Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: 2014 Budget - How Representatives Ambushed Okonjo-Iweala With Questions

The House of Representatives' committee on finance Thursday tasked the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to furnish the committee with substantive and not "haphazard" answers to 50 critical questions about the state of Nigeria's economy.

The minister was excused by the committee to go back and ponder to provide written answers to the committee within two weeks, due to her signs of illness, as disclosed by the minister.

One of the 50 questions to be answered by the minister borders on why the Federal Government's (FG) SURE-P committee preferred to purchase Chevrolet cars, despite their expensive maintenance cost, even when Asian and European cars have proven to be cost effective and easy to maintain?

The minister would have to explain to the committee what led to the awarding of the multi-million dollar contract for National Identity Smart Cards, when there are indigenous ICT companies that do not only have what it takes, but would have done it cheaper and create local jobs at the same time? Rep. Jibrin sought to know from the Finance Minister the justification for the establishment of the Sovereign Wealth Fund "at this critical juncture of budgetary deficits, and having to be borrowing extensively in an effort to address government revenue gaps? Shouldn't the presence of Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) simply mean spreading government's scarce resources thinly? Why would you insist that no matter what, we still need to operate a Sovereign Wealth Fund? Sincerely speaking, how sustainable are the objectives of Nigeria's Sovereign Wealth Fund, particularly in the long term?"

"What should you consider as the major economic achievements of this government in the 2013 fiscal year and why? In your explanation, we will need facts and figures in demonstrating such achievements.

"You have been credited with many announcements regarding Nigeria's economy as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. If the economy is one of the fast growing economies, what is exactly growing the economy?

"What role does government play in the said economic growth, especially given that as high as 80 per cent of the country's total annual budget spending still goes into recurrent expenditure?" the panel asked.

The panel led by Rep. Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC, Kano) also sought to know the level of compliance of the FG towards cutting the annual recurrent expenditure as against capital in the last six years which the minister has over the years been advocating.

The committee argued that from the Debt Management Office (DMO) 2012 Annual Report, the total public debt outstanding between 2008 and 2012 for external stock rose from $3.72bn to $6.53bn, while domestic stock rose from $17.68bn to $41.97bn. The total debt service the same period saw the percentage of external debt service drastically reduced from 11.46 per cent to 5.96 per cent, while the percentage of domestic debt servicing grew from 88.54 per cent in 2008 to 94.04 per cent in 2012, drastically which they said had increased the cost of the total debt service since the cost of domestic borrowing "is atrociously higher than the cost of external borrowing. How could your debt sustainability analysis rationalize this without seeing some narrow interests being the overriding reason?"

Similarly, the lawmakers also demanded answers from the Finance Minister on the amount of money Nigeria lost to import waivers granted by the government, saying "how much exactly has been the amount of money lost in government revenue as a result of import duty waivers in 2011, 2012 and 2013? Provide the names and beneficiaries and justification for same."

"What is the Minister's take on the apparent stagnation of the economy as there seems to be very little job creation and growth in small businesses. Even though the Minister has read out growth figures before, why is it not telling on the average man on the street?," the panel demanded.

"This time last year, you informed this committee that our external reserve position was about $48 billion and the balance on our excess crude account was about $9 billion. You also said that the plan was to grow these balances to about $50 billion and $10 billion respectively. However, we are hearing that the balances have dropped to $43 billion and $3 billion respectively. And you are saying all is well?," these are part of the many other questions awaiting answers from Dr. Okonjo-Iweala in the next two weeks.

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