July 14, 2017 / 4:53 PM / 14 days ago

Exclusive: Nigeria budget, despite being signed into law, still being amended

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's 2017 budget, signed into law by the acting president a month ago, has still not been finalised and is being amended due to disagreements between parliament and the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Any delays to government spending could hobble recovery in Africa's largest economy, now in its second year of recession.

The 2017 budget, still not finalised in the second half of the year, was meant to spark that return to growth after the first downturn in a quarter of a century.

The presidency and senior lawmakers had also promised that it would avoid the severe delays in passing the previous year's budget, which was signed off in May 2016 -- five months into the budget year.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo signed Nigeria's 2107 budget into law last month.

The delays for the 2017 budget come as the presidency locks horns with the National Assembly over projects added to the document in a practice known as "padding" -- lawmakers' efforts to funnel money and development to their local jurisdictions at the expense of the federal government.

"Before the budget was signed it was agreed between the executive and the lawmakers that those insertions of some new projects into the budget made by the National Assembly should be removed and replaced with the priority projects of the federal government which the lawmakers removed," a presidency official told Reuters, declining to be named because they were not authorized to speak to media.

Osinbajo signed this year's budget, despite it not being finalised, because the process had already dragged on for too long, the official said.

A budget ministry spokesman referred Reuters to Osinbajo's June statement from the budget signing, in which he said the National Assembly had agreed to reinstate federal government projects and that "will be expeditiously considered and approved by the National Assembly."

He declined to say whether funds from the 2017 budget had begun to be released.

(To view a graphic on Nigeria's economy, click reut.rs/2urAprj)

Fund Transfers

The presidency could still transfer funds from one part of the budget to another, said Abdulrazak Namdas, a spokesman for the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of parliament.

He added that the budget, now signed into law, "must be implemented".

A spokesman for the Senate, the upper chamber of the National Assembly, did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages requesting comment.

A presidency spokesman declined to comment.

The acting president has led Nigeria for most of 2017 while the ailing President Muhammadu Buhari remains in London on medical leave.

Last year's budget was similarly delayed for months by disagreements between lawmakers and the presidency over spending plans that cut the supply of government money and deepened the economic crisis.

Last month, Buhari said in a statement that the 2018 budget proposal will be submitted by October and parliament will conclude the process by December so the country can return to a normal budget cycle from next year.

Reporting by Paul Carsten and Felix Onuah; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh; Editing by Ulf Laessing/Jeremy Gaunt

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