interviewBy Isiaka Mustapha
Abuja — Shortly before the presentation of the 2004 budget proposal to the joint session of the National Assembly, Honourable Muftau Ayinde, in this interview with P.M. News' ISIAKA MUSTAPHA explains how improper budget execution has been setting Nigeria back as a nation, and also talked about other sundry issues Budget 2004 would be presented to the National Assembly today.
Can you tell us your expectation of the budget?
A: Before talking about my expectation, I think I should talk about people's expectation, which I would want to align with my view of the budget. Obviously, the nation's economy is in a bad shape, we want a situation where our economy would be very healthy, where there would be high scale production, and I think this is the only way we can reflate our economy. The major problems we're facing in this country is that of unemployment, and in a country where there is a high level of unemployment, a lot of problems would definitely go with it.
I want our economy to be better off and this explains why we must face the challenges of unemployment. There is no way we can improve the economic situation of the country if the budget is not tailored towards production, because under production economy, a lot of people would be employed, lots of service would also be provided. I would have preferred Mr. President to present us with a people-oriented economy, this is what I'm expecting today. We're blessed with so many things in this country, but our problem is how to harness the resources and manpower we're blessed with.
Q: No matter how ideal the concept of a budget in Nigeria, one problem that continues to stare us in the face is that of execution. Capital projects get abandoned or not executed at all and the budget itself is fraught with high level corruption. Can you proffer any solution to this?
A: This is a very good area of observation. One thing is to have a very good budget, another is to get it properly executed. My own idea of budget is paper work, that is a proposal of certain things to be done in a particular year. No matter how lofty and ideal the proposal may be, if it is not properly executed, we will not have anything. I think that aspect has to do with the legislative arm of the government and this is why we have committees being inaugurated to ensure that there is effective monitoring of the execution of our budget.
From our own end, I want to assure, as Mr. Speaker has said it many times, that all the committees would ensure adequate monitoring of budget execution. In fact, he has charged us not only to be barking dogs, but biting ones, so that at the end, all the ministries will conform with the dictates of the budget. And the only way the ministries can sit up is if all the committees are doing their work accordingly. We must ensure that from time to time the budget is appraised in line with the conditions attached to it, financially and otherwise.
In a situation where we have any ministry flouting the rules of the budget, we shall not hesitate to bring such ministry to book. We will definitely call for a public hearing, where the whole country would be privileged to know the situation of things, definitely. The whole blame for inefficiency cannot be ascribed to Mr. President, most of the ministers and permanent secretaries also contribute to inadequacies of our budget. We've had cases of fund diversion and this explains why most programmes are not executed accordingly. These are some of the excesses we're out to check, and I want to assure you that we are going to experience a total change this time around.
Q: Allegations were rife during the last presentation of the supplementary budget to the House, that the executive, devoid of the consent of the National Assembly members had expended all the funds mentioned in the supplementary budget, and that the passage of the bill was just a mere formality. What do you think this portends for our democracy?
A: I will not subscribe to what you have just said. It is true that the supplementary budget was brought late to the floor of the House. It is equally true that we consented to the budget, but this was largely anchored on certain facts and the fact are those programmes which were not envisaged at the commencement of the year, and some of these programmes we thought were very beneficiary to the country, and that was why we asserted to the supplementary budget.
You will agree with me that the supplementary budget was hinged on certain things, most especially on education. You will discover that there is need to revive our university system that is collapsing. Some universities can not even sustain themselves, all the necessary infrastructure ideal for research and development in the universities are in a state of decay. Apart from this, the Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme was having problems, the government just had to spend money to put it in order. Also, COJA was not really budgeted for, same for the Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting (CHOGM) held in Nigeria. So, all these things had to be reflected in the supplementary budget.
We all consented to the tight fiscal policy of the government which came in form of monetisation, because we've got to prevent areas of waste. So, the monetisation policy was also not budgeted for in the 2003 budget. These are some of the issues that cropped up in the supplementary budget and we were left with no option than to pass them into law. Apart from this, we believe we should not scuttle government machinery by holding on to the supplementary budget.
Q: You are the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Works. Why do you think there are bad roads, in spite of the billions government claims to be expending on these roads?
A: I will blame our system. During the tour we embarked upon, following the inauguration of the committee, a lot of inadequacies, which we are studying and we believe it will assist in the subsequent award of contracts were revealed.
We should blame the system because almost all top people in this sector should be blamed, including government officials and contractors who execute shoddy contracts. All these factors combine to affect the development of our roads. This explains why most of the roads do not meet standards required.
We observe that most of the awarded road contracts lack the ingredients of contracts. If some of these requirements are not available, then you cannot come out with a good job. Most of the roads do not meet standard requirements.
Another factor that affects our road contracts is the cash flow. Most of the funds just appear in figures or in the paper. Most of the time, funds are not released, and as a result, the roads suffer.
Another problem is with the contractors, especially the indigenous ones. In some cases, they abscond with mobilisation fees and leave the project to suffer. This is perpetrated in active connivance with top officials of the Works Ministry. All these problems we have identified and I want to assure you that the Works Committee is striving hard to bring sanity into the system. We will reconvene from the Christmas and New Year holiday on 13 January, 2004. By this time, we should have concluded our reports on Nigerian roads, and we're inviting all top officials of the Federal Ministry of Works to a public hearing, so that Nigerians would have the opportunity to know the situation of things.
Q: Recently, some members of the House Committee which you belong to, embarked on a trip to China to study their excellent housing policy. One begins to wonder how the House would transfer this policy to Nigeria, and this also brings to mind, the question of government position on housing policy in Nigeria, at least in the last three years?
A: Actually, you will observe that China as a country shares some similarities with Nigeria in terms of population, and if this is the case, we should try to borrow a leaf from them with regards to their excellent housing policy. I believe that we're going to benefit a lot from the fact-finding tour, though the report has not been compiled for the plenary session of the House, actually, the lawmakers are trying to put in place, with China as an example, affordable houses for Nigerians.
Q: What's your definition of affordable houses for Nigerians?
A: I think realistically, affordable house in Nigeria, considering economic and social factors, any affordable house in Nigeria should not cost more than a million naira. But the question as you rightly observed is, how Nigerians can afford a house worth N1 million. Don't forget, we have rural areas and urban centres. The provision of the house is another thing entirely. In this regard, it is only the cement and iron sheet they would strive to get. Apart from these, they should be able to source for their own type of wood, bricks and other materials.
Q: What is the level of government commitment to housing policy in Nigeria, especially for the masses?
A: Well, the Federal Government has mandated the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development to build a thousand units in each of the states of the federation. But Abuja and Lagos, because of their peculiar situation, would get 4,000 housing units each. All these would commence next year.
Q: You are rounding off for the year 2003 today, how will you describe the House's performance so far?
A: Well, it has been a learning process, and I want everybody to bear with us. But this does not suggest that we've not put in some efforts. However, most of us have not been able to really settle down to our legislative duties. A lot of us still have our elections being challenged at the election tribunals. Some have had their elections nullified and have just resumed.
The House has not done badly in spite of all these. We have in the last six months passed about 12 bills, and of course you should remember that out of these six months, we've had about three recesses.