious MTEF was a product of comprehensive efforts of financial and economic experts, the private sector and civil society.

James Akpandem, who is the Media Adviser to the Minister, said, on Sunday, that there were ongoing engagements on the documents.