Vanguard (Lagos)

1 August 2012

Nigeria: Budget Performance - Senators Walk Anyim, Ministers Out

Abuja — The face-off between the House of Representatives and President Goodluck Jonathan over the poor implementation of the 2012 budget rolled over to the Senate, yesterday, leading to a walk-out of a high powered delegation of the Presidency from the Senate building.

The delegation led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim was turned back from the scheduled Senate public hearing on the implementation of the 2012 budget, following the unsuppressed anger of senators over the absence of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The anger of the senators was further stoked by allegations that the real level of the implementation of the 2012 capital budget was 12.16% and not the 56% as claimed by administration officials.

The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu who represented the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark at the aborted hearing, gave Okonjo-Iweala an ultimatum to appear in person at the hearing which was rescheduled for tomorrow or risk arrest.

Administration officials led by Anyim, himself a former President of the Senate and shored up with Senator Idris Umar, the Minister of Transport also a former senator, could not save the day in the face of the blistering anger of the lawmakers. The administration officials including the Minister of State, Finance, Dr. Yerima Lawan Ngama, the Auditor-General of the Federation were not given any opportunity to talk as they were turned back in the absence of Dr. Okonjo-Iweala.

Announcing the formal cancellation of the Public Hearing, Senator Ekweremadu said Senators were not happy with the attitude of the Finance Minister neglecting the event for what he described as a less important function in London.

According to Ekweremadu, the hearing was scheduled for last Thursday, but the Minister was in Delta State for another event which forced the Senate to push it for yesterday.

Noting that the level of implementation was below commendation despite the fact that the National Assembly approved the budget as proposed by the president, he said it was as such realistic for the Senate to find out from administration officials reasons behind apparent low-level budget implementation.

The Deputy Senate President who noted that it was absolutely impossible to continue with the public hearing following the absence of the Minister of Finance ordered the Secretary of the Committee to summon her for Thursday (tomorrow) failing which a warrant of arrest would be issued on her.

Yesterday's development came on the heels of the face-off between the Presidency and the House of Representatives over low-level budget implementation. Members of the House had threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president if by September the administration fails to fully execute the budget as passed.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had on Monday claimed that the 2012 capital budget implementation as at June 20, was 56 per cent. However, a document on budget performance submitted to the Senate committee on Finance by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation showed that a total sum of N401, 648, 460, 791 has been so far released with N324, 556, 851, 948 of that amount being cash backed.

According to the document, out of this, only N184, 848, 092, 533 has been utilized as at 20th July 2012, just as capital allocation for 2012 budget stood at N1, 519, 986, 106, 691 and only 21.35 per cent of the total allocation has been cash backed. And the percentage amount utilized from the releases so far stood at 12.16% as at July 20th.

It's not 56% performance

"The performance of 56.95 per cent as indicated by the office of the accountant general is the percentage of amount utilized (184 billion) of the amount cash backed (342 billion) as at 20th July, 2012 and not of the entire capital budget. The actual utilization of N184 billion against the total capital of N1.5 trillion is 12.16 percent," the document read.

Expressing the hurt of the senators, Ekweremadu said: "We had expected the Minister of Finance and coordinating minister for the economy to be here today because she's central to all that we are going to discuss here today as our chairman on appropriation had mentioned this matter was supposed to be discussed last week but the Minister was unavoidably absent.

"We learnt that she went to Asaba to declare open a SURE-P Programme. We consider our meeting with her on an issue that has to do with budget implementation to be more important than any other assignment. Today we have also been told that she's gone to London to represent the President on an investment forum for which we know there are other ministers and government officials that could as well have done that to enable her to be here with us this afternoon. So it is regrettable that she is not here.

"One of the excuses we've 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 where the tinkering is.

"Let us hear and let the people of Nigeria hear what the National Assembly did to the budget that made it impossible for it to be implemented so that our committee chairmen here would have the opportunity of responding.

"So it is not enough for the Executive or the Minister of Finance to accuse the National Assembly of tampering with the budget that made it impossible for it to be implemented and then National Assembly is saying no, it is not so.

"So we decided a situation where the press will be the arbiter and then they will listen to us and the executive and then know where it went wrong if it did. And if there are areas that the National Assembly should be blamed and the Nigerian public should hear and if they have response from the National Assembly, our appropriate committees should also respond.

"Now, the stage is set but the minister is not here and we are worried about it. So, it will be absolutely impossible for us to do this dialogue with the absence of the coordinating minister of the economy. I have discussed with my colleagues and what we intend to do now is to allow our committee on appropriation to look for an appropriate date possibly by Thursday and ensure that the minister comes. Even if it needs 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 utilization by MDAs.

"It is not just enough that releases were made and then utilization. We want to see whether those releases and utilization are impacting on Nigerians. We want to see it in roads, we want to see the water projects going on; we want to see the electricity projects going on. We have appropriated for the security situation in the country. We want to see whether there have been releases and whether they are utilized. That's exactly what we thought this public hearing will afford all of us today.

"So for now, we are disappointed that it is not going to take place. I have the mandate of my colleagues to adjourn this public hearing to enable the Minister of Finance and coordinating Minister to show up and, as I said, the chairman of the committee on appropriation should take immediate steps including if possible summoning the minister to show up before the senate committee on appropriation and other relevant committees by Thursday this week.

"So this public hearing is adjourned to Thursday at the same time and the minister for finance is expected to be there no matter the circumstance".

Speaking earlier yesterday, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Ahmed Maccido noted that even in the third quarter of the year, budget implementation was still a far cry from the expectation of Nigerians.

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