10 February 2016

Nigeria: 2016 Budget Runs Into Troubled Waters

Photo: Premium Times
(file photo).

The N6.08 trillion 2016 budget estimates yesterday suffered a major setback as the National Assembly announced that the February 25, 2016 deadline it gave for its passage was no longer feasible due to inherent errors, ambiguities and 'padded' figures smuggled into the fiscal document.

Indication that the budget would run into hitches emerged last week during its consideration at the committee level following stunning discoveries of series of errors and paddling of votes by some government agencies.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had, penultimate Wednesday, fixed Febuary 25 for the passage of the budget after defence sessions with the various ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) at the committee level.

But the two chambers of the National Assembly announced yesterday that they had postponed passage of the budget indefinitely due gross errors already identified in the entire budget estimates at both chambers.

The errors identified in the budget had pitched ministers against top civil servants of their ministries at defence session.

Announcing the postponement, chairmen of Appropriation Committees at both chambers, i.e., Senator Danjuma Goje and Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin, told journalists at a press conference that the budget was packed full with errors and needed to be thoroughly corrected before passage.

He also noted that this reality had made the February 25, 2016 date earlier fixed for passage of the budget unrealistic, adding that a thorough clean-up would have to take place on the budget estimates by appropriation committees of both chambers, to make the budget workable and implementable when eventually passed at a date yet to be fixed.

Goje said, "We designed a timetable for the consideration and passage of the budget, and that particular timetable that we will pass the budget on February 25, 2016 but, as you are all aware, a lot of issues have come up and gladly so even the executive arm of government had also come out to accept the fact that there had been a lot of errors in the budget.

"Again during the budget defence, a lot of issues based on the padding of the budget arising from over-bloated overhead and in some instances cases of over bloated personnel cost. But generally there have been a lot of issues.

"The appropriation committee would look at these issues after the whole budget defence to do a very thorough work aimed at doing a proper clean-up of the budget. So, in summary the timetable for the passage of the budget is no longer realistic because the appropriation committees of both chambers of the National Assembly need additional time to be able to do a thorough job for the 2016 budget".

For his part, Jibrin said that the National Assembly Appropriation Committees will have to do a proper clean-up of the budget in order to pass an implementable and acceptable fiscal policy.

"It is no longer realistic because we need sufficient time to pass a comprehensive budget,"Jibrin added.

He explained that once the budget is passed, its lifespan will be monitored to ensure that MDAs implement it to the letter.

LEADERSHIP recalls that, last week when the budget defence session began in Senate, its committee on Education discovered a padded figure of N10billion in its votes for parastatals, which was strange to the Minister of State, Professor Anthony Anwuka who represented the substantive minister but weakly defended by the permanent secretary of the ministry, Mrs Folasade Yemi- Esan.

The same thing happened on Monday this week when the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, declared to the Senate committee on Health, that the ministry's budget forwarded to the committee was not the one drafted by him.

Adewole argued that the provisions of the budget before the National Assembly were in sharp contrast to the priorities of the health sector as contained in the original budget it prepared, adding that some of the votes earmarked by the ministry for some activities had been re-distributed while some important fields in the sector had been excluded.

He said: "In the revised budget as re-submitted, N15.7 billion for capital allocation has been moved to other areas. Some allocations made are not in keeping with our priorities. There is nothing allocated to public health and family health. Over the last two years, nothing has been done on HIV...

"We have to look into the details of the budget and re-submit it to the committee. This was not what we submitted. We'll submit another one. We don't want anything foreign to creep into that budget. What we submitted is not there. We have not reached that stage and we find the money there."

But faulting Adewole, chairmen of the appropriation committees at both chambers said there would be no room for such withdrawal any longer since the budget details are already with them.

They said what they could do based on submissions of heads of the various government agencies, is to correct all the errors for the budget to be implementable.

Meanwhile, the office of the Senate President clarified yesterday that the postponement of the date for passage of the budget had nothing to do with his CCT trial as being insinuated in some quarters.

Special assistant to the Senate President on Print Media, Chuks Okocha, while making this clarification, said he had to do so to prevent such insinuation being made a general story and creating friction between National Assembly and the presidency.

While in the last two weeks, government ministries, departments and agencies had been visiting the National Assembly to defend their 2016 budget proposals, complaints of insufficient funds appropriated to agencies and their asking for more money had dominated almost all the budget defence sessions.

Finance minister, Customs boss clash

The Minister of Finance, Kemi Oduesin, and the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Colonel Hamed Ali (rtd) engaged in a hot argument over what the CG described as the poor remuneration for Customs officials.

Speaking when he appeared before the Senate committee on Finance said the federal government must come up with an enhanced remuneration for his officers to avoid them from being compromised, stressing that the work and risk officers of customs are exposed to, is not commiserate with their take home.

The Customs boss, who asked for more money for his personnel in the 2016 budget, and lamented that one of the major challenges in meeting the target of Customs both in the past and present is the practice where international business owners of some big private firms are granted unnecessary tax waivers.

Ali said, "We have a target of N917. 3 billion for this year which we would work hard to meet, but we have also identified some challenges in trying to achieve this target, but in a situation where so much money is lost due to waivers and concessions - it is a major problem.

"We discovered that most of the people who now get big time waivers are big time business people who should pay people; it gives us the problem of meeting our targets", he declared.

But the minister of finance faulted the Customs boss on remuneration for his personnel. She told the Senator John Enoh-led committee on Finance that the benchmarks and other sources of generating revenue to fund the 2016 budget were realistic and based on micro economic projections, adding that the GDP will also jump to 4.2 per cent.

The minister however expressed concern over the lack of compliance of payment of taxes and other levies by Nigerians to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, stating that some companies had not paid their taxes for over nine years.

She explained that as an import economy with over 70 per cent importation, Nigeria needs to impose a tax regime which would be executed by Customs.

She also maintained that for customs to achieve all of that, "there must be alignment of interests where compensation of Customs officers would be taken care of, so that goals would be achieved."

Also speaking, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said it was currently producing 2. 2million barrels of oil daily.

The Corporation added that before the end of the year, oil prices would have jumped to above $40 per barrel in the international market, stressing that it has ability and resources to sustain the current production rate.

It however said, one of the major challenges of the corporation is the activities of oil vandals and general insecurity.

Chairman of the committee had earlier expressed concerns that with the current situation, it would be difficult to fund the budget, if aggressive means of generating revenue are not tackled.

Senate delegation visits Osinbajo, says Saraki will not quit.

A Senate delegation led by Senate leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, yesterday visited the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, at the Presidential Villa.

Speaking to State House Correspondents after a meeting with Osinbajo held behind closed doors, Senator Ndume insisted that Senate President Bukola Saraki would not resign unless he is convicted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

LEADERSHIP recalls that the Supreme Court had, last Friday, struck out the appeal brought before it by the Senator Saraki, challenging his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

Saraki is currently facing a 13-count charge of corruption and false declaration of assets at the CCT during his time as the governor of Kwara State.

The members of the panel were unanimous in their decision that Saraki should face trial at the tribunal.

Senator Ndume noted however that their coming to see the acting President had nothing to do with Saraki's trial at the CCT.

He said, "Are you saying that the Senate President should be convicted before the trial? In our constitution, you are considered innocent until proven guilty".

On their visit to Osinbajo, he said,"This government is our government. I am the Senate Leader in this government, so my coming here today is not supposed to be a new thing. My coming here should even be more regular.

"This is not the first time we are coming here. But this is the first time we are having the Vice President as acting president. That is one of the reasons why we are here."

"This is because we are setting a new example. During the previous government, the President will just go and leave the place blank. But this time around when our president goes for a few days, he transmits to all Nigerians that the Vice President is to act as the President. So we came for the regular consultation. There is nothing new about it and we will be doing more of this.

You should expect me to be coming here.

"Now we have the budget as work in progress, we have the new Money Laundering Bill before the Senate; we have many things we are looking at. We have come to come and consulted you on these. It is not new for people to read meanings."

Among those who accompanied Ndume include Senators Dino Melaye and Abdullahi Adamu.

Senate pledges to jerk up EFCC budget

Amaechi, Senate vow to audit airport re-modeling project

Meanwhile, the Senate has assured the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that it will increase the budgetary allocation approved for it by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, yesterday made this known when the anti-graft commission's boss, Ibrahim Magu, appeared before the committee to defend the 2016 budget.

The chairman had said that the reduction of the N11.2bn proposed by his agency as its budget for this year, to about N4.4bn by the ministry of Budget and National Planning, was grossly inadequate because it translated into a deficit of about N9.2bn.

He also explained that his agency planned to recruit 750 additional personnel of different cadres that would carry out the task of waging the war against graft even as he lamented the removal of votes allocated to it for foreign trips.

Utazi noted that since the anti -corruption crusade of the present administration was enjoying both local and international support, the Senate will do everything within its powers to encourage the agency saddled with the responsibility of prosecuting the anti-graft war.

He also pledged to support the EFCC to complete its permanent headquarters in Abuja so that the agency could move away from its current rented apartment within the city centre.

Meanwhile, the chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodimma, and the Minister of Aviation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, yesteday pledged to separately carry out an extensive audit of the renovation of the nation's airports by the last administration.

Uzodimma and Amaechi stated this at a budget defence session involving the committee and the aviation ministry.

Uzodimma, for instance, wondered why the ministry would still include some projects contained in the first phase of the airport remodelling exercise when the work was about 99 per cent completed.

He said, "I can see some phase one projects. For phase two which is about 75 per cent competed, I still see a lot of projects under it in your budget. Since there was no approval for phase three, we asked you not to sign agreement but I learnt that you had signed some agreements and backdated it.

"We are going to audit the project. We are going to support the minister to carry out comprehensive audit. So that we check whether you have exposed government to the over N300bn debt profile for aviation before us."

Senate rejects N200m allocation demand of petroleum ministry

Senate yesterday rejected the sum of N200 million allocation demanded by the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources in the 2016 Budget, to repackage the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB.

The committee on Gas also rejected request for allocation of additional N200 million for the review of the Nigeria Gas Masterplan.

The ministry, while defending its 2016 Budget before the committee, had said it needed N200 million for the passage of the PIB in the National Assembly.

Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Dr. Jamila Shuaru, while making a presentation at the committee's sitting, insisted that the amount was needed for handling the petroleum bill.

But Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, chairman of the committee, backed by other members of the committee, said the allocation was not necessary because, according to him, the bill was already with the National Assembly.

"This Bill is already with the National Assembly. So what do we need the money for? I don't think you need the money. This could be one of the reasons why we have so many deficit in this year's budget. Unless you can justify this expenditure, we need to do away with this", Senator Albert said.

The committee members, who spoke at the meeting, concurred with the chairman that the bill did not need additional funding for it to be passed.

The committee also disagreed with the ministry officials over the N200 million proposed in the 2016 budget for the review of the Nigerian Gas Master plan.

The committee discovered that funding request for the plan had been a recurring figure in previous budgets.

"You cannot be asking for funds to review what you have not even implemented", Senator Albert said, adding that the only problem with PIB was that there was no law backing it up.

Presidency outlines dangers of approving N20bn for amnesty programme

* Senate to vet list of 30,000 beneficiaries

The Presidency yesterday warned of the magnitude of the implications of allocating N20 billion out of the N64billion originally proposed for the Presidential Amnesty Programme in the 2016 budget estimates, stressing that such meagre amount would affect the big projects of government and the over 30,000 ex-militants taking trainings abroad.

Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta/Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Brigadier General Paul T. Borah (Rtd), who stated this position at a budget defence session with the Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, revealed that out of the N63. 06 billion made available in the 2015 budget, N63.02 was released.

He said, "In view of the foregoing, I urge you most sincerely to consider an upward review from the proposed N20 billion to N64,824,488,493.27 billion for the sustenance and re-integration of ex-agitators in the Presidential Amnesty Programme for the 2016."

Borah told the committee that the Programme had budgeted N19.950 billion for payment of stipends and allowances of students, but that a meagre amount of N7.875 billion was voted in the budget proposal that was submitted to the National Assembly.

According to him, the National Assembly voted N10.290 billion for reintegration of ex-agitators while ‎an amount of N41.804 billion was originally proposed.

Senate queries interior ministry over N200 daily feeding of inmates

Senate yesterday described as unacceptable a situation where a meagre sum of N200 would be earmarked for the feeding of prison inmates daily.

Senate however noted that out of the N200, only N130 is actually spent to feed each inmate per day.

The chairman, Senate Committee on Interior, Senator Usman Bayero Nafada, who made this known during a budget defence session with the Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau, added that his committee would take up the issue of the feeding of inmates with relevant authorities to ensure that the right thing was done.

"N200 per inmate per day is unacceptable. If you look at it, you are actually feeding each inmate with N130 per day. When you remove Value Added Tax, contractors' profit and other corporate services, the N200 comes to about N130 to feed one inmate in a day.

"It is inhuman to feed a human being with N130 in day. What can anybody use N130 to buy? With N130 no inmate can come out of the prison better," he insisted.

FG assures Senate of bridging housing deficit

Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, yesterday said the federal government was determined to judiciously spend its budgetary provision of N66billion for the housing sector to build houses across the country and the reduce the housing deficit.

The minister, who appeared before the Senator Barnabas Gemade-led Committee on Housing, said as far as the budget performance of the 2015 was concerned, 79. 8 per cent in terms of releases was achieved.

He explained that out of the N5. 3billion that was allocated, a little above N4billion was released.

Fashola said, the percentage might sound impressive, "but when you look at the issues of housing and the releases, it is nothing to write home about.

"We intend to complete our federal secretariat and other abandoned projects. We want to take ownership of the projects and make use of them after completion. These projects are scattered around the country and after that you will know what we utilized the N66 billion on."

Saraki, NLC, TUC, others meet over 2016 budget today

Senate President, Bukola Saraki will today meet with the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and other Civil Society Organizations, CSOs, to get their input in the 2016 money Bill.

Senator Saraki had stated that the maiden edition of the interactive session is meant to create an opportunity for CSOs to contribute and align ideas with those of the National Assembly in passing an inclusive and implementable budget for all Nigerians.

During the session, which is billed to commence by 2pm at the National Assembly, participating CSOs are expected to make their observation and input to the ongoing 2016 budget consideration by the National Assembly.

A statement from Saraki's media office states: "For the first time in the history of the National Assembly, the leadership of both Houses agreed on implementing a Legislative Agenda they set for themselves through various forms of partnerships, collaboration and cooperation with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), development partners and professional bodies.

Senate Decries Spending N33b Out Of N50b Foreign Affairs Budget On Foreign Missions Alone.

Senate yesterday said it would not tolerate the high cost of running foreign missions, stressing that a situation where N33billion out of N50billion approved for Foreign Affairs Ministry went into foreign missions, leaving a balance of N13. 5billion for other agencies, is unacceptable.

The upper legislative chamber also urged foreign missions to act as watchdogs of the federal government in the fight against money laundering and corruption in general.

Senate leader Ali Ndume who gave this charge during a meeting between the Foreign Affairs Minister and the‎ Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday equally frowned at the cost of running foreign missions, describing it as "relatively high" while emphasizing the need for 'change' in the affairs of governance.

We've resolved N10bn 'padding' in education budget - Sen Binta Garba

The chair, Senate Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund, Senator Binta Garba, said yesterday that the Senate had resolved the N10 billion 'padding' that was discovered in the education budget.

Penultimate week, the upper house of the National Assembly had raised the alarm over what it described as the discovery of N10 billion padding in the Education budget and took the minister of education to task over it.

However, speaking to newsmen yesterday in Abuja at the sidelines of the official commissioning of the Federal University, Lafia, to the Nigerian Research and Education Network (NgREN), she said the N10 billion padding actually belonged to the Universal Basic Education, and that it was a typological error.

"Yes, it's meant for Universal Basic Education where they lumped it. I think the issue is not with the ministry but that of the office of the National Planning and Budget. I think there was a typographical error that was made. I think with the House and the Senate, we have been able to resolve it. It was a typographic error; I think we will amend it in the budget."

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