Rumblings over whereabouts of the 2016 Budget proposal of the Federal Government in the Senate came to a climax yesterday as the Senate accused the Senior Special Assistant to the President (Senate), Senator Ita Enang of doctoring and circulating fake copies of the budget proposals.
In defence of its integrity, the Senate vowed not to work on the fake proposals allegedly circulated by Enang until it receives an electronic copy of the budget document which will be reproduced for senators.
Vanguard also learned yesterday that the same alteration of the budget document was done in the House of Representatives, but House officials were quick to intercept the doctoring and insist on the circulation of the original proposals as submitted by the President.
Circumstances around the budget document became an issue last Tuesday when it emerged that the proposal as submitted by the President could no longer be traced. The discovery prompted the Senate into a closed-door session following which the Senate Committee on Ethics was mandated to investigate the issue. The issue also led the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday afternoon.
Senator Saraki yesterday confirmed the doctoring of the budget proposals by Enang at the end of deliberations on the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions on the issue. Saraki added that the available hard copy of the budget presented to the Senate was different from the one laid before the two chambers of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly before both chambers embarked on Yuletide break last December. Senate officials, however, shied away from pointing out the differences between the two copies yesterday.
Senator Saraki nevertheless, said the report of the committee fingered the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Enang, for the act. He said the Senate would as such suspend its initial plan to begin consideration of the 2016 appropriation bill until the Presidency submits the soft copy of the original budget that was laid before the two chambers of the legislature. His words:
“We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016 Appropriation Bill. Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought to the Senate.
“We have discovered that what he brought is different from the version presented by Mr President. We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr President as soon as we receive soft copy of the original document from the executive.”
‘Budget not missing’
But briefing newsmen, after the day’s plenary, Senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said, “The report about a missing budget is not true. We don’t have a budget that is missing. But you recall that the Senate President did inform Nigerians that there is an issue that a committee was asked to investigate. The investigation by the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, has been submitted in the executive session. It was a decision we took at the last executive session.
“Our findings are these: That Mr. President did lay the budget before the joint session of the National Assembly and thereafter, the Senate went on recess and upon resumption, copies of the document were produced by Senator Ita Enang, who is the SSA to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) and the copies were submitted to the Senate and House of Representatives.
“What we found out is that the document submitted by Senator Ita Enang, upon our resumption, has some differences, discrepancies with what was originally laid by Mr. President in the joint sitting of the National Assembly.
“However, the Senate in defence of its own integrity, honour, will not work with what has not been laid on the floor of the National Assembly. We are constitutionally mandated and duty bound to consider only that budget that had been so laid by Mr President.
“Right now, for reproduction, we are awaiting the soft copy of the originally submitted budget so that the National Assembly can reproduce the copy itself. That is the only time we can have confidence in the document we want to work with.
“The budget submitted by the President is not missing; we already have copies of it but what we are saying is that for us to reproduce for our members, it is easier, based on the quantum of document that has to be produced, that we get the soft copy of that original version so that we can reproduce it. ‘“
He disclosed that the Senate has fixed Tuesday, next week to discuss the budget, saying copies of the document would be circulated to senators when the soft copy demanded from the presidency was received.
“By next week, we want to go down to business, senators have picked dates to speak during the three days set aside for debate on the 2016 budget.
“The Senate leadership was mandated to speak with all those concerned with the document, that was why the Senate President was in touch with Mr President.”
Abdullahi refused to speak on the claims by the House of Representatives that it had its own original version of the document.
“I am not in the position to say the differences between the document submitted by the President and the one brought by Ita Enang. The committee that investigated the issue did not include that in their report.
“As at the time the Senate President promised to make copies available to senators today (Thursday), he was working on the assumption that what was brought by the executive were copies of the original copies submitted by Mr President, but based on the outcry, it was discovered that there is another version different from what the President gave us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senator Enang, who is at the centre of the development, has refused to comment on the level of his involvement, as alleged by the Senate.
Enang told journalists who sought his view on the matter that he would not join issues with senators.
“I have chosen not to comment on this issue for personal reasons.
‘’We must work together to make the Senate as an institution to grow. The President is my boss and the senators are my bosses. I won’t join issues with them. So, let the whole matter remain as it is”, he said.