‘Missing’ budget: Panel quizzes five Senate workers
The Senate Joint Committee investigating the alleged disappearance of the 2016 budget document from the upper chamber on Wednesday quizzed five members of staff of the National Assembly.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, and another member of the committee, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, told one our correspondents that five senior civil servants had been questioned over the issue.
Investigations by The PUNCH revealed that some senior employees in the offices of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Clerk to the Senate, Senate Leader, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) and Rules and Business, were quizzed.
Anyanwu said the Joint Senate Committee, comprising his own and that of Appropriation, would submit their report on Thursday (today).
He added that the report would be discussed at either in closed session or in plenary, depending on the disposition of the Senate leadership.
He said, “We have concluded our investigation and the report will be submitted for everybody to see and we will debate it.”
Also, Nwaoboshi confirmed that the document was missing, saying his committee was on the trail of those connected with the document.
He said, “The document is missing; we want to find out. We have interviewed some people so far this morning. We are continuing in the next few minutes with our investigation.
“We are almost through with it. We will conclude in the next few hours because we have already known what is happening.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, again on Wednesday denied that the document was missing.
He accused the media of being the brains behind the scandal, which according to him, was unnecessary.
Ndume said, “The subject of this discussion is that you people are saying the budget is missing or are insisting that the budget is missing. Who told you? I’m standing before you here and I’m telling you that I did not say that.
“What we discussed at the closed-door session (on Tuesday), remains closed as we speak.
“You were at the gallery today (Wednesday) where the presiding officer clearly stated that the budget would be distributed and debate on the budget would begin next week. And those senators, who are interested, should go to the front table and put their names, indicating the date that they want to contribute at the Second Reading.
“So, this issue of budget missing or not missing is dead. But you people don’t want to conduct the funeral. So, what can I do?”
On the observation raised by Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, Ndume argued that Abaribe never claimed that the document was missing.
Ndume said, “Abaribe raised an issue that there were some issues. He did not say about budget missing; that we had some issues on the budget that we discussed in closed session.
“I think it will not be responsible for me as Senate Leader to stand before you now and start telling you what we discussed in the closed session.’’
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, had said no statement, made by any senator during the plenary, could be interpreted to mean an admission that the 2016 budget was missing.
He said no budget was missing, adding that the senate would on Thursday (today) distribute copies of the budget to all the Senators to enable them to be able to contribute to the debate, which will take place between Tuesday, January 19 and Thursday, January 21, 2015.
He said, “Already, all senators have indicated the date they will make their contributions to the debate on the budget.”
Abdullahi added that during Wednesday’s plenary, Abaribe sought clarification on the story in the media that the copy of the 2016 budget submitted to the Senate was missing and sought to know an update on the issue.
He added, “The Senate President replied that the issue he (Abaribe) mentioned and all issues emanating from the executive sessions are being looked into by an ad hoc committee and that all senators should wait for the committee to submit its report.
“We have rolled out our timetable for working on the budget. So, how can the same budget be missing?”
Despite the denial by Ndume and Abdullahi, the uncertainty over the whereabouts of the budget proposal in the Senate persisted on Wednesday as no one seemed to know the true situation of things.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had on resumption announced that members of the red chamber would begin a three-day debate on the 2016 Appropriation Bill from Tuesday next week.
He had also explained that copies of the document would be distributed to members on Thursday (tomorrow).
But a fresh drama to the scenario manifested when Abaribe, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, raised a point of order, drawing the Senate’s attention to media reports, alleging that the document was missing from the red chamber.
Abaribe said, “Some of us who are worried, who have been inundated with messages from our constituents, who are really worried about what their fate will be in 2016, and are asking us, ‘where is our budget’? That is why Mr. President, I think it is definite and it is urgent that we look into this matter.”
In his response, Saraki said since all the senators were part of the issue as extensively discussed at the executive session on Tuesday, it would be better to wait for the report of the committee saddled with the responsibility of searching for the reportedly missing document.
Contrary to what obtained in the Senate, members of the House of Representatives were on Wednesday relieved as the 2016 budget was displayed to dispel the rumour of a missing budget.
Most of the members laughed, expressing surprise over the rumour, as the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, directed the Clerk to raise copies of the N6.08tn budget.
The clerk, Mr. Mohammed Sani-Omolori, raised copies of the bound volumes of the document for all to see.
The volumes were brought into the chamber in the original box and seal that accompanied the document from the Presidency on December 22, 2015, when President Muhammadu Buhari laid the box before a joint session of the National Assembly.
Dogara, after the display of the budget, asked all members to collect their copies from the Committee on Appropriation effective Wednesday (yesterday).
He said, “The copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill are ready for collection.
“Endeavour to send your aides to the office of the Committee on Appropriation with a valid identification to collect your copies for you.”
A rumour, which emanated from the Senate on Tuesday, went viral on the social media and the mainstream media that the budget had gone missing.
But, Dogara, while clearing the air on the rumour the second time on Wednesday, said he was taken aback when the news filtered into his ears.
He explained that the House’ copy of the budget was locked up in a secured area before members proceeded on the Christmas and New Year break in December.
“It was quite surprising to me to hear that the budget was missing. How would it have happened? How did the rumour start?” Dogara said.
There was confusion in the National Assembly on Tuesday when Ndume reportedly told his colleagues at a closed session that both the soft and hard copies of the 2016 Federal Budget were missing from the federal parliament.
Ndume, according to some senators, who spoke with one of our correspondents strictly on condition of anonymity, lamented that the development would not allow the Senate to go ahead with the necessary legislative process on the fiscal document at its plenary on Tuesday.