13 February 2013

Nigeria: Reps, Ministers Clash Over Implementation of SURE-P

Members of the House of Representatives yesterday clashed with the executive over the implementation of the Subsidy Re-investment Programme (SURE-P) when they queried the duplication of projects in the programme and the reason why coordinators of the programme have now converted it to a re-election campaign for President Goodluck Jonathan.

Tempers flared when members of the House Special Joint Committee on SURE-P, in a public hearing on the matter, expressed doubt about the benefits so far derived from the programme even after the chairman of the programme, Dr Christopher Kolade, and three ministers had made their presentations on the achievements so far with the programme.

Amongst other things, the legislators said the programme had gained a reputation of being a re-election machinery for President Goodluck Jonathan, even as some people have been brandishing it across states as a PDP programme.

They also queried the rationale behind the choice of projects the fund was being applied into with regards to deliverables to the grassroots, duplication of projects that were already captured in the budget and

why N500 million was spent by the secretariat within a year and "all sorts of things under the SURE-P programme."

The chairman of the committee, Hon Dakuku Peterside, had told the delegation from the presidency that they wanted answers to whether "the programme is designed as a mechanism for young men and women to work for the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 and if SURE- P state coordinators are members of Jonathan's team for 2015," as well as the operations and application of the funds.

These questions infuriated the minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was also asked about the gains of SURE-P.

She accused the lawmakers of being disrespectful to the office of President Goodluck Jonathan by their allegations, insinuations and outright distrust of the information provided on SURE-P, adding that they should be more objective in their approach to the programme rather than being narrow-minded.

"I think you have to give respect and dignity to the federal government.", she told the lawmakers, adding "We need to look at this objectively. The programme is not a programme of any individual, it is

the programme of the federal government led by Mr. president who is very clear and wants to show Nigerians the dividends of the SURE-P programme.

Going further, she added, "He created a transparent committee to account for the use of the resources shared by the respected Nigerian, Dr. Christopher Kolade and he is here and will tell Nigerians how the

money is being spent. So, this is not one design to put a hang on anyone's neck.

"The programme has been looked at, tested and certified to be one of the best and has won a Commonwealth prize, independently verified. So we need to look at objective information."

If this was supposed to calm the nerves of the lawmakers and make them more receptive of the presentation made by the ministers, it failed as Peterside replied by saying they should stop hiding under the integrity of Dr. Christopher Kolade, the chairman of SURE-P committee, to perpetrate criminality.

"You cannot hide under the integrity of Kolade to do what is wrong," he said.

Other members who were present and chairmen of key committees such as Works, Niger Delta, Finance also said while speaking to the matter that members have a right to point out what they perceive as inconsistencies in the programme.

"We are not against the SURE- P; we are concerned about the operational structure. That is our concern. We are saying we do not see the community programme on ground. The Ministries should be interested in getting information from us. Our major concern is that the people from the grassroots have not been benefitting from the programme," they explained, while insisting money was wasting as the projects executed under the SURE-P programme and that of the budget are same.

Earlier, the minister of Finance had informed the committee that her office has nothing to do with the management of SURE-P funds as the Budget Office reports directly to Dr. Kolade.

"Even the Accounting Officer of SURE-P ( DG Budget Office) does not report to me," she said.

Upon enquiries from the committee, Kolade explained that the 5 percent of SURE-P funds that remains after the federal government collects 41 percent and the states 54, is dedicated for Ecology and stabilization fund and development of natural resources amongst others.

He added that the sharing formula was not drawn out by his committee but by the formulators of the programme.

"It's a question for the people that set up the funds. I don't know of any law", he piped.

In his presentation, the director general of Budget Office, Mr Bright Okogu debunked the allegation that the SURE-P programme was a duplication of what the MDAs were doing, explaining that it was an additional budgetary provision for them.

The Minister of Transport, Works and Finance and minister of State for Health were represent at the hearing.

The transport minister said the projects under the SURE-p programme had gulped N14.8 billion on three rail projects out the N33.4 billion earmarked for the projects.

The National Assembly last year approved N180 billion for the SURE-P programme out of which N105 billion was spent, leaving a carryover of N75 billion for addition to the 2013 component of another N180 billion.

In his opening remarks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who was represented by the Leader, Mulikat Akande-Adeola said the investigation was "in mational Interest".

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