27 November 2012

Nigeria: Agric Minister, Lawmakers Bicker Over Budget Padding

The perennial conflict between the executive and the legislature over which arm of government wields the power of appropriation reared its head again On Monady as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture drew the battle line over the ministry's budget for next year.

Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina had at a budget defence session Monday expressed disapproval of the moves by some agencies in the ministry to increase their budgetary allocations in collusion with the legislature.

In a letter dated November 20, 2012 and addressed to all the 39 agencies under the ministry, Adesina had threatened to impose sanctions on any agency that attempted to seek an increase of its budget beyond what the executive had submitted to the National Assembly in the 2013 Appropriation Bill.

Adesina asked all the agencies to submit to his office their proposals to the House Committee on Agriculture, as a way of ensuring that none of the agencies seeks an increase of their "envelopes".

The ministerial directive signed by one Idris Mamman and read at the budget defence session stated as follows: "I am directed to request you (agencies) to submit to the Office of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development soft and hard copies of documents prepared for 2013 budget defence with National Assembly for his information and record purposes.

"You are also to ensure that your programmes/projects and capital ceilings are at par with what was approved in the Executive Bill as any deviation from the 2013 Executive Bill will be viewed as serious misconduct. Please ensure compliance."

However, Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture, Hon. Tahir Mohammed Monguno, dismissed the ministerial warning to the agencies, insisting that the National Assembly had the powers to increase or shrink budget estimates where and when necessary.

Monguno advised the agencies to disregard the warning and suggested increases in their budget estimates would be approved if they had projects and programmes that required higher budgetary allocations.

"I have a copy of the minister's letter here warning the agencies before us here not to seek to exceed their budget envelopes for 2013, and that if they do so, they would face consequences.

"But I want to stress here that the issue of budgeting remains within the power of the National Assembly.

"It is us that would decide what the budget would look like. The duty of the executive is to just present estimates and nothing more, so I want you to disregard what the minister has written and go ahead with your proposals," he said.

Since 1999, budget rows have become an annual ritual, as the National Assembly has insisted on making amendments to the budget estimates presented to it by the executive arm of government.

In turn, the executive has viewed these amendments as distortions to its economic plans for the country.

But as the lower chamber of the National Assembly and the minister bickered over where the power of appropriation resides, Senate President David Mark yesterday also chastised Adesina over the ministry's 2012 budget implementation, saying its performance was below expectations.

Senator Mark, who made the disclosure during the 2013 budget defence of the agriculture ministry, also expressed concern over the ministry's failure to give prominence to constituency projects, despite the provisions for them in the budget.

Lamenting the poor implementation of the ministry's budget in this fiscal year, Mark said: "When you remember that you have less than 30 working days to the end of 2012, what can you do to remedy the situation?

"Your budget performance is very low. We want to look at the performance based on the real number of people it has affected. At the end of the day, it is not the statistics on paper.

"If the statistics don't translate to changes in the lives of Nigerians, it has not done what it was supposed to do. And they will notice it at that level.

"We have gotten used to treating the budget like a mere document. If you like it, you treat it, and if you don't, you just throw it away. But once we append our signatures to it, it becomes a law."

The senate president, who was not convinced with the minister's explanation that there was a mix up with constituency projects in the second and third quarters of the year, insisted that there was no mix up, adding that funds had been made available for the projects in the 2012 budget.

"You did not give constituency projects any priority. Only in the third quarter and some were only awarded on 3rd of November," he said.

He advised the minister to be careful in the administration of the fertiliser distribution scheme, warning that fertiliser should get to real farmers and should not be hijacked by middlemen as had obtained in the past.

Defending the performance of the ministry, Adesina said the fertiliser distribution scheme had been able to ensure that a total of 1.39 metric tonnes of fertiliser were distributed in the last year.

He complained that of the N43.9 billion budgeted for agriculture, only N23 billion was released to the ministry.

Defending his policy on the introduction of bread partly baked with cassava, he said cassava bread would save Nigeria N250 billion.

He, however, apologised to the senate for not prioritising constituency projects, stressing that the decision was based on the need to prioritise a sustainable food chain for the country.

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