â€¢ Senate pillories MDAs for poor budget defence, tackles Adeosun
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
Efforts by the executive to get the legislature to pass the 2018 Appropriation Bill before the end of the year has suffered a setback at the Senate.
The defeat followed arguments by senators at the resumption of plenary Tuesday that the ongoing budgetary process was flawed and reflected a lack of preparedness by the executive arm of government.
The executive had pushed to restore the budget calendar year to January-December, instead of the current practice where the lifespan of a budget commences in the middle of the year.
Though the 2017 budget was signed into law in June, the executive pushed ahead with its plan to ensure the commencement of the 2018 budget in January 2018.
But the attempt appeared to be futile, as President Muhammadu Buhari did not submit the budget estimates to the National Assembly until November 7.
Irrespective, Buhari had met with Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara and other principal officers of both chambers to lobby them to push for the passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill before the end of the year.
Based on the outcome of the meeting, both chambers on December 5 had suspended plenary to accelerate the budgetary process of meeting with the heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government for the defence of their respective budget estimates.
Saraki had also directed the Joint Committee on Finance, Appropriation and National Planning to submit its report on the Appropriation Bill Tuesday.
However, the lawmakers said Tuesday that the experience of the past two weeks, during the budget defence sessions with the heads of MDAs that made themselves available, had sounded the death knell on any plan to pass the 2018 budget this year.
The debate was facilitated by a point of order raised by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Ibn Naâ€™Allah, who harped on the need for the lawmakers to adequately inform Nigerians on why the 2018 budget could not be passed before the end of the year.
â€œBy today, we would have passed the budget. The template for doing the budget which we have inherited and which we have continued to put into use has always turned out to be problematic for us, the reason being that it was a template provided under the military regime.
â€œThat template cannot give this nation the kind of budget that the nation deserves,â€ Naâ€™Allah argued.
Contributing, Senator Barnabas Gemade (Benue APC) said the expectation that the 2018 budget could be passed this year was unrealistic.
He proposed that the 2017 budget should remain in place till March 2018, so that a sizeable part of the capital spending in 2017 can be achieved.
â€œSubsequently, we can begin the 2018 budget from the 1st of April to allow the committees to get to the root of what is still pending in the 2017 budget so that we can rollover those projects and not have abandoned projects all over the country because of the mistakes in appropriation proposals.
â€œThere is no clear indication whatsoever that 40 per cent of 2017 capital budget has been implemented. Looking at this matter, we have to handle it in a realistic manner.
â€œTherefore, we have to set a date for implementation of the 2017 budget based on the borrowing plan, which has been approved,â€ Gemade said.
Also highlighting the lack of preparedness by the executive, Senator Hassan Mohammed (Yobe, PDP) recalled that the Minister of State for Power, Mr. Mustapha Shehuri, had appeared before the Committee on Power on Monday and could not satisfactorily respond to many questions put before him on the 2017 budget of his ministry and the 2018 budget estimates.
Mohammed said the ministry proposed N8.5 billion as counterpart funding for the Mambilla power project, though the project was listed as one of the beneficiaries of the $5.5 billion external borrowing approved by National Assembly.
The senator added that the minister was unable to explain how a N500 million item for compensation for communities appropriated in the 2017 budget appeared again in the 2018 estimates or who the beneficiaries were.
He called for a template to be created for the MDAs for the budget defence.
Senators Matthew Uroghide (Edo, PDP) and Lanre Tejuosho (Ogun, APC) also argued that based on the ongoing process, it would be impossible to pass the budget before the end of 2017.
Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi, APC), while making his contribution, chose to go biblical saying: â€œThe truth shall set the nation free from a budget of lies and deception.â€
Melaye recalled that whereas the president had said during the presentation of the budget that projects would be rolled over from the 2017 budget, there was no relationship between the 2017 budget and the 2018 budget estimates.
â€œThere is an outstanding of over N1.1 billion in stamp duties that have not been remitted into Federation Account, yet we issued a Eurobond of $5.5 billion (sic).
â€œWe wonâ€™t need that if these funds were remitted. NNPC is supposed to pay over N300 million into the Federation Account, no kobo was paid by NNPC in 2016, none was paid in 2017 and we say we are fighting corruption,â€ Melaye said.
Melaye wondered why Nigeria continues to borrow when such monies could be remitted to the consolidated revenue fund and used to fund the budget.
He urged the Senate to demand the implementation of the 2017 budget, saying: â€œIt is our responsibility to convert this â€œboju bojuâ€ (Pidgin English for fake) 2018 budget to a budget that will be accepted in the margins of this country, because hunger has no political affiliations and all of us go to the same market.â€
Presiding, Senate President Saraki said despite the pressure put on the committees by the leadership of the Senate, it had become obvious that the budget could not be passed this year.
Saraki noted that the lawmakers are not â€œmagiciansâ€, adding that the executive needs to get down to work.
â€œTruly, it is very disheartening and disappointing, for myself and a lot of us in the leadership, when we hear about your various experiences, because we know how much pressure we put you under to try and see that the budget is passed by the end of the year.
â€œFor example, how can anybody in the executive be so irresponsible to pick this time to travel when they had all the time to travel, and when they had poor presentations on some of their budgets?â€ Saraki queried.
He further observed that there was an assumption that the 2017 capital budget would be implemented by 50 per cent, saying this was unacceptable.
â€œThis makes it very difficult. We cannot turn into magicians. All I can do is to just continue to appeal to you to work with what you have. Let us ensure that we do our best to ensure that we have a budget that is in the best interests of Nigerians.
â€œThe simplest one is the issue of rolling over of projects. If the 2017 capital projects are not being rolled over to 2018, then that is a disaster. And it means that most of them, like I keep on saying, are misrepresenting their actual figures to the leadership of the executive,â€ Saraki added.
Despite the concern expressed by the Senate over the poor implementation of the capital component of the 2017 budget and poor budget defence by the MDAs, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said Tuesday that at least 50 per cent of the funds for the capital component for this year had been released.
This, she said, followed last weekâ€™s release of the second tranche of N750 billion after the initial N450 billion released at the end of October.
Adeosun addressed the issue when she appeared before the Senate Committee on Finance to defend her ministryâ€™s 2018 budget estimates.
â€œMany of those MDAs that are recording low releases, if you call them today, they would confirm that their accounts have been credited to bring them up to an average of 50 per cent, which was the plan.
â€œSome ministries are slightly below while some are slightly above the 50 per cent general target, which considering the fact that the budget was passed in May and to be at 50 per cent (capital implementation) by December, is running pari pasu. That was the thinking,â€ Adeosun said.
The minister said the plan to rollover partially executed projects to the 2018 budget was still in place and if done properly, there will be a seamless transition.
â€œIt is the rollover that we all have to make sure that it is done properly so that projects that have been done halfway can be completed. As you have said, the rollover is very critical,â€ she added.
The chairman of the committee, Senator John Owan Enoh, called for a more pragmatic approach to the restoration of the budget calendar to January-December, particularly as the 2017 budget was only six months old.
â€œIf we get it (2018 budget) passed in March, we would have reduced it by three months. Then in 2019, we can also reduce it further, but you want to clear it up in six months,â€ he said.
Another member of the committee, Senator Yahaya Bello (Kebbi, APC), said the executive was not doing justice to Nigerians by its haphazard implementation of the 2017 budget.
â€œIf the 2017 budget is not well implemented, you are not doing justice to Nigerians and they will miss out on some of the goodies contained in the 2017 budget,â€ he said.
Bello also observed that the budget estimates that were presented at the committees did not indicate a correlation on any planned rollover from the 2017 budget.
He added that the insistence on restoring the budget calendar at this time could be counterproductive, arguing that by the time the MDAs were done with the procurement process, it would be around the rainy season when most capital projects cannot be embarked on.
â€œThe best budget year you have had was in 2016 because it started in May and we were able to spend trillions,â€ he said.