Trouble appear to be mounting for the yet-to-be presented 2017 Budget, as the Senate, on Thursday, said the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which was submitted to the lawmakers in September, was empty.
The MTEF and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) form the foundation for the 2017 Budget, in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
The National Assembly must pass the MTEF and FSP into law before it can consider the new budget.
But Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, who spoke on the Senate floor, said the 2017-2019 MTEF/FSP, which contained parameters for the 2017 budget, was empty.
The document, submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari, on September 30, fixed oil production quarter and the benchmark for 2017.
Senator Ndume, who raised a point of order to complain about a newspaper publication credited to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, said the emptiness of the MTEF was the cause of the delay being experienced in considering the document by the Senate.
He complained about a report in the national dailies on Wednesday, where the Minister of Budget and National Planning was quoted as blaming the National Assembly for the delay in the presentation of the budget by President Buhari.
Ndume said the Presidency, rather than the National Assembly, was responsible for the delay in the presentation of the budget.
Ndume stated that the Minister had so far stalled all efforts made by the Senate to interface with the executive over the troubled document.
Ndume said: “We received the MTEF on September 30, instead of submitting it according to law by September 1, and not later than. That is not even the problem. The problem is the content. I have a copy. I went through and the copies that have been circulated. I talked to some experts. Even in this chamber, we have people we can call experts.
“If you look at this document that they call MTEF, it is empty; it is empty and it doesn’t contain anything. If you have nothing, how do you consider something?
“Going through and knowing that it is empty, on October 19, I forwarded a letter to the Minister to meet the Senate on the way out, but he failed to turn up on Tuesday, the meeting was slated for the 1st of this month.
“The third paragraph of the letter I wrote to him states thus, to enable the Senate objectively review the MTEF from a holistic fiscal perspective, we deem it necessary to invite you to a meeting to brief the leadership of the Senate on Tuesday, November 1.
“Before then, I said, you are requested to please send the following documents ahead the meeting, because that is what will make us to have something to consider, but he refused to honour any of the requests physically and materially.”
He asked the Senate to discuss the report credited to the minister, adding that “we cannot afford to start the 2017 budget process with this blame game.”
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, however, moved to rescue the minister from possible verbal assaults from Senators by announcing that the minister had told him that he didn’t make such statement to any reporter and that he would issue a rebuttal later.
Saraki said: “I think it is important that I share some information on this because I too saw this article yesterday (Wednesday) in the newspapers and I also took it up with the minister on why this was being done and he denied the article and promised that he was going to make a statement to debunk it. He sent me an email saying he never gave the interview.
“Be that as it may, I think the matter is serious enough for the Leader to have raised the issue. I have not seen it in the papers today, but I will take him by his words. But again, when those kinds of statements come out, the denial is sometimes not seen.”
The Senate President, however, praised the Senate Leader for raising the issue, adding that all the information being requested from the executive as regards the 2017 budget were necessary for the processes to run without the blame game.