- House c’ttee rejects budget for opacity, duplication
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
While the scandal caused by the over N200million grass-cutting contract awarded by the Office to the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF) is yet to die down, the Presidential Committee on the North-east Initiative (PCNI) has again budgeted the sum of N60 million to cut trees and shrubs in the troubled region.
In its N45 billion proposal for 2017, the Initiative, domiciled in the office of the SGF, Mr. Babachir David Lawal, proposed N60 million for the ‘clearing of trees and shrubs on Maiduguri-Damboa road, Maiduguri- Bama-Gwoza-Mubi road, Uba-Lassa road” under the Security, Stabilisation and Peace Building sector of its budget.
Specific kilometres to be covered for the clearing of trees and shrubs, was however not included in the budget proposal.
These details are contained in the budget proposal presented yesterday, to the House of Representative Committee on Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees, by the Vice-Chairman of the PCNI, Mr. Tijjani Tumsah.
The development, and vagueness of several items listed on the budget proposal led the Hon. Sani Zorro-led Committee, to reject the budget of the initiative.
Under same security component, the Initiative proposed the sum of N2.5 billion for “Rapid Renovations and Reconstruction of Security outfits, standardised camps, and other productive works” while a separate proposal of N600 million was made for “standardisation of camps and upgrade” under the Relocation of IDPs/Refugees and Standardisation of Camps component of the 2017 proposal.
The breakdown of the Initiative’s N45 billion budget proposal for five sectors include N21.2 billion for Humanitarian Assistance, Rehabilitation and Resettlement N10.374 billion for Security, Stabilization and Peace Building, N6.585 billion for Economic Development , N4.797 billion for Education and Social Development, and N2 billion as Administrative costs.
While Administrative Costs was listed as a sector with N2 billion proposal, the breakdown of each of the five sectors again contained separate costs for administrative activities.
Also under Administrative Cost sector, the sum of N100 million was proposed for “Strategic Communications, Media and Publicity” while another N40 million was proposed for “Media and Publicity.” All other sectors had N40 million proposed for ‘Media and Publicity.”
Members of the Committee expressed disappointment that ‘a contract to cut grass’ has again resurfaced in the budget of the initiative despite the scandal.
Zorro, addressing the officials of the initiative said: “You can’t travel this same way again, it is not acceptable. Why can’t you assign this duty to the military to do it for you? They can use their personnel to clear the grasses and you can drop this idea of awarding contracts with N60 million.”
Zorro also queried why a huge chunk of the budget is concentrated in security, when the Initiative is not funding the military.
“You are going to deliver security equipment for N200 million. What type of security equipment? Then another N2.5 billion for security outfits. Are you telling us that part of your role is to fund the operations of the military in the North-east? The military have their own budget already,” the chairman said.
“You have N184 million for screening programme for humanitarian activities. What does that mean? There is N150 million on advocacy and early warning system and N165 million for conflict management,” he further said.
Hon. Adamu Kamale (Adamawa APC) said while N45 billion is inadequate to rehabilitate the IDPs, it is disturbing that about N8.4 billion alone was proposed for military operations.
“PCNI is not a military agency. This N8.4 billion should be converted to rehabilitation of burnt houses and schools. I am an IDP, so I know where it pains. N5 billion out of the money can rehabilitate up to 50 per cent of the houses,” he said
He added that there was duplicity of items in the budget and “our people back home will not forgive us if we pass this budget like this.”
Hon. Istifanus Gyang (Plateau PDP) noted that the overall commitment of the government to the cause of the IDPs and rehabilitation of the region, is over N800 billion, which is domiciled in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“So, your role as PCNI is recovery. You come in after the military have completed their own role and they have their budget,” he said.
Defending the proposal, Tumsah told the committee that the breakdown was planned after due consultations with the military, as while rehabilitation was the main mandate of the Initiative, security remains paramount.
“The IDPs are in camps in locations where they are safe, so returning them home means that there is security for them. Security remains a major issue in rehabilitation. There are mines everywhere. The military will have to go in there to remove them,” he explained.
The members however did not buy the argument, and rejected the budget. They suspended the session, directing the officials of PCNI to return with clear details of the expenditure of the proposed N45 billion.
Meanwhile plenary was suspended by the lawmakers, earlier, to mourn the death of Hon. Sani Bello who died last week after an illness.
Bello, who represented Mashi/Dutsi Federal constituency of Katsina state, was aged 51 years.