In a major shift soon after the country achieved the January to December budget cycle, the Nigerian Senate, on Wednesday, extended the implementation of capital projects captured in the 2020 budget till March 31, 2021, following a request to the National Assembly by the Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed.
According to a statement by Ezrel Tabiowo, Special Assistant (Press) to President of the Senate, necessitated the speedy consideration and passage of the 2020 Appropriation Act (Amendment) Bill, 2020, introduced on the floor during plenary on Wednesday.
This is just as Senate President Ahmad Lawan assured that the red chamber will, on Monday, December 21, 2020, hold a special session to pass the 2021 budget now before the National Assembly.
Leading debate on the bill to extend the 2020 budget cycle, during its second reading, the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (Kebbi North), said the amendment became imperative, given that its provisions only allow budget implementation to run for a period of 12 months, starting from the January 1, to December 31, 2020.
He blamed the low implementation of capital projects in the budget on the COVID-19 pandemic which necessitated a lockdown by the Federal Government between March and May this year.
“The 2020 capital budget implementation has progressed at a low speed due to mainly the unforeseen prolonged lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result of the above, most of the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies of Government (MDAs) were projected to have a huge unutilized balance, as much as 70 per cent of their capital releases by the expiration of the 2020 Appropriation Act as provided for in the relevant section of that Act.
“And also, we would note that during the hard time of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the Ministries were operating on a very light mode.
“In fact, most of those (MDAs) that were concerned with the official work – level 14 down – were ordered not to come to work at all, and these were the major people who were the implementation arm of the various MDAs.
“Therefore, a lot of the work in the implementation of the capital projects of the Ministries were not undertaken because of the lockdown,” the Senate Leader said.
Supporting the extension, Senator Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central), underscored the need to implement same to 70 or 80%, so as to inflate the economy, warning that doing otherwise would “keep the budget in flight mode.”
The amended section which was subsequently passed by the Upper Chamber reads: “Section 12 is hereby amended by adding a proviso to wit: provided that the implementation of the Capital Expenditure in the 2020 Appropriations Bill shall lapse on 31st March, 2020.”
According to the Senate President, the delay in the passage of the 2021 budget was to allow the Appropriations Committee onboard a late request for additional expenditures from the Executive arm of government.
“Our Committee on Appropriation has been working round the clock. We had planned to receive the report of the Committee on Appropriations today, but there was a late request for some more expenditures from the Executive arm of Government, and we want to ensure that our Committee does work to produce a clean document, so they can’t present this document today.
“However, the Committee has said the report will be ready by weekend. Consequently, we will hold a special session on Monday, the 21st of December, 2020, just to consider and pass the budget 2021.
“This is in keeping with our legislative agenda of ensuring that the annual budget has a January to December cycle. We did that last year, and by the grace of God, we will do it again,” Lawan said.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday also stepped down consideration of the Conference Committee Report 2021 – 2023 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).
The request to step down consideration of the 2021 – 2023 MTEF report till Thursday, December 17, 2020, was moved by the Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi; and seconded by the Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe.