In a swift reaction to Sunday's tirade by the House of Representatives on the implementation of the 2012 budget, the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has reiterated the Federal Government's commitment to the prudent management of the nation's resources, adding that this has enabled the government to achieve 56 per cent budget execution by June 20.
The House had over the weekend taken exception to the "poor and selective" implementation of the 2012 budget by the executive arm of government and the attitude of officials of government saddled with the responsibility of implementing the budget.
It specifically singled out Okonjo-Iweala and accused her of subjecting the 2012 Appropriation Act to her personal whims and caprices which, the House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who addressed the press on the issue, said was unlawful.
"It is not within her powers to pick and choose projects and programmes to fund as has been the case with the Appropriation Act, 2012. Her piecemeal and discretionary release of funds for projects, contrary to the schedule approved in the Appropriation Act, is unlawful. She is, in fact, breaking the law," he had said.
But in a statement signed by her Senior Special Assistant, Paul Nwabuikwu, Monday, the minister gave a breakdown of the milestones of the budget, stating that the total capital budget for 2012 was N1.3 trillion, of which N404 billion had been released so far and N324 billion had been backed by cash.
The percentage of the cash-backed portion that had been utilised, she maintained, was 56 per cent.
She explained that the improvement in the implementation ratio from 39.2 per cent by the end of May to 56 per cent utilisation of cash-backed resources by June 20 was made possible by the direct leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan "who is personally leading the drive for better budget performance."
Okonjo-Iweala assured the public that the 2012 budget was being managed in a way that protects and enhances the best interests of the country, stating that "transparency and prudence remain the key priorities of the Federal Government in the management of the 2012 budget.
"Our objective is to achieve both higher budget implementation and better management of the country's resources.
"We will not toy with public resources because they belong to all Nigerians."
She expressed confidence that there would be further improvement in the level of implementation before the end of the year, stressing that to maximise results, the ministry was careful and methodical in releasing funds to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government.
She stressed that given the rate of utilisation, there was still room for more implementation, adding that her ministry was not holding any budgeted funds back and that more releases of funds would be made in the near future.
Also joining the fray Monday, the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said that by embarking on the execution of constituency projects in the 2012 budget rather than completing the old ones, the legislature had slowed down the implementation of the budget considerably.
He told State House correspondents after his ministry presented its budget performance before the president that the rift between the legislature and the executive was an indication that old projects should be completed before new ones are initiated.
The minister said: "But there are also those that have not been completed, so if you insist that we do new programmes, obviously there will not be enough money to complete those other previous constituency projects that were there.
"If you go through the records, you will find that there are a lot of constituency projects that are yet to be completed because those people who were representatives of the people before are no longer there, they have left. However, the new members are insisting that new projects must be executed first."
Throwing more light on the delayed implementation of the budget, Chukwu said: "The reason is the procurement process; the budget was signed in April and it is after the budget has been signed and MDAs have been advised on what has been appropriated, that they will begin the procurement process."
He said his ministry had attained 39 per cent budget implementation so far, blaming the National Assembly's reduction of the ministry's budget proposal on disease prevention, surveillance and control from N582 million to only N78 million for the ministry's inability to effectively respond to emergencies.
He listed such emergency situations to include Boko Haram attacks, road accidents like where fuel-laden tankers had fallen, and similar disasters where the ministry is ordinarily expected to intervene to check the spread of epidemics and other health challenges.
The executive arm of government and the lower legislative chamber have been at daggers drawn for almost two weeks now over the implementation of the 2012 budget.
The imbroglio started when the budget execution was considered at a plenary of the House of Representatives on July 19, and a motion was passed blaming the president for its poor execution.
During the heated debate, the Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, also stated that the House would kick start the process to impeach the president if he failed to attain 100 per cent execution of the budget by September 16 when the legislators returned from their recess.
However, in response to the debate and threat by the House, Okonjo-Iweala had said last week that 100 per cent implementation was not possible and blamed the inclusion of constituency projects into the budget, which had to go through due process before the contracts are awarded, for the hitches in its implementation.