What delays 2019 general elections budget?


National Assembly, Abuja

National Assembly, Abuja

Cecilia Ijuo

Almost three months after President Muhammadu Buhari requested the passage of the 2019 election budget of N242 billion by the National Assembly, Nigerians are still hoping that the passage, which is cardinal to the conduct of the elections will sail through, no matter the delay.

But the question political analysts and other Nigerians are asking is what is delaying the election budget even as the elections are so close?

While the Independent National Electoral Commission’s part of the budget — N189 billion — has been approved by the National Assembly, other agencies are awaiting response to the request.

Analysts note that the budget proposal began to have issues the moment it was presented for passage on July 17.

According to them, even when the budget is passed soon, defining the source of funding for the elections have been contentious in the National Assembly.

Analysts posit that since the presidency is insisting that the funding ought to come from part of the National Assembly’s constituency fund, the lawmakers seem not to accept the decision.

Another development is that the National Assembly proceeded annual recess on July 24, a week after the letter was read, without consideration, insisting that the request was late in reaching the lawmakers.

However, this development has given Nigerians so much concern so much so that they call on the National Assembly to reconvene for the purpose of discussing the request in view of its importance to the conduct of the general elections.

Senate president Bukola Saraki, thereafter, called for an emergency meeting of the presiding officers and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) team.

Irrespective of the importance of the meeting, the modality for discussing the request suffered another setback arising from a siege to the National Assembly by the Department of State Security Service on the day of the meeting.

The meeting was rescheduled and the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC was asked to kick-start the process of passage by meeting with the INEC Chairman for budget defence.

Nigerians would have expected progress in the rescheduled meeting but for the issue of variance in the budget figure by INEC and the presidency that led to another delay.

Buhari in his request on July 11 sought the legislators’ approval of N242 billion for the elections.

He said that N189 billion was earmarked for INEC, while the balance of N53 billion would be shared among the other agencies.

He also said that N164.10 billion of the N242 billion was urgently needed to prepare for the elections, while the balance of N78.34 billion would be provided for in the 2019 Budget.

But INEC requested the Senate committee’s approval of the complete sum of N189 billion, which led to another round of debate.

The matter was eventually resolved after series of meetings and the joint committee decided to go by the president’s request to approve the money in two tranches but reduced the first tranche of N143 billion by N200 million.

That was the last that was heard of the budget until the National Assembly resumed plenary on Oct. 9.

However, the sitting of the joint committee on INEC was only a fraction of the whole process of passing the budget.

The various security agencies also ought to defend their budgets before relevant committees and all reports passed to the Committee on Appropriation for final touches including sourcing fund for the budget.

Thereafter, it is expected that committees’ reports in that regard will be presented in plenary for further legislative action that would culminate in its passage.

However, none of the committees on security met during the recess, meaning the work on the budget was far from over.

The presidency, apparently acting on the time wasted on the budget, decided upon resumption of sitting in the National Assembly to write a fresh letter on the matter.

In the fresh letter, the president backtracked on his earlier request that the budget be passed in two tranches.

In a bid to give it an accelerated hearing, the Senate in plenary on Oct. 11, approved N234 billion for INEC, comprising the N189 billion requested by INEC to conduct the 2019 general elections, and N45 billion provided for the commission on the platform of statutory transfer.

Although this development received applause, it is seems not to be the end of the journey as the budget for the security agencies was not approved alongside INEC’s.

However, the lawmakers agreed to begin deliberation on the security budget in its next legislative week.

While Nigerians hope that everything on the 2019 election budget would be laid to rest before the end of October, the source of funding may drag the implementation of the budget further.

The president requested that the budget be vired from the 2018 Budget of N8.6 trillion, especially from the N587 billion, which the president said was inserted by the lawmakers into the budget to make the budget 9.12 trillion.

But the lawmakers resolved that the N189 billion for INEC be vired from both recurrent and capital components of the Special Intervention Programme captured in the Service Wide Vote of the 2018 Appropriation Act.

Analysts, therefore, observe that this is another long process that ought not to develop towards funding the 2019 general elections that are just about four months away. (NANFeatures)