21 March 2019

Nigeria: House Begins 2019 Budget Defence

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Budget

Abuja — The House of Representatives Wednesday commenced the defence of the 2019 budget proposals by ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).

The lower chamber of the National Assembly finally kicked off the exercise with the Director-General, Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Jonathan Jumah, and the Director-General, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), Mrs. Cecilia Umaru Gaya, fielding questions on their 2018 budget performance and proposed 2019 expenditures.

The House Committee on Governmental Affairs headed by Hon. Hussaini Sulaiman Kangiwa (APC, Kebbi), grilled Jumah on the proposed expenditure of N72 million on two cars in 2019.

Gaya was also queried for spending a significant proportion of ASCON's internally generated revenue (IGR) as running cost in 2018. This is also as top management team of First Bank Plc are expected to answer questions before the House of Committee on Public Petition today over N630 million loan document involving Whiteplains British School, Abuja.

The Director-General, National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila, also incurred the wrath of the lawmakers for under-remittance.

According to the lawmakers, out of the N6 billion projected revenue, only N1.9 billion was remitted into government coffers.

The three agencies, which appeared before the committee for their budget defence were faced with questions bordering on appropriate accounting reports, transparency of revenue generation and expenditure.

The NIPSS boss was particularly grilled for spending a total of N72 million on just two cars as project vehicles.

But Jumah in his reaction said the mistake was indicating the vehicle type in the document, arguing that the vehicles were meant for project monitoring, adding that the institute could decide to change the type and specification to SUVs.

"The cost for the vehicle is highly exorbitant because I have not seen anywhere in Nigeria where a Camry car would cost N36 million. And we have not seen any Camry product that is SUV being produced except Sedan. No matter the model, it can't be beyond 2017, 2018 or 2019", Kangiwa noted.

The ASCON DG, on her part was advised to adhere strictly to the principles of Federal Character in recruiting staff for the institute.

She was also asked to provide proof of expenditure on items listed as procured in the 2018 budget.

According to Kangiwa, when addressing the ASCON boss for spending virtually all the IGR of the body, he said: "It is not enough for you to come here and tell us you spent N20 million, N50 million and N100 million on items and you expect us to look at them, and I say okay. We have to see evidence of procurement by way of supporting documents, and we must have that before we can consider your requests for 2019."

The college, which generated N998 million has N18.162 million left in its balance.

It also claimed to have remitted part of the 25 per cent required of it to the Consolidated Revenue Account.

The committee chairman and other members of the committee who were apparently disenchanted by the Gabjabiamila-led NLRC, called for the scrapping of the commission for underperformance.

"Government allocated huge sum to your commission but to my greatest dismay the government that appropriated the money is at the verge of losing. Government money is just wasting.

"That is why we need to have an explanation as to why this agency should still stand because government is not getting value for its money. This commission needs to be scrapped.

"The main purpose of this agency is to police lottery operators so that it can favour the government. What are we doing when we expected the change to be positive and yet we are not making progress?

"We have observed that the general performance is very low. So, we need to have an explanation for that otherwise we will stand this budget down because it is our duty to protect the interest of Nigerians," Kangiwa stated.

The lawmakers expressed disappointment that rather than employ about 10,000 Nigerians and become one of the highest paying agencies, the lottery commission is underperforming.

The First Bank team is expected to respond to questions emanating from a petition dated November 26, 2018 and signed by the school's administrator, Dr. Francis Nwufoh.

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