Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed
By Onwuka Nzeshi
The budget row raging between the legislature and the executive showed no signs of abating at the weekend as the House of Representatives again disagreed with the presidency and the Federal Ministry of Finance on the pace of implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act.
At an emergency news conference Sunday, the House restated its concern on the “poor and selective” implementation of the 2012 budget by the executive arm of government and the attitude of officials of government saddled with the responsibility of implementing the budget.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who addressed journalists on issues arising from the budget, took exception to the insinuation by the executive that the difficulties being encountered in budget implementation were as a result of the insertion of constituency projects and some other distortions allegedly brought into the budget by the legislature.
Mohammed said that the position taken by the executive was not tenable in a democracy and accused the presidency and the Federal Executive Council (FEC) of suffering from military hangover.
“The National Assembly cannot distort a budget which it has full powers over. There is no law that says the budget must be returned to the president exactly the way it is forwarded to the National Assembly.
“They seem to be suffering from military hangover where budgets were announced after a meeting of the Supreme Military Council (SMC). The Federal Executive Council (FEC) is not the equivalent of the SMC. The National Assembly has replaced the SMC.
“If the Appropriation Act is to be sent back to the executive the way it is presented, then it is better that the National Assembly is abolished.
“In a constitutional democracy, in the budgeting process, the National Assembly exercises the constitutional responsibility of taking care of the interests and aspirations of Nigerians from every constituency.
“We are not at war with the executive arm on this matter. We shall continue to insist on the implementation of the budget no matter what is being insinuated as the motivating factor for our intervention,” he said.
Mohammed also disputed the position of the executive that the budget had reached 56 per cent implementation.
Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had last week stated that budget implementation had risen to 56 per cent going by the last tranche of funds released to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government by July 20.
Contradicting this position, the House said the level of implementation at best hovered at about 34 per cent, given the statistics at its disposal.
The spokesman of the House said the Minister of Finance had no discretionary rights over the release of funds provided in the budget as the law makes the release of such funds mandatory.
Mohammed accused Okonjo-Iweala of subjecting the 2012 Appropriation Act to personal whims and caprices which, he said, was unlawful.
“It is not within her powers to pick and choose projects and programmes to fund as has been the case with the Appropriation Act, 2012. Her piecemeal and discretionary release of funds for projects, contrary to the schedule approved in the Appropriation Act, is unlawful. She is, in fact, breaking the law.
“What the law requires the minister to do is ensure that all funds appropriated for projects within a particular quarter are released to all the ministries, departments and agencies, as and when due without preference.
“If the revenue target is not achieved in any particular period, it is the responsibility of the honourable minister to seek for a waiver from the National Assembly.
“This has not been the case as the honourable minister has not told the nation or the National Assembly that the monies for these projects are not available.
“The honourable minister has rather chosen to release funds for the implementation of the budget subject only to her whims and caprices. She has no right to do so,” Mohammed said.
Section 6 of the Appropriation Act, 2012, states: “The Minister of Finance shall ensure that funds appropriated under this Act are released to the appropriate agencies and/or organs of government as and when due, provided that no funds for any quarter of the fiscal year shall be deferred without prior waiver from the National Assembly.”
Mohammed said that while the House would not endorse the release of funds to MDAs without due process and actual execution of projects, it was confident that the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) was equal to the task of ensuring that all processes of approval were completed within the specified period as provided for in the Public Procurement Act.
“The House of Representatives also does not agree with the honourable minister that the slow pace of implementation of the 2012 budget is as a result of the constituency projects introduced into the budget by the National Assembly.
“For the avoidance of doubt, constituency projects represent less than 10 per cent of the 2012 capital budget. How can this be the reason for the slow implementation of the budget?
“This excuse for non-implementation falls flat on its face when a review of the performance of the executive on even its own preferred projects is made.
“More evidential is the fact that releases so far made to the MDAs are not enough to pay for ongoing projects or projects chosen by the executive.
“For instance, out of a total appropriation of N145 billion for the Ministry of Works in the budget, only N47 billion has so far been released to the ministry. In the first quarter, N38 billion was released and in the second quarter only N9 billion was released, with a shortfall of about N30 billion for the second quarter.
“The projects that need these appropriations are core road projects scattered all over the country. Or are these inter-state highways and other strategic road projects also constituency projects? Playing to the gallery by the executive arm will not change the facts of the situation,” he said.
Mohammed also explained that contrary to the impression created in the minds of the public, constituency projects are usually managed by the executive arm of government and not the lawmakers.
According to him, members of the National Assembly are neither involved in the award of contracts for these projects nor have they been involved in their execution.
Mohammed advised President Goodluck Jonathan “to be careful of the type of advice he gets from his unelected appointees” on the issue of the implementation of the budget, as it was in his own interest, as an elected official to see that the budget was implemented to benefit of the electorate.