Determined to avoid any more budget-related scandals, lawmakers in the various standing committees of the National Assembly will carry out in-depth scrutiny of at least 590 suspicious line items during the ongoing budget defence by government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

Consequently, Senate President Bukola Saraki has given all Senate committee chairmen a working document and directed them to thoroughly examine all allocations in the budget.

The working document, entitled “2017 Budget: Frivolous & Suspicious Items”, was presented yesterday at a meeting of the Senate president and all the standing committee chairmen where they deliberated on the budget defence exercise.

The document, which was specifically prepared for the National Assembly by a leading government transparency organisation – BudgiT, outlined questionable 590 line items in the 2017 budget from 32 MDAs. The document was presented to each committee chairman by Saraki.

BudgiT listed the concerned MDAs, the suspicious or frivolous line items, amount budgeted and a question or comment against each which will be determined by the National Assembly standing committees during the budget defence exercise.

LEADERSHIP reports that the State House (Presidential Villa) has 21 questionable line items listed against it; the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) has 30; while the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) has 16. Anti-corruption agencies are not excluded with 11 line items listed against the ICPC and three against the Code of Conduct Bureau (CBB).

Affected MDAs include the ministries of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Interior, Justice, Mines and Steel Development, Industry, Trade and Investment, Niger Delta, Water Resources, Information and Culture, Transport, Labour & Employment, Agriculture, Petroleum Resources, Education, Defence, Environment and Power, Works and Housing.

Others are the ministries of Health, Youth and Sport Development, Foreign Affairs, Office of the Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF), Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation, Police Service Commission (PSC), Bureau of Public Service Reforms, National Salaries, Income and Wages Commission (NSIWC) and Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC).

According to the document, its authors are a civic organisation driven by the desire to make the Nigerian budget and public data more understandable and accessible across every literacy span.

“This document does not exhaust all the frivolous and suspicious items in the proposed 2017 budget. We hope this will serve as a guide to the National Assembly during the budget defence sessions.

“We state that our comments are without prejudice and are raised from concerned citizens. This should allow the National Assembly to ask questions to ensure proper allocation of funds,” it noted.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly has approved a $1billion Eurobond request by the federal government as contained in the 2016 budget.

LEADERSHIP reports that the acting president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, yesterday met with Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to discuss the Executive’s latest request.

The National Assembly had earlier given the Executive arm of government the go-ahead to secure a $3 billion external loan approved in the subsisting 2016 budget, which will elapse in March this year.

The Senate, which went on break last week, to work on the 2017 budget at committee level, it was learnt, may reconvene to discuss and approve the executive request for the $1 billion Eurobond which is already before it.

The federal government is to organise a Road Show to raise the said fund since the National Assembly had also declined to approve the $29.9 billion external borrowing plan by President Muhammadu Buhari presented to it in 2016.

Addressing State House correspondents after the meeting, Saraki confirmed that they discussed issues relating to the nation’s economy including the 2017 budget proposal.

While noting that the meeting was fruitful, the Senate president revealed that they were updated on the proposed government’s economic recovery plans, the road show for the sale of bonds and the 2017 budget. He said the National Assembly had so far not encountered any problems with the 2017 budget. “We are meeting on the economy and the budget: myself, the vice-president and the speaker, minister of budget and minister of finance.

“We are aware that the economic team will soon be going on a road show and just to brief us and let us know the issues and just carry us along. We have just started the defence so there are no issues, these are just consultations,’’ Saraki added.

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