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Saraki Warns Legislators Against Bribery During Budget Defence

* 2016 Budget Passes Second Reading
* Senate Adjourns Plenary For Budget Defence

Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
After four days of debates on the general principles of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, the curtains were drawn on the debates on Wednesday, with the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, vowing to deal decisively with any lawmaker found guilty of involving in any form of bribery in the course of the Budget defence, which is scheduled to commence on Thursday, January 28.

Meanwhile, the Upper Legislative Chamber has concluded plans to adjourn Plenary sittings for two weeks, after Thursday’s Plenary to allow for the Budget defence.

Speaking shortly, after the Red Chamber passed the 2016 Appropriation Bill through Second Reading, Saraki warned that any lawmaker caught receiving inducement from the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) during the 2016 Dudget defence would be adequately dealt with.

He said that the move became necessary to sustain the integrity of the National Assembly, as well as to continue to win the confidence of Nigerians.

Speaking on the general principles of the Budget proposal, Saraki noted that the proposal was a major departure from past budgets, especially with regards to the departure dependent on oil.

“This, to me and to all of us, is the most important area of this Budget in the sense that it will be a great foundation, not only for today, but for the future, if this can be achieved.

“Also, with the pegging of Capital Expenditure at 30 percent, a  number of comments were made about the level of borrowing; but I think (that) what matters is what the money is used for.

“As of the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), we are still within the limits and parameters. But what is important is to ensure that the money is judiciously used for what it is meant for,” he said.

Speaking on diversification, the Senate President said that the  National Assembly would take a critical look at the budgetary allocation to the agricultural and mineral sectors.

He said that the Senate would also take a look at the issue of the oil benchmark and various budgetary allocations with the view to ensuring equitable distribution.

“It is important that the issue of blocking leakages is key; and from the experience of the past, we must learn from the past to work towards the future.

“There were lots of talk in the issue of fighting corruption, and the need for the relevant agencies to be adequately funded. And I am sure (that) the relevant committees will look at that.

“Key areas for the committees on Finance and Petroleum is the Budget estimate. It is very key that we get this right because, if we don’t get it right, the likelihood of us achieving what we have planned will not work.

“The committees should scrutinise these estimates, and ensure that they are estimates that we can all put our names to.

“The zero budgeting of which the Budget is premised on means some of the projects would be critically assessed to ensure that the projects were justified,” he said.

Saraki commended President Muhammadu Buhari for his role in ensuring that the Budget met the needs of Nigerians.

He called on the various committees to do a thorough job to compliment the effort of the President.

He urged the committees to work within the stipulated time for the Budget defence and make their reports available to the Committee on Appropriation.

Saraki also pledged the National Assembly’s commitment to empowering the  committees for proper over sight on the implementation of the budget.

In a related development, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, said that the Senate would adjourn on Thursday to allow for Budget defence.

Goje, who spoke at a briefing, after Thursday’s Plenary, said that the Senate will break into sub-committees from February 2 to receive the MDAs for the defence.

He said that all the MDAs and sub-committees are expected to conclude their Budget consideration by February 16.

The UNION reports that about 70 senators took turns to speak during the Budget debates.

It would be recalled that Buhari presented the Draft Budget on Tuesday, December 22, 2015.

Debates on the general principles of the Budget were held on Wednesday (20), Thursday (21), Tuesday (26) and Wednesday (27) January 2016.

Still on Wednesday, the Appropriation Bill was referred to the Committee on Appropriation, which briefed the the sub-committee chairmen and vice chairmen (in closed-door) on the Budget.

Submission and defence of the reports of the sub-committees on Appropriation is scheduled from Friday, February 12 to Thursday, February 18.

Similarly, the collation and harmonisation of the reports, as well as drawing of the Bill by Appropriations Committee is scheduled from Thursday, February 18 to Monday, February 22.

Other activities surrounding the 2016 Budget defence are: Appropriations Committee meeting billed for Tuesday, February 23; laying of the report of the Committee on Appropriations before the Senate-in-Plenary on Wednesday, February 24; and consideration of the report and passage of the Bill on Thursday, February 25.

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