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Fred Itua, Abuja
Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, on Thursday, said that the Federal Government might not fully implement the 2018 budget if the National Assembly fails to pass it on time.
He also revealed that early preparation for the 2019 general elections, which he said, will commence by end of February, will further pose a challenge.
Mustapha stated that serious government business will end by November, when political parties will commence campaigns and conduct primaries.
To avoid possible poor implementation, Mustapha appealed to the National Assembly to pass the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law as soon as possible.
The SGF spoke when he appeared before the Senate committee on Federal Character.
Said he, “I will make an appeal that the 2018 budget must be passed on time. We do not have time. If you consider the time left for us as politicians and in line with the timetable released by INEC, you will realise that we have till November 2018 to do what we have to do.
“By then, politicians will be engaged in political activities. There will be no time. I am appealing that we pass this budget on time. This is the last budget we will have to deliver on the dividends of democracy. For those of you coming back, promises will not work. What will work will be the scorecard.
“I am begging that it should be passed as quickly as possible. I am also appealing to the executive arm to appear for budget defence. Intense political activities will begin in this February and as public officials, we have to quickly deliver.”
The SGF told lawmakers that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the setting up of a monitoring unit in his office, to track budget implementation by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Mustapha said ministers have been given a template to collate projects executed since 2015, when Buhari came into office. He added that the outcome of the exercise will assist Nigerians in assessing Buhari’s government at the end of his administration.
He explained: “Let me assure you that whatever the National Assembly budgets for the MDAs, Ministers will give detailed reports on what they have done since 2015. From now till the end of February, they will give briefings. We have given them the template they need to use to carry out this exercise. At the end of the exercise, the entire tenure of the President will be assessed at a glance. The exercise is ongoing.
“At the end of the day, we might seek government’s approval to create a unit that will monitor projects. In some countries like the United Kingdom, there is such a unit in the office of the Prime Minister.”
He also explained why his office opted for monetisation of vehicles for former presidents and former Vice presidents. He said though the Appropriation Act clearly stipulates that vehicles should be bought for them, his office opted for the second option since it was a better choice.
He said: “A decision was taken that instead of buying them vehicles, the money should be given to them so that they can buy themselves. The purchase of these vehicles is tenured. It is done after every four years.
“The issue of the purchase of vehicles, I agree is an Appropriation Act. The issue of monetisation is done in the MDAs. It is also done in the National Assembly. Some of these former leaders may not even want to buy Prado jeeps which the law says. But many of them may not like it. They may prefer saloon cars which maybe more comfortable for them. That was why we released a memo for them to do that.”
Explaining the performance of the 2017 budget of his office, he said: “The office of SGF is the think-tank of the government. We coordinate activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Approved for capital was N2 billion. For personal cost, N2 billion. Overhead cost is N3 billion. Total is N9.5 billion.
“Performance for capital is N1.2 billion released as at end of December, 2017. It represents 50 per cent. We are hoping that the National Assembly will extend the lifespan of the budget so that we can handle other procurement processes.
“My office had issues with poor releases when I came in. We are hoping that as we move forward, we will be properly and adequately funded so that we can carry out our duties effectively.”
Responding, chairman of the committee, Senator Tijjani Kaura, promised that the leadership of the National Assembly will pass the budget as soon as possible.
He told the SGF that lawmakers had to cut short their holidays so as to consider the 2018 budget.
“The leadership is keen on passing the budget on time. That is why we cut our vacation short to be here to attend to budget defence. This is to tell you the importance of this issue. If you look at the 2017 budget, you will see that this committee did not tamper with the figure submitted to us. We did that because we know the enormous responsibility attached to that office,” he said.
Sen. Suleiman Hunkuyi from Kaduna State, complained about underfunding of the office of the SGF. He said as a critical unit of the Federal Government, the office should get more funds to run its operations.
“I agree with the SGF on the need to fasten the budget process. This year is different from all the other two years. I agree with you. I will wish to note some observations. The issue of allocation under the Appropriation Act are three. During an oversight visit to the office of the SGF, we identified the issue of underfunding. Even after the provisions, the releases have been abysmal.
“The National Assembly may provide, but it has always on the other side of the divide. It has always the inability of the Ministry of Finance to cash back these allocations,” he said.