Budget - Okonjo-Iweala’s Absence At Session Enrages Deputy Senate President

Budget - Okonjo-Iweala’s Absence At Session Enrages Deputy Senate President

The Federal Government has retracted an earlier claim by government that it has achieved 56 per cent implementation of the 2012 budget.

The retraction is contained in documents submitted to the Senate Committee on Appropriations by officials of the finance ministry during an interactive session called by the Senate on Tuesday. The officials were not allowed to make any presentation because of the absence of Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The documents clearly show that the 2012 budget implementation is 12.6 per cent. The documents show that a total of N324.56bn was cash backed, but only N184.84bn was released as at July 20.

According to the documents, the N184.84bn when calculated against the total capital budget of N1.519tn is 12.16 per cent of performance.

The ministry also clarified that the capital budget when subtracted from the SURE-P allocations, totaled N1.34tn and the final percentage implementation with N184.8bn utilisation was 13.79 per cent.

The distribution of the releases, as shown on the table presented to the Senate, indicated that the percentage implementation was calculated against the level of utilisation.

The table shows the Code of Conduct Bureau as having the highest level of utilisation with 98.93 per cent, closely followed by Federal Civil Service Commission and the Niger Delta Ministry with 98.93 per cent and 96.03 per cent respectively.

The Ministry of Communication Technology posted the lowest performance level of 16.45 per cent, having been able to utilize 136.5m out of a total cash backed N829.4m.

The Ministry of Justice also performed poorly with 16.93 per cent, as it was only able to spend N18.22m out of a total N107.65m within the period.

Meanwhile, the pressure on President Goodluck Jonathan to fully implement the budget grew on Tuesday as the Senate knocked the Executive for poor implementation.

The Senate said the Federal Government had no reason not to effectively implement the budget given the fact that the National Assembly expeditiously approved what the government asked for without any major alteration.

The upper legislative chamber also took umbrage at the absence of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, at the interactive session. Okonjo-Iweala was specifically invited to the session to discuss the implementation of the budget.

Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremandu, who attended the session at the behest of Senate President, David Mark, warned that the session should not be treated as “a family affair.”

Ekweremadu said, “I recall that when the 2012 budget was presented to us as a draft bill, we in the National Assembly decided that we are going to do everything possible to send it back to the Executive the way it came, so that there will be no argument on whether it will be implemented or not, because over the years we have had this issue of non-implementation of the budget.

”We had to do that to ensure that they received the budget the way and manner they wanted it so that the implementation would be much easier. Unfortunately the level of implementation has been anything less than commendable and that is why we are worried.

“One of the excuses we have read from the pages of newspapers for non-performance of the budget is what they considered as the tinkering of the budget by the National Assembly. And so what we had wanted to do today is to hear from the executive what this tinkering is.”

The appearance of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim; and the Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, was rejected by the lawmakers who insisted that Okonjo-Iweala was central to the discussion at the session.

The Deputy Senate President expressed his dismay at the absence of the finance minister from such an important meeting scheduled to deal with the nation’s fiscal problems “on the excuse that she travelled to London for an event.”

He noted that the minister’s presence was needed for her to tell Nigerians the areas where the National Assembly had padded the budget so that chairmen of the relevant committee could respond.

He further said that it was not enough for the Executive or the Minister of Finance to accuse the National Assembly of tampering with the budget as an excuse for its poor implementation.

He said the accusation by the Executive was not correct.

While calling for adjournment, Ekweremadu said, “It will be absolutely impossible for us to do this dialogue in the absence of the coordinating minister of the economy.” He added that a new date should be scheduled while a summons should be issued for her to appear.

“Even if it means summoning her to ensure that she appears before the committee to tell Nigerians the degree of releases and of course for the SGF to tell Nigerians the degree of utilisation by MDAs. It’s not just enough that releases were made and then utilisation. We want to see whether those releases and utilisation are impacting on Nigerians,” Ekweremadu said.

He then stated that the meeting had been adjourned till Thursday, August 2, and urged the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Ahmed Maccido, to ensure Okonjo-Iweala’s compliance.

“The Minister for Finance is expected to be there no matter the circumstance. So we have to do everything possible to get her to be here on Thursday by 1pm,” he declared.

Earlier, Maccido said the nation had reached the third quarter of its fiscal year when the compilation of the 2013 budget ought to have started, but Nigerians are still talking about poor implementation of the 2012 budget.

He disagreed with the position of the executive that the budget had been implemented up to 56 per cent, noting that records available to the committee showed that only 21.5 per cent of the budget had been implemented.

The controversy over the implementation of the budget has been raging since July 19 when the House of Representatives asked Jonathan to ensure 100 per cent implementation by September 18 or face impeachment proceedings.

While the Reps said the government had only achieved 34 per cent implementation, Okonjo-Iweala had insisted that 56 per cent implementation had been achieved.

The finance minister had said on Monday that the government’s love for Nigerians had informed its slow release of funds for capital projects. She said that the budget was being implemented in a manner that would enhance the best interest of Nigerians.

The Reps however told the minister on Tuesday that she did not love the citizens more than they (lawmakers) did.

The House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed, asked Okonjo-Iweala to “stop sending wrong signals” that the House was wasteful by directing her to release capital votes to Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government to execute projects.

Mohammed said, “Her (Okonjo-Iweala’s) utterances are not addressing the issue at stake. Funds have been appropriated for capital projects, we are saying release the money for work to go on.

“We are representatives of the people, elected by the people. She is a government appointee and cannot pretend to love Nigerians more than us.

“We are representing the interests of Nigerians; we do not know about her. If she is representing other interests, let her tell Nigerians.”

Mohammed stated that the House stood by its position that about 34 per cent of the budget had been implemented so far.

“The capital provision in the 2012 budget is N1.5tn. The minister, by her own words, told Nigerians that N324b of releases had been cash-backed. That is 34 per cent of N1.5tn. Her 56 per cent claim is referring to the N404bn they released out of the N1.5tn.

“They cash-backed N324bn; that is not 56 per cent of N1.5tn”, he stated.

Source: Naija.ng

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