- FG mulls action on tomato importation
James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, monday disclosed that there could be as much as N80 billion waiting to flow into the economy through contracts and programme implementation but which had been held back by delays occasioned partly by the intricacies in the zero-budgeting system being currently adopted by the federal government.
He said budget implementation had been “very slow” in most government agencies as they had to go through the processes of advertisements among others as stipulated in the procurement act.
Also yesterday, the minister said the federal government was considering a definite action on the importation of tomato paste into the country, adding that the existing fiscal measures appeared not to be in favour of Nigerians.
Stressing that the concept of free trade doesn’t currently hold as countries try to protect their interests, he said government is considering imposition of higher tariffs or total ban on importation of tomato paste.
He said: “We will take serious measures to curtail this and save our local tomatoes from rotting in the streets.” Nevertheless, he said: “The procurement act insists on six weeks of that processes and we had to follow the rules,” he said.
Speaking during an interaction with members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, led by its Chairman, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, which visited the ministry on oversight function, the minister said the ministry closed 7,000 bids out of which it earned N70 million, as each bid paid N10,000.
He added that the bid proceeds had been paid into the Treasury Single Account (TSA).
Ogbeh said going through the bids took sometime and the ministry has had to follow due process-leading to delays in budget implementation for the year.
He said: “Not much of the projects have started; you will find this in several ministries that the way the budget came out this year remain quite late and the procedures we had to follow-we can’t bypass them-which I am not happy about but which we could not simple avoid.
“One of the reasons there’s not too many money in circulation is that the budget under the zero budgeting system-the cash is there and yet we can’t spend until the processes are carried out. So all together at the federal level, there may be about N80 billion waiting to flow into the economy through contracts and programme implementation.”
He, however, said there would be extensive activities in the ministry next year as the current budget would spill into the 2017 budget to create much impact in the economy.
Ogbeh further hinted that the ministry could not handle road constructions in the rural areas because the budget of about N1.3 billion was too small for capital projects in all the local governments across the country.
He also said the 10 percent budget allocation to agricultural as prescribed by the Maputo Declaration was not currently feasible amid the present economic reality, adding that only 4.5 percent may be manageable.
Asked to clear the air on a statement ascribed to him that the price of rice had increased because Nigerians consume too much rice, the minister said his statement was outrightly misconstrued.
According to him, there’s no way he could have made the comment given that he is a rice miller in the first instance. He said the allegation could have been born out of a deliberate attempt to malign his reputation. He explained that he only drew attention to the fact that there were proven research outcomes suggesting that consumption of rice which are grown in the same spot over a long period of time could be poisonous to health-and not the other way round.
The minister also assured Nigerians that the currently high price of the commodity will reduce as the harvest season commences by November.
He also refuted claims in some quarters that the federal government had ordered the importation of rice into the country. He added that though importation of rice had not been totally banned, importers must be ready to pay the stipulated tariffs for any import.
Meanwhile, Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Abdullahi Adamu commended the efforts so far made by the ministry to reposition agriculture and urged the minister not to succumb to the propaganda of rice importers.
He said government should adhere to the two-year plan whereby rice importation will be completely banned.
He said the senate will continue to give required support to the ministry to ensure that the goals of government in the areas of agriculture was realised.
Ogbeh also regretted that some state governments have been slow at aligning with federal government’s strategy to revive the agricultural sector, particularly the oil producing states.