Senate Issues Two-week Ultimatum to Executive to Submit Agencies’ Budget Proposals

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• Bars NNPC, CBN, 34 other agencies from further capital expenditure

• Frowns on resumption of DG, lottery commission without confirmation

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The Senate Wednesday issued President Muhammadu Buhari a two-week ultimatum to submit the 2017 budget proposals of at least 36 agencies of the federal government for consideration and passage by the National Assembly, in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).

It also barred the agencies, which are revenue generating, from further capital and non-essential expenditure, pending the submission and approval of their budgets.

Some of the affected agencies include the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) and Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).

The ultimatum was issued to the president because the heads of several of the agencies do not report to any ministers.

The resolution followed a motion sponsored by Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, who also sought urgent amendments to the FRA to provide penalties for breach of the legislation.

This, he said, was necessary as the absence of penalties in the FRA may have emboldened and encouraged the agencies not to submit their budget proposals to the National Assembly.

“Non-compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act constitutes abuse of power and economic sabotage aimed at frustrating the current economic measures being taken by the present administration to address the economic recession,” he said.

Na’Allah also accused the Fiscal Responsibility Commission of complacency and failing in its responsibility to ensure that the provisions of the FRA are adhered to.

The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, contributing to the debate, said the constitution remains supreme and its provisions must have a binding force on all authorities and persons.

“Section 80(2) says no monies shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the Fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those monies has been authorised by an Appropriation Act.

“It goes further in Section 80(3) to say that no money shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation unless it is authorised by an Act of the National Assembly,” Ekweremadu said.

He added that the National Assembly must ensure adherence to the FRA, as it is a legislation made to ensure that good governance prevails.

“I believe the time has come when we are going to insist that all agencies should stop the expenditure of public funds except they are appropriated, in accordance with Section 80 of the constitution, which we have sworn to uphold.

“It is our responsibility today to ensure that ultimatum is given to agencies under this government to bring these estimates for us to duly appropriate,” Ekweremadu added.

Senator Solomon Adeola (Lagos West) said the agencies have budgets in excess of N10 trillion put together, which is larger than the federal budget.
“As we speak, millions are being spent each day by the agencies. Some of the budgets do not even go through the minister, they submit to the chief of staff to the president,” he added.

Presiding, Senate President Bukola Saraki said the matter was at the heart of the anti-corruption fight to ensure accountability and good governance.
Saraki added that revenue from the agencies exceeds the money Nigeria makes from the sale of crude oil.

“So it is a huge amount of our revenue line when we are talking about looking for money to fund projects, hospitals, education, etc.

“This is where the sources of the revenue are and I cannot see how we can continue in a society, where we are fighting corruption, where people will be spending money without approval, without appropriation.

“It must stop, it will stop and is going to stop from now.
“Clearly, we have made our position known that based on this motion these agencies must get their budgets to us in two weeks, and committee chairmen I want to appeal that once we get the budgets, on our own part, let’s ensure that we work on them very diligently and try and turn them around as quick as possible,” Saraki said.
The Senate also frowned on the resumption of Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila as the Director General of the National Lottery Commission, without confirmation by the Senate, in breach of Section 8(1) of the Lottery Act.

Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West), raising a point of order on the matter, said Gbajabiamila was already discharging the responsibilities of the office of the DG, constituting an illegality and disrespect for the rule of law.

“The DG has not only been appointed by the president, he has assumed office and has started signing documents, carrying out the functions of the office of the director-general of the National Lottery Commission without referral or confirmation of the Nigerian Senate,” he said.

Melaye noted that the president sent his nominees for the chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), board members of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), non-executive directors of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and others to the Senate for confirmation.

“This country is not a banana republic and the executive arm of government cannot choose the laws to obey and the one not to obey. Why will there be selective respect for the rule of law?” he asked.

Ruling on the point of order, which was not subjected to debate, Saraki said the issue was a weighty one bordering on the breach of the constitution, rule of law and democratic practice.

He added that the allegation would be investigated by the Senate.
“The matter is very clear. We have to first check that, truly, this gentleman (Gbajabiamila) decided on his own to disregard the law and assume.

“If that is what he has done, I am sure that when it is brought to his attention he will stop that nonsense and wait for his confirmation,” the Senate President said.
In another development, the Senate Ad hoc Committee Investigating the Misuse, Non-remittance and Fraudulent Acts of Internally Generated Revenue by Government Agencies, has accused some universities of deploying fictitious accounting to evade remittances of the correct revenue accruable to the government.

The chairman of the committee, Senator Adeola, speaking at the continuation of the hearing Wednesday, said the universities engage in the unscrupulous act and make up figures.

He disclosed that so far, all 12 federal government-owned universities that had appeared before the committee had presented fictitious documents with contradicting figures to justify why they failed to remit any money to the Federation Account.
“It is regrettable that the financial management of our universities is in such a state with many of them like the FUT (Federal University of Technology), Minna, presenting obviously fictitious documents and figures all in an attempt to exonerate themselves from non-remittance of revenue generated, while completely expending all revenue generated on sometimes frivolous expenditure heads.

“I believe there is serious fraud going on at FUT, Minna, which will be revealed as it cannot reconcile the figures in their financial presentation,” he said.
The lawmaker added that all 12 institutions had been directed to return with proper documents accounting for their finances in recent years.

He queried how the Vice-Chancellor of FUT, Minna, Professor M.A. Akanji, was unable to provide the number of the students in his school as well as the number of available bed spaces paid for by the students.

Akanji was also unable to reconcile the amount collected as development levy, vis-a-vis the number of students in the institution, Adeola revealed.
“The VC, however, said that the sum of N12,000 is paid per bed space,” the committee chairman said.