National Assembly Complex
Although, many of the ministries, departments and agencies that appeared recently before the Senate committees for budget defence had a less than impressive showing, the SURE-P team took the prize for poor showing at the session, writes Dele Ogbodo
Last week was indeed a busy week for virtually all the lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly. The suspension of plenary penultimate week by the Senate President David Mark, afforded the lawmakers the ample time to interface with the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on the appraisals of their 2012 budget and bit-by-bit analyses of their 2013 budgets appropriation under close scrutiny.
For the Ministry of Tourism, National Orientation and Culture, headed by Chief Edem Duke, it was an easy ride for a budget defence of N22.8 billion in the 2013 bill. But for others like the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) which budget was N50 billion and the SURE-P with N180 billion, it was a herculean task defending their huge budget proposals.
The FCT Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed and the Chairman of SURE-P, Dr. Christopher Kolade, while defending their respective appropriations had the roughest of time. The fact that Muhammed was a former colleague presented no advantage.
Specifically, the Kolade-led SURE-P did not help matters as some of his sub-committee coordinators were apparently ill-prepared to square up with members of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream, chaired by Senator Senator Magnus Abe.
It was colourless SURE-P and vintage legislators as the Coordinator heading the sub-committee on Job Creation and Women Empowerment scheme could not present a credible template or road map on how he intends to spend N27 billion out of the N180 billion proposed for 2013 appropriation bill to engage the army of Nigerian unemployed youths.
Thus, for Kolade, his experience before the senate committee will last a long time. Answers provided by the respected elder and his team to posers from the lawmakers could not convince the lawmakers that the interventionist programme would yield, contrary to campaign at take off.
At several interjections, he was on the firing line as leader of the team. The lawmakers spared no one. The Senate Committee was also quick to add that expending the sum of N2billion in less than five months to service a secretariat was a sheer waste just like the blowing of N75 million on travelling cost to inspect projects across the country as investment down the drain.
Coordinator, SURE-P Committee on Youth and Women Empowerment ended up compounding the budget defence when he said: “We intend to engage 5000 youths in each state of the federation, and 50,000 people across the country. I will use this opportunity to address this gathering that that various committees have been set up and inaugurated by Vice-President Namadi Sambo last week.”
Continuing, he added: “In the Committees across the country, we have 5 people in each state cutting across each Senatorial zone to interface with the state governments so as to identify on how jobs will be created. Also, we are looking at 5000 young people to be involved with the various projects prior to the 14 states pilot schemes carried out earlier, where we interacted with the local communities, local government chairmen, state governments to find out their needs.”
At this juncture, he was interrupted by Senator Abe, who said: “Young man, I don’t think this explanation will go anywhere. See, if you want to collect N27 billion and you say you are going to bring 50,000 people to do one thing or the other, I think you need to have a document that actually explains how the lives of those 50,000 people will be transformed and where you are moving them from point A to point B. This is not something that you can do with the way you are going and I don’t think anybody will be satisfied.”
But the Coordinator continued, perhaps to make more comprehensible, his argument. “We intend to pay N10,000 each to 5000 people in each states of the federation.”
Again Senator Abe interrupted him: “We have done that before in this country like we had before poverty alleviation with N10 billion was brought to pay 10,000 at the end of the day, how did that help anybody? Where are the 10,000 people today,” he queried?
Abe insisted that if SURE-P wanted to help the unemployed Nigerians, it must design a programme that actually puts something that is sustainable and lasting. “To go and say you are going to share N10,000 which at the end of the day has no guarantee as to who will get and who will not. I don’t know how that will help the unemployment situation in this country. I don’t know,” he said.
But the coordinator who still wanted to create and impression and dismiss that of incompetence the senate committee appeared to have, said, yet job creation for the youths: “We are looking at areas like creating jobs in Agriculture, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Creative Industries. For example, I represent the youths in this country.”
Unfortunately for him, he ended up throwing the hall into deep laughter. It was at the point that Hon. Peterside intervened to salvage him from doing further damage to Kolade’s hard earned reputation.
“Sorry, let me just help you. I don’t think there is anything that you will say now that will convince anybody here. What I think you should do is, just get the documentation and your papers right and send it across to us. If eventually it convinces us that we will be able to sustain that proposal and if it does not, we will certainly move the money elsewhere that it will add more value to the economy of this country and the lives of Nigerians,” he said.
Kolade, however, pleaded for more time to turn in the required documents by the Committee in not less than one week.
While adjourning, Abe said: “Let me very humbly thank the Chairman and members of the SURE-P for the effort that you have put into this budget process. I’m sure that this is one hearing that Nigerians are very happy with and will be interested in and to a very reasonable extent, I wish to commend the candour and the transparency of the Chairman and members by trying as much as possible to open up the processes of SURE-P to proper legislative scrutiny.
“Let me also say that there is still a few questions hanging and to remind you of your commitment that you will provide these details by tomorrow, given your history with this joint committee hearing and the last time you made commitment you made it on time, we therefore decided to take your words for it and therefore, as a mark of respect to your age and status in this country, we hope we will get those details tomorrow.”
Abe noted that part of the challenge the whole exercise has thrown up about the SURE-P is the need for the lawmakers to actually look at the programme critically based on emerging revelation in the present form and shape if it can actually deliver on the expectation of Nigerians.
“I think they may need a little more latitude for us to get to where we are going. The effort they have made to actually bring out the facts and figures of how much SURE-P has gotten and how much has actually been expended, we were impressed with that and also if you look at the figures submitted and the pain the committee has gone through to try to deliver value in terms of the ongoing projects, I think in respect of that mandate, that they have done well.
“But the social safety nets programmes that have to do with youth employment etc, I don’t think they have the capacity to actually deliver in respect of those ones. That is not very clear to us and we want to see some measure of realignment of that part of their mandates.”
The senator observed that “If you are telling us now that you spent almost N8 billion on the mass transit schemes; where are the buses? How did you spend the money? If you say you bought buses, how many buses did you buy and who are the people using them? Have they started paying back the money? As legislators, when we say it is okay, the people will know that it is okay.
Confronted with the question as to whether the lawmakers will subject SURE-P’s mandate for restructuring or review in operational modalities, Abe said “the issue of review will be left to the Executive that set up SURE-P.
“The mandate of National Assembly is oversight and what they have come to do is to defend the appropriation, the money that they have been given; how they operate and the structure of their operation. They didn’t decide that and we cannot decide here in this Committee. But we think it is clear to everybody that there is need to look at the structure of SURE-P against the expectation of the country and I think that we need to do something about that but it cannot be done here,” he said.