Presidential Adviser: Budget ‘Padding’ Not in Legislative Lexicon

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  •  Distances presidency from budget feud
  •   Udoma: FG will review budget only when necessary
  •   N331.5bn CAPEX released, 2017 Appropriation Bill to be submitted by October

Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Nudbuisi Francis and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

After weeks of accusations and counter-accusations over the alleged alterations made in the 2016 budget, the presidency for first time yesterday spoke on the war of attrition in the House of Representatives and exonerated itself from the budget scandal rocking the lower legislative chamber.

The presidency also more or less took sides with the Speaker of the House, Hon. Dogara and others who were accused of altering the budget, when it towed the path of the speaker by stating that there was no word like “padding” in the legislative lexicon.
It said the 2016 budget currently in use was the one originally passed by the lawmakers and there was nothing like “padding” in it.

The former House Chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumini Jubrin, had accused Dogara, his deputy, two other principal officers, and several committee chairmen of being the brains behind the “padding” of the 2016 budget.

However, while fielding questions on the budget saga yesterday at the national secretariat of the All Progressives Congress (APC), after a closed door meeting with the party leadership, the president’s Senior Special Assistant on the Senate Matters, Sen. Ita Enag, insisted that the presidency does not know anything about the “padding” allegation.

He said: “We are here on the invitation of the party leadership of the APC with my colleague to bring answers on issues raised by the party on the 2016 Appropriation Bill and we have been with the party for a little over three hours and we have provided explanations on every issue that there was nothing, to our knowledge, no the padding of the budget.

“The budget, as assented to by Mr. President, is the budget as passed by the National Assembly and that is the budget being executed.
“But as of now, the party is handling it as a domestic issue, and all of us are enjoined not to make public comments on the details of this because the matter is still under consideration.

“So that is what we will want to say for now, we will not want to go into the details of it so that we will not breach the ethics of the party, the directives of the party or pre-empt anything or any outcome by the party,” he said.

Enang, who came to the APC secretariat in company of his colleague, Senior Special Assistant to the President on the House, Hon. Ismail Kawu, however, was reticent about clearing Dogara of the allegations, when asked.

“I will want to say that we came here as persons who works as liaison officers on the budget and the party had questions for us to make clarifications, and we have made those clarifications to the party.

“We would not want to draw any conclusion. Please let us not go too far by mentioning any office. Let it be that two of us have appeared before the party,” he said.
Enang, however, towed the same path of Dogara when he said: “In all our years of legislative engagements, we are yet to find in the legislative lexicon the word ‘padding’.

“When the budget is presented before the legislature, the legislature is to consider the budget and passes it as it deems fit. So what the legislature passes becomes the Appropriation Act upon assent. Therefore, any word which is yet to crystalise in the legislative lexicon, you cannot hear us mention it.”

But as the crisis over the budget raged, the Transparency Group which boasts of 206 members in the House, claimed that though the principal officers of the House may be guilty of inserting “outrageous sums” into the budget, they also accused the executive arm of government of not being free of the blame either.

Budget Review When Necessary

On the viability of the 2016 budget, the federal government, however, stated that despite the fall in revenue resulting from sliding crude oil prices and disruptions to oil production by Niger Delta militants, it would only consider a review of the 2016 budget when there is a clear indication of a persistent fall in revenue expectations.
Making this known yesterday, the Minister of Budget and National Planning Minister, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma equally disclosed that so far government has released N331.5 billion as a fraction of capital allocation from the 2016 budget, adding that the 2017 budget will be submitted to the National Assembly by October this year.

Udoma made the pronouncements at a Town Hall Meeting and Policy Dialogue for Good Governance organised by the Ministry of Information and Culture, in collaboration with the Alumni Association of the National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (AANIPSS), which focused on the “Effective implementation of the 2016 Budget”.
He insisted that “although the disparity between projected revenue and actual receipts in the last two quarters was obvious, government was optimistic that the current situation will not prevail for long”.

Udoma said government was keeping a close tab on the situation, particularly on the economic indicators, admitting that government is worried about the current trend which does not align with expectations as contained in the budget fundamentals.
The minister said however that if the downward trajectory persists, government might make reasonable adjustments to fall in line with prevailing realities.

He explained that at the inception of the current administration, the economy was facing several challenges, including declining oil prices and production, which led to declining external reserves and GDP growth rate, adding that there was also rising inflation, rising unemployment rate, insecurity, high cost of governance, corruption, an infrastructure deficit, and the worsening of key socio-economic indicators.

The 2016 budget, he explained, was therefore designed to deal with these problems, and in doing so, government had to take a deliberate decision to deviate from the past by assigning a reasonable portion of the budget to infrastructure development.
The minister said this was not only to provide backbone infrastructure to the agriculture and solid mineral development, which are to redirect the country from sole dependence on oil for revenue, but to energise other sectors that are not fundamentally affected by government overheads that take the bulk of national budgets.

Udoma said in spite of the dwindling resources, government remains determined to use the budget as an instrument to reflate the economy, which is why the budget was backed up with a Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) to fundamentally address the challenges.

The SIP, he added, was to direct the trajectory of the national economy towards the path of sustainable development and inclusive growth, explaining that the plan consists of 34 priority actions to be implemented along six major strategic areas, namely, policy, security and governance; diversifying the economy; power, rail and roads; oil and gas reforms; ease of doing business; and social investment.

“Government also set measurable targets for implementation,” he said.
The minister also disclosed that the federal government has so far released more than N330 billion for capital projects, inclusive of the funds in statutory transfers, adding that the money would be deployed to key ministries including Power, Works and Housing; Defence and Security; Water Resources; Transportation; Agriculture, and Niger Delta, and also to cover other sectors that will turn around the economy.

The government, he said, was targeting the Social Intervention Programme to provide support to the poor and less privileged Nigerians, especially women and vulnerable Nigerians, adding that government was also partnering the private sector to fix infrastructure.

Information Minister and moderator of the town hall meeting, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said government was ever ready to engage with Nigerians and explain its policies and actions as well as seek inputs from the people for better governance of the country.

He expressed delight that instead of joining the band of fault-finders and traditional critics of government, the alumni of Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) decided to constructively engage with government towards finding solutions and contributing to the growth of the economy.
Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, blamed the current state of economy on successive governments which paid more attention to recurrent expenditure to the detriment of capital spending.

This, coupled with other untoward economic policies, paved the way for the current poor outing, she added.
She, however, said that government has decided to reverse the trend with increased capital expenditure and diversification of the economy from the current mono-product economy.

Adeosun said diversification is an agenda which government must achieve, because it is a veritable means to unlock the economy and create more jobs for the people.
Adeosun added that the country, at this point in time, has no choice than to borrow — to invest in the Nigerian economy.

She said the federal government was very conscious and conservative about its borrowing, so as not to leave a heavy debt burden for future generations.
“We have a very conservative borrowing programme, and we must borrow, because to do rail there has to be a really significant upgrade, because the rail that we have now was done in the colonial era,” she said.

“We have to urgently do rail to make agriculture and solid minerals competitive, so I really don’t see that there is any option than to borrow.
“We will borrow sustainably, we would borrow conservatively to make sure that we don’t burden future generation.”

Adeosun however added that the government would be different in its approach to borrowing this time, and would not borrow to fund recurrent expenditure, but to fund infrastructure.
“The difference is, we’ve been borrowing in the past to pay salaries; now we borrow to invest,” she said.
“When you borrow to invest, there is an expectation that there will be additional revenue that will service those borrowings.

“I think that is the clear difference. I don’t think people should be unduly concerned about borrowing; we have to borrow, we have no choice but we will borrow as strictly as possible.
“This is why we have approached the World Bank and export credit organisations that provide concessional loans. We are taking concessional loans before going for commercial loans.”

She said the size of the public sector was evidence of the failure to develop the private sector, adding that the latter should be the major employer in the country.
Adeosun said investments must be made in infrastructure to create an environment for the growth of the private sector.

Other ministers at the meeting included Mr. Babtunde Raji Fashola (Power, Works and Housing), Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Solid Minerals Development), Chief Audu Ogbeh (Agriculture and Rural Development), Dr. Issac Adewole (Health), Mr. Godfrey Onyema (Foreign Affairs), and Amina Mohammed (Environment).

The vice-president was represented by the Special Adviser to the President, Economic Matters, Dr Adeyemi Dipeolu.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, was the chairman at the event and was accompanied by the Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar.

Also, in order to forestall the late submission of the budget, its approval and implementation by the Executive and the National Assembly, the federal government has begun early preparations of the 2017 Appropriation Bill to eliminate delays.

A statement by the Director (Information) in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Adedeji Ajibade, said Udoma, at the town hall meeting, disclosed that the necessary consultations and framework for the 2017 budget were ongoing.

He pointed out that the early preparation and submission of the budget to the National Assembly would ensure the inclusion of every detail, and avoid undue pressure as well as eliminate delays in the presentation and implementation of the budget.