• Rejects 2016 FIRS budget, suspends legislation on NSIA
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The face-off between the Senate and the executive of government over the alleged shoddy preparation of 2016-2018 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), as well as the poor handling of $30 billion external borrowing plan, is yet to be resolved as the upper chamber has returned both documents to the executive.
The Senate penultimate week rejected the $30 billion external borrowing plan, citing President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to attach more details, as well as his request for anticipatory approval.
It also suspended the debate on the MTEF and FSP over allegations that it was shallow and could not be legislated upon.
THISDAY learnt yesterday that following the inadequacies of the documents, coupled with the federal government’s seeming indifference to remedy the situation, the Senate had opted to return both documents to the executive.
The Senate has also blamed the silence of the executive on the MTEF and FSP for the continued delay of the 2017 budget process.
A source privy to the development disclosed to THISDAY yesterday that the Senate perceives the executive’s attitude towards its request on the MTEF and FSP as a major setback for 2017 budget process.
According to him, the Senate had hoped that every lingering issue would be resolved ahead of the presentation of the 2017 budget.
“Already, the Senate has returned the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the request for $30 billion external borrowing plan to the executive arm of government due to lack of supporting documentation and details of where the loans are to be allocated.
“Many outside observers believe the failure to submit the supporting documentation on the MTEF for examination has held up the 2017 budget process.
“The Senate leaders had long stated that they had hoped to resolve most of the outstanding issues of disagreement well ahead of receiving the 2017 budget,” the source stated.
Also, the Senate yesterday rejected the report of its Committee on Finance on the 2016 budget of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) as a result of what it termed the poor preparation of the budget.
The budget, which had been slated for possible approval yesterday following the presentation of the committee report, was turned down after the Senate’s observation that it was poorly compiled and incomplete.
It was, however, learnt that beyond the committee’s poor handling of the FIRS budget, the rejection was meant to send a strong signal to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government “that there shall be no more business as usual in the budget process as the Senate awaits the arrival of the 2017 federal budget”.
THISDAY also gathered that the FIRS budget was rejected because the “Senate believes the report submitted for consideration today (yesterday) supports the committee’s position that more oversight of the budget was necessary and the supporting information to justify the budget was sorely needed”.
Buhari last July submitted the N146.165 billion FIRS budget to the Senate for approval. Consequently, the budget was referred to the Committee on Finance for legislative action.
But after the Finance Committee Chairman, Senator John Enoh, presented the committee’s report on the budget to the Senate for approval yesterday, senators observed that the committee failed to do a thorough job and consequently ordered it to return it to the committee room.
The Senate had queried the rationale behind the committee approving all the proposals in the budget as submitted by the executive, with some senators describing the action as unjustifiable.
They also queried the rationale for the N25 billion increase in personnel cost in the 2015 budget of FIRS and another N13 billion increase in overhead costs of the agency in the budget.
“I’m concerned about the personnel cost increase by N25 billion while overheads increased between N12 billion and N13 billion,” Senator Albert Bassey (Akwa Ibom North-east) observed.
Senator Barau Jubril (Kano Central) also observed that the committee’s report showed a shortfall in FIRS’ revenue projections for 2015, wondering why the agency failed to meet its set target in the last fiscal year.
Whereas FIRS had made a revenue projection of N4.36 trillion for 2015, it only generated N3.7 trillion at the end of the fiscal year.
Other issues, which led to the rejection of the budget, included the alleged ambiguities in the description of some proposals in the budget.
Senator Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South) observed that “the description of some of these items were quite vague especially on ICT infrastructure”.
“The description of these items are not very clear. Items such as hardware and peripherals, software licences and implementation services, etcetera,” he said.
In view of the lapses pointed out in the budget, Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’allah, called for its withdrawal to enable the committee return to the drawing board.
Na’Allah also criticised some MDAs, which have cultivated the habit of submitting their annual budgets at the end of the year, observing that it was done in bad faith.
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, queried the validity of the job done by the committee, noting that there was virtually no difference between what was proposed by the agency and what the committee approved.
He tasked the committee on doing a thorough job by clearly spelling out revenue figures as well as those for capital projects.
Details of components of the FIRS budget as approved by the committee, but which the Senate rejected because most of the proposals were either found to be unjustifiable, duplicated or their costs inflated included office materials and supplies — N3,349,000,000, library books and periodicals — N68,000,000, computer materials and supplies — N530,000,000, printing of non-security documents — N1,900,000,000, printing of security documents — N250,000,000, maintenance of office furniture and equipment — N90,000,000 and maintenance of building office — N300,000,000.
Others were maintenance of office equipment — N266,000,000, maintenance of computers and IT equipment — N120,000,000, maintenance of plants/generators — 170,000,000, cleaning and fumigation services — N750,000,000, office rent — N885,000,000, security vote — N250,000,000, legal services — N500,000,000, vehicle fuel cost — N700,000,000, generator fuel cost — N750,000,000, refreshment and meals — N586,000,000.
Also included in the proposal were honorarium and sitting allowance payments — 150,000,000, publicity, advert and tax payers’ education — N200,000,000,000, medical expenditure — N700,000,000, postages and courier services — N244,000,000, welfare packages — N681,000,000, tax audit investigation and monitoring — N2,500,000,000, and tax investigation — N500,000,000.
Also, yesterday, the Senate suspended the passage of the National Sovereign Investment Agency (NSIA) Bill, which was meant to restore the sovereignty of the naira as the national currency.
The bill is also proposing to guarantee the transparency of NSIA’s funding and to foster accountability.
Consideration of the bill was suspended as a result of the provision in Section 10 which states “that the Authority shall be established by seed fund contributed by the federal, states, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), local governments and area councils, which shall be the Nigerian naira equivalent of the sum of USD 1 billion”.
In view of this provision, the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, reminded his colleagues that the matter was already before a law court, adding that it was a constitutional matter on which the Senate lacked powers to legislate upon.
This position was supported by the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu. Consequently, the bill was stepped down.