President Muhammadu Buhari has finally broken his silence over the controversy trailing the whereabouts of the 2016 budget he presented to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015.
On Thursday, Senate President Bukola Saraki had accused the Presidential Liaison Officer, Ita Enang of printing a different version of the document presented by Buhari following the report received from the ad hoc committee set up to investigate the matter.
But according to House Presidential Liaison Officer Sumaila Kawu, the President has described the drama surrounding the document as “laughable”.
“The President cannot direct his agents to “steal” the document and has no reason to smuggle the document out of the Senate because he is well aware of other options he can explore to withdraw the document.
“He also described the accusation directed at his Senate counterpart, Sen. Ita Enang as “unfair” because the former senator is an experienced lawmaker who once chaired Rules and Business Committees in the House and in the Senate.”
Kawu said the missing budget rumour may have been strengthened by the locking away of the document in the Clerk of the National Assembly’s office.
It is a surprise to us and Mr President in particular; it is laughable. We just laughed when we heard of it.
“Being a joint sitting , Mr President laid one document on the floor; then it is for the Budget Office or National Planning Commission (NPC) to make copies.
In this case, once it was laid, the Clerk of the National Assembly locked the document in his office because of the time of the year; it was holiday period and the lawmakers were going on holiday.
The confusion might have been as a result of that.
But our concern in this matter is why we were dragged into it.
Actually, as our job entails, we lobbied the National Assembly to take a second look at the oil benchmark because our projection was no longer in tune with the current reality.
We lobbied the National Assembly on the benchmark; it was not illegal or alien to legislature world over and it has nothing to do with stealing or smuggling it out of the Senate.
We, as the Executive, have to take account of the volatile nature of oil price. The National Assembly was aware of this, but notwithstanding we still have no reason to withdraw it.
Even if the document must be withdrawn, it must be done legally and there are laid down means of doing that, which the President can explore.
Buhari will be the last person to assign his agent to be involved in such illegality.
The presidential aide also said the sad development was not a matter of lack of communication between the Executive and legislature but an act of mischief by those behind it.
He defended Enang, saying:
Enang is a hands-on legislator that knows the rules. He was Chairman of Rules and Business committees of the House and Senate, so he knows the rules.
This is the same lawmaker that tackled the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on different versions of Budget being implemented.
He is very much aware of what is at stake and couldn’t have involved himself in such an illegality.
On whether the budget may be withdrawn as a result of the crashing global oil price, Kawu said there was no plan for that.
We will not withdraw the budget because the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) has taken into consideration a situation like this.
We are aware that for Saudi Arabia to raise her domestic oil price and the United States exporting oil means there’s a problem.
That was the reason why diversification of economy is a priority to this government, this budget wasn’t oil-dependent.
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