- Fiscal bill passes second reading in House
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The debate on the 2020 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly on Tuesday by President Muhammadu Buhari entered day two yesterday at the upper chamber as Senators faulted the federal government’s projections of N10.33 trillion budget for 2020.
This is just as the Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, also at plenary Thursday, announced that debate on the budget would end next Tuesday for committee work to start by Wednesday.
Senate Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, who was the first to speak on the general principle of the budget, wondered why proper monitoring of the budget implementation had not been in place for several years.
He regretted that the low rate of budget implementation, saying since 1999 budget implementation had not reached 70 per cent.
“We are discussing the 2020 budget estimates; is it fair to say we have a 2019 budget, which has not been implemented? As we speak now, nothing has been done. We have the 2019 Appropriation Act and we are discussing the 2020 budget proposal. We refused to address this aspect of our shortcomings,” he said.
According to him, no country moves forward without discussing what happened in the past as some of the projects being implemented now were not even in the 2019 budget.
He also chastised the National Assembly for not carrying out the required oversight on the budget implementation.
Also contributing, Chairman of Senate Committee on Diaspora, Senator Ajibola Basiru, said that the late passage of the 2019 budget in the last days of the Eighth Assembly affected its implementation.
On 2020 appropriation, he faulted the projected revenue, saying what struck him was that the revenue projections and infrastructure showed 70 per cent deficit in the 2019 budget and in 2020, N2.18 trillion had been proposed as the shortfall.
Ajibola said: “People are looking at allocation to key sectors and the revenue to fund the projects like for instance, when you talk of the N256 billion being allocated to Works, Ministry, I have it on good authority that what is even required to take care of the outstanding in the Ministry of Works and Housing is in the excess of N500 billion.”
Also contributing, Senator Isyifanus Gyang said what Nigerians want is how the budget will transform their lives and improve security across the country.
He also criticised the N100 billion voted for defence, describing it as inadequate, saying with the security challenges facing the nation, the vote won’t be sufficient to address the problem.
Commenting on Infrastructure deficits and abandoned projects, Gyang expressed hope that the budget would address the poor road network along the Akwanga-Jos Road.
While calling for reduction in the cost of governance and blocking of all leakages in government revenue, he also queried the 2.3 million barrels per day estimate of crude oil, saying it is over-ambitious.
Nigeria, he said, might not meet the projected revenue target, adding: “We are spending what we plan to earn as all earnings is going to current expenditure and this imbalance should be addressed.”
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Upstream), Senator Albert Akpan, on his part, canvassed for the amendment of the deep and offshore bills to reflect the welfare of the oil communities, while calling for a balancing of the allocation to the various sectors.
Also speaking, Senator Chris Ekpenyong submitted that the budget estimate showed wisdom and dexterity of plans by the president.
He said the budget should actually create jobs for the teeming unemployed youth, adding: “There are many poor people, let the budget work for the people, let’s find a definitive role that will aid ease of transportation and create wealth.”
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Mathew Urhoghide, advised that poor revenue generation, which has been the bane of effective implementation of yearly budgetary proposals, must be tackled by blocking all the loopholes if 2020 budget is to succeed.
“We must put our mouth where our money is, meaning that, as parliamentarians, more thorough oversight functions must be carried out on all revenue generating agencies,” he said.
Also speaking, Chairman of Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Ayo Akinyelure, submitted:”All agencies of government saddled with revenue generation should be thoroughly monitored and quarterly assessed on whether they are meeting revenue target set for them or not.”
Senator Dauda Yaro said since there is a possibility of not meeting up to N8.155trillion targeted total revenue of the budget, the entire budget size should be reduced to the revenue.
According to him, projecting N8.155trillion as total targeted revenue and N10.33trillion as proposed total aggregate expenditure, indicate spending beyond ones earnings, which is increasing deficit component of the budget on yearly basis.
Some senators including Kola Balogun and Ibikunle Amosun also called for serious revenue drive in financing the budget.
Other senators called for aggressive revenue drive, some of them in their submissions, kicked against the Value Added Tax (VAT) increase.
Specifically, Senator Onor Ojang, described the proposed VAT increase from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent as regressive taxation.
According to him, increase in VAT is like a short cut to revenue earnings with attendant consequences of shrinking the economy and increasing the unemployment rate.
However, senators like Chukwuka Utazi, Kabir Barkiya, Ibikunle Amosun, Ibrahim Shekarau and Abdul-Kwari Sulyman submitted that the budget proposals were realistic and achievable.
Rounding off the debate, the Senate president informed his colleagues that the budget debate would end by Tuesday.
Lawan explained that once the budget debate ends on Tuesday, it would be passed on to the committees to work on from Wednesday.
Budget Passes Second Reading in House
Like their counterparts in the Senate, lawmakers in the House of Representatives also continued debate on the general principles of the fiscal bill, which passed second reading yesterday.
The bill would now be treated at the committee level for third reading, which entails passage of the next year’s budget.
During the debate, some members commended Buhari and the executive arm for the early presentation of the budget and allocations to various sectors of the economy while others picked holes in the budget.
Hon. Nnolim Nnaji from Enugu said more funds be allocated to fixing airports to boost commercial activities and in turn contribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Also, Benjamin Kalu from Abia State said while he supported the passage of the budget into second reading, the House should ensure that business climate in Nigeria should be made attractive and emphasised the need for the government to patronise made-in-Nigeria goods to grow the economy.
He said: “My problem is the current business environment that we have. Is high time we reformed the economic environment like Rwanda. We need to patronise our own like Innoson Motors.”
Hon. Dan Asuquo from Cross River State, however, demanded that the details of the budget needed to be made available before debate to enable members to speak appropriately.
Hon. Ken Chikere from Rivers State, while making his contribution, lamented the state of roads in his state, pleading with the House to ensure proper implementation of the budget when passed.
The House adjourned plenary till October 29 to enable members dissolve into their various standing committees.