The Senate lamented yesterday that the federal government is unable to raise adequate funds for annual budgets, culminating in incessant borrowings, because it is being shortchanged by the nation's revenue- generating agencies.
The Senate president and chairman of the National Assembly, Senator Ahmad Lawan, made the disclosure at the end of the debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill before the Assembly.
The bill scaled second reading after the debate and was referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriation led by Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano North) for further legislative inputs and given four weeks to report back.
The development came exactly one week after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the budget estimates to a joint session of the National Assembly on Thursday, October 8, 2020.
The Senate president, in his contribution at the end of the debate, underscored the importance of oversight by the National Assembly even as he reiterated the need for the federal government to cut down on the cost of governance by merging some of its agencies.
Lawan said: "In the last three days (of the debate), we've witnessed submissions raising issues about the budget estimates presented to us by Mr. President."
On low revenue, he blamed it on the failure of revenue-generating agencies to remit all sums generated to the Federation Account after collection.
He called for improved revenue generation, collection and remittance methods as a way of shoring up the nation's revenue figures.
"Like all of us, I also have some observations. First, I think our revenue generation, collection and remittances need to do better. There are many agencies of government that are supposed to be generating revenues and they do so, but they don't remit all that they are supposed to," Lawan said.
Consequently, the Senate president announced that the relevant Senate committees would interface on a monthly basis with the revenue-generating agencies to evaluate their performance and device ways of improvement where they underperform or fail to meet revenue targets.
He added that doing so would reduce the deficit contained in the proposed 2021 Budget and subsequent ones, as well as reduce Nigeria's dependence on loans to finance capital projects which the country is in dire need of.
Lawan continued: "When we are able to get more revenues, we will reduce the deficit, because this budget has big deficit, and this is because we simply have no resources as at today and we need to have our infrastructure in place.
"So, the issue is for us to diversify the funding and finances of the projects. We may not do completely without borrowing, but we could do diversification of the sources of funding. We could go for Public Private Partnership like many Senators here suggested, so that we reduce the necessity to borrow.
"Whatever it takes, we have to provide infrastructure in this country, otherwise, we would never move beyond where we are".
On the implementation of the 2020 budget and improved oversight functions of the National Assembly, the Senate president noted that early consideration and passage of the 2020 budget, which returned the country's budget cycle to January - December, has significantly boosted the implementation of this year's budget.
He said, "The responsibility of the National Assembly or Parliament is that whatever we appropriate is properly, economically and efficiently applied. This is an oversight function that we must continue to do.
"Before we pass the 2021 budget, we should be able to know how much of the 2020 has been implemented.
This is because some projects need to be rolled over to 2021, and we need to know the extent to which they have been funded in the 2020 financial year".
According to the Senate president, the low implementation which characterised previous budgets has been significantly improved upon as evident in the 2020 budget, adding that ministries have so far recorded between 50 and 75 per cent implementation rates on capital projects across the country.
"This is in continuation of our efforts to ensure the desirable cycle that we have taken the annual budget to, will be a legacy. This will be our legacy as the 9th National Assembly and the legacy of Mr. President", he added.
Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriation Committee yesterday unveiled a timeline for the work on the proposed 2021 budget at a meeting with chairmen of other Standing Committees.
The committee announced that there will two-day public hearings on the 2021 budget proposal between Monday and Tuesday, November 9 to 10, 2020 to be organised by the National Assembly, which will be televised live to the general public.
Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Senator Jibrin, said the essence of the public hearing was to allow Nigerians make inputs on the fiscal proposal, noting that they are committed to passing the budget in record time in order to maintain the January - December budget circle.
Senate Confirms NPC Chair, 11 Commissioners
Meanwhile, the Senate has confirmed 12 nominees of President Muhammadu Buhari as chairman and commissioners of the National Population Commission (NPC).
The Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, said that Nigeria was long overdue for another population census, without which proper planning cannot be achieved.
Lawan who stated this after the confirmation of the NPC commissioners recalled that the last population census carried out in the country was in 2006, making Nigeria overdue for another exercise which ought to be undertaken at the end of every 10 years.
"A population census is supposed to be undertaken every ten years. We need to know how many we are exactly, and that is what will aid us in planning our country," Lawan said.
The confirmation of the chairman and commissioners of the NPC followed a consideration of a report by the Senate Committee on National Identity and National Population at plenary.
In his presentation, the chairman of the committee, Senator Saidu Alkali, stated that the appointment of the nominees satisfied the requirements of Section 154(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
The nominees confirmed by the Upper Chamber are Hon. Nasir Isa Kwarra, chairman (Nasarawa State); Ibrahim Mohammed (Bauchi State); Ajayi Ayodeji Sunday (Ekiti State); Hon. Joseph K. Shazin (FCT); Garba A.G. Zakar (Jigawa State); and Hon. Engr. Bala Banye (Katsina State).
Others included Gidado Razak Folorunso (Kwara State); Bimbola Salu-Hundeyin (Lagos State); Ali Silas Agara (Nasarawa State); Mohammed Chiso Abdullahi Dattijo (Sokoto State); Mai Aliyu Muhammad (Yobe State); and Muhammad Muttaka Rini (Zamfara State).
According to Senator Alkali, the nominees "demonstrated sufficient knowledge of Nigerian demography, Enumeration Area Demarcation (EAD), Census, Data collection and Analysis."
... Suspends Plenary From Tuesday
Meanwhile Lawan has said that the upper chamber will Tuesday next suspend plenary after consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to enable the committees commence defence on the 2021 budget estimates by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Lawan made this known shortly after the Senate passed the 2021 Appropriations Bill for second reading yesterday.
The Senate president, however, informed MDAs that the upper chamber's deadline for budget defence would not exceed the first week of November.
He urged all ministers and heads of agencies to avail themselves of the window provided for the defence of their respective budgets, particularly in line with President Muhammadu Buhari's directive.
He said: "On Tuesday next week, we will be taking the debate on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB). This will be the last function that we would do in plenary. We will suspend plenary on Tuesday for the budget defence processes to start immediately."