From Iheanacho Nwosu and ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
In the next couple of days or weeks, the National Assembly will, hopefully, pass the 2013 budget. However, the process to the expected passage of the estimates has been filled with drama and intrigues. Shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan presented the N4.92 trillion to a joint sitting of the National Assembly in October, intense lobby from federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) commenced.
Meetings between heads of the MDAs and chairmen of standing committees started in earnest. Some of the meetings were ostensibly to soften the ground for such a time when the MDAs would bring their budgets for scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the level of profligacy, which was hitherto the hallmark of most MDAs, is a recurring decimal with the 2012 budget implementation. In fact, unless there is a divine intervention, the 2013 budget presently before the National Assembly for consideration, will not herald any miracle in public spending profligacy.
Time was in the sixth National Assembly when the State House, year in, year out voted more than N250 million for fumigation, treatment of termites, etc. It was such a pathetic rape of public funds, such that the then chairman of the Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Smart Adeyemi cried out loud! He simply couldn’t fathom why millions of naira would be needed to destroy and treat termites in the Presidential Villa.
This year, the same State House has said that N1.32 billion is not enough for refreshments and meals and other sundry expenses. It is instructive to note that for the first time in the nation’s history, it only became known recently that the budget of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) is not appropriated for by the National Assembly.
The Corporation got $10.482 billion as its budget in 2012 and for 2013, it plans to spend $13.8 billion. Lawmakers are powerless to either reduce or increase the budget.
At a time when science and technology is deployed globally for the economic growth and progress of nations, Nigeria is still comfortable with allocating pittance to the Science and Technology ministry. Senate Committee Chairman on Science and Technology, Senator Robert Ajayi Boroffice complained that a total sum of N31,789,909,409.00 earmarked as the ministry’s 2013 budget is grossly inadequate.
He simply concluded that Nigeria is not serious on new science and technology in the 21st Century. One unsettling aspect of the 2013 budget is the incidence of duplicity of capital projects. For instance, some projects which were approved and appropriated for in 2012 were simply copied, word for word into the 2013 budget. In some cases, the fund allocated to some of the capital projects in 2012 were simply increased in the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
Take for example, the exposure by the Senate Committee on States and Local Governments Administration of N7.932 billion phantom border projects. The projects were domiciled in the Office of the Surveyor-General of the Federation in the Ministry of Works.
Eleven border projects totaling N3,966,679,624 detailed survey, observation, vista clearing and pillar/beacon construction of Nigerian borders were approved in the 2012 budget. All the projects, according to Director General of the National Boundary Commission (NBC), Dr. Mohammed Ahmad are all on paper as they do not exist.
Dr. Ahmad made this declaration before the Senator Kabiru Gaya-led Committee on States and Local Governments Administration during a budget defence hearing. Besides, Ahmad contended before the committee that such projects are within the purview of the NBC and not the Works Ministry.
Furthermore, Ahmad told the Committee that earlier protests from the commission were routinely ignored. His words: “Last year, we noticed certain things in the budget which did not exist in practical terms or they are the responsibility of the NBC…We pointed out that they didn’t exist. There’s the survey on the Niger/ Benin…what is surveying and observation?
“We pointed this out! Nigeria/Chad has been beaconed, it has been surveyed and coordinated and the Nigeria/Cameroon border has not reached that stage. The boundary is yet to be known…Yet, it is there in the budget. We pointed out that it doesn’t exist in practical realisties. “There’s another one on vista clearing of Nigeria/Benin border. Where is the boundary they are going to clear? This is a boundary that not been clearly established and for you to clear the vista of a boundary,there has to be agreement between the two countries, Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.
“It’s not a singular exercise by one nation and we pointed that out. It cannot be done by the ministry. It’s the NBC of Nigeria that goes into agreement with the NBC of Niger Republic, Republic of Benin and Cameroon in order to take a joint action. “There’s no way you can take unilateral action on boundary. It’s not possible and yet, it was provided for in the budget.
“There’s also vista clearing provision in the budget for Jigawa State. Distinguished Senator, you are from Jigawa State; can you tell me if there’s need for vista clearing of that Jigawa section of the border with Niger?
“Is there need for vista clearing? Vista clearing is to clear the trees and bushes in order to make the boundary visible…It’s so that you can see 10 to 15 kilometers. What do you clear in the desert?
“There’s another allocation for pillar construction and observation of beacons (88 in all). We pointed out that there are 86 and not 88 inter-state boundaries. We didn’t create two more states. This doesn’t exist.
“There are so many people who know in this country that this doesn’t exist anywhere. There’s another provision for clearing of inter-state boundary. We are all Nigerians here; have we seen any interstate boundary that has been cleared? They want to clear boundary corridor (yet) in most cases, the borders have not been established.
“We pointed that out and they said we are trouble-makers.” At this point, Gaya also disclosed that the committee had complained in the past about the projects and that they are not feasible. He urged the National Budget Office to retrieve all monies hitherto released to the ministry.
“We pointed out areas where these things are wrong and yet, they still put it there. We don’t know what is really happening and we are not talking of N4 billion. “Last year, it was N3.966 billion and I’m sure you must have given the Ministry of Works its last allocation. If you have given them the whole of that money, how, then, do we get this money back to the treasury because these projects can’t be done.
“It’s not even feasible. We want you to quickly do this and tackle it because the same figures have appeared in the 2013 budget. Is this how we operate our budget in this country?
For the first time since budget defence in the seventh Senate, the Senate President felt so strongly about the abysmally low level implementation of the 2012 budget that he personally appeared in two committees’ budget defence.
It was an unusual visit and he told heads of the MDAs just what his impression was about the low level of implementation which he insisted were a breach of the agreement between the Executive and the Legislature.
At the budget defence of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Mark said budget implementation figures bandied by the Federal Government are mere statistics. The Senate President also fingered heads of MDAs as culprits in poor implementation of national budgets.
He even went further to add that budget implementation figures by the federal government do not reflect realities on ground.
Addressing the Minister, the Senate President further noted that in spite of the full cooperation of the National Assembly, budget performance has remained very low, adding, “there is no justifiable cause for such; we would not take it any longer.”
“Agriculture is a very important ministry. I attach a great deal of importance to agriculture; if we do not have enough food, we will be subject to external domination. “People believe that budget is a mere document; if you like it you implement, if you don’t like it, you reject it. Finance Ministry is a problem,” Mark rounded off.
He equally expressed worries over non-priority attached to lawmaker’s constituency projects and doubted the possibility of MDAs implementing all capital projects for 2012.
“You did not give constituency project any priority. You left it till now. How many works can the contractor do between now and the end of the year?
“People are not concerned about implementation. That is not a correct attitude to budget. Once a budget is signed, it becomes law and it is binding all of us.” Mark also demanded to know the level of success recorded in the Electronic Wallet approach to fertiliser distribution across the country.
“Statistics given by percentage never gives any real figure or perception or what is practically on ground. I want to know how much fertilizers and seedlings went to the farmers directly through the new method you introduced.”
Mark also appeared at the budget defence of the Police Affairs Committee.
In the House of Representatives the budget has produced no less intrigues. The last two months have been a season of knocks and sometimes rejection of some proposals by ministries and agencies.
The high point was the walking out of the Minister of Science and Technology, Professor Ita Okon Bassey-Ewa, for failing to provide percentages of his ministry’s expenditure in 2012 budget.
The Minister was in a session with the House Committee on Science and Technology for the defence of his ministry’s budgetary allocation for 2013.
At first it was like a joke, but the conversation took a strange turn when Ewa was asked to convert in percentage the performance of of his ministry in the current year. He got enraged and engaged the committee members in a shouting match.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon Abiodun Akinlade, insisted that the Minister must convert the ministry’s 2012 budget performance into percentage. At first Bassey-Ewa made efforts to do the conversion but could not. The Minister lost his cool when members of the Committee joined the chairman to insist that he must do the conversion. A shouting march ensued.
The Committee Chairman accused the Minister of having the tradition of not taking the Committee seriously. He recalled that Bassey-Ewa had failed to provide the percentage performance of his ministry when the Committee went to his office for oversight functions sometimes ago.
Reacting angrily the Minister shouted “We are prepared; we are prepared. You can see that I have been trying to compute the percentage.” When he was called to order that he was appearing before a Committee which is an extension of the House, the Minister replied that he was first shouted at by a lawmaker.
After trying in vain to get him to answer to queries from the Committee, Akinlade, after consultations with his colleagues, ordered Bassey-Ewa to leave and get himself adequately prepared to appear before the Committee at another date.
Without hesitation the Minister walked out angrily. When he left, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Rabi Shuaibu Jimeta, apologized to the lawmakers and promised to put all figures together in subsequent engagement with the Committee. That ended discussion on his Ministry’s estimate for 2013. A week later the Minister was able to sort himself out with the Committee.
A day after, another interesting drama took place. This time the fisticuff was with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC). The team was turned back by the lawmakers for insulting the House Committee. The absence of the Chairman of the anti- graft body was considered an insult.
The Committee threatened to issue zero allocation to the Commission for its delay in the defence of its 2013 budget estimates.
The threat was handed to the anti-graft outfit by the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes .
Speaking when EFCC appeared before it, the Committee lambasted it for not taking the budget presentation seriously.
Attempt by officials of the Commission to present and defend their budget was turned down as the Committee insisted that it is only the Chairman, Ibrahim Larmode that would perform the defence.
Larmode eventually turned up two days after and as expected, the lawmakers piled pressure on him. They faulted his proposals especially the amount he earmarked for domestic trips, describing it as out of the world.
The House said he must explain the rationale behind the appropriation of the sum against the backdrop of the fact that EFCC is yet to finish lesser amount approved for same purpose in year 2012.
Ironically, Larmorde was crying foul that the budget of the Commission was slashed to the point that it will be difficult for it to function effectively next year.
Decrying the slashing of the proposal by EFCC, Larmode said the budget cut will result to the anti-graft not meeting personnel cost in 2013.
EFCC proposed N21,028,488,772 billion to fund its operations in 2013 but the Budget Office approved N9,328,159,022 billion – less than half of the Commission’s request to meet capital, personnel and overhead expenditure items next year.
Asked to comment on major challenges faced by the body, Lamorde larmated that the federal government failed to release N25 million appropriated for the purchase of arms and ammunition for the Commission this year.
The Committee which is headed by Hon Jagaba Adams Jagaba criticised the government for not appropirately funding the Commission, saying the development was giving impression that the incumbent administration was not committed to the fight against corruption.
On the same day, anther House Committee was taking on the Executive Secretary for the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic Person and other Related Matters (NAPTIP). The committee was enraged by the proposal by the Secretary of the organization Mrs Beatrice Jedy that her office should be provided with a N20 m security vote.
The lawmakers said the inclusion of security vote for the agency’s boss in the budget estimate was in bad taste and a clear abuse of power.
Jedy-Agba had initially complained to the Committee of lack of fund to effectively run the agency . When she was asked to explain the reason for including N20 m for security vote, she could not offer the explanation.
If Jedy’s request attracted flaks from the lawmakers, the memo the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina directing that his ministry’s 2013 budget estimate should not be tinkered with generated huge dust and criticism.
The Minister had in a letter dated November 20,2012 to 39 agencies, with a reference number FMA/DFA/3415/1/117 cautioned that he will apply the big stick on any agency that sought an increase from the National Assembly on its allocation in the budget.
Akinwumi’s directive signed on his behalf by one Mr. Idris Mamman, read “you are also to ensure that your programmes /projects and capital ceilings are at par with what was approved in the Executive Bill as any deviation from the 2013 Executive Bill will be viewed as serious misconduct. Please ensure compliance.”
He directed the agencies to avail his office of their proposals to the House of Representatives Committee as a precautionary measure to ensure that none of the agencies sought an increase of their “envelopes”.
The memo further read “I am directed to request you(agencies) to submit to the Office of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development soft and hard copies of documents prepared for 2013 Budget defence with National Assembly for his information and record purposes”.
The House Committee on Agriculture saw the position of the minister as an insult and vowed to tinker with the budget of agencies in the Ministry if need be. The Ministry had to tender an apology before the Committee accepted to allow it defend it’s budget.
In the case of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity , the stand of Chief Emeka Wogu, the Minister on the estimates of his ministry was rejected.
Appraising the 2012 budget performance of his Ministry, as well as defending the 3.042 billion naira, 2013 estimates, Wogu declared that his Ministry had adopted envelop approved by the Budget Office of the Federation, and would not ask for any form of review.
The comment angered the Committee who cautioned the Minister. The Committee members insisted that they were empowered by the law to either review either downward or upward the estimates of the Ministry.
For the Minister of Enviorenment, Mrs Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafa, she got more than she anticipated from the Committee on Environment that scrutinised her 2013 budget proposal. Just less than a week after the Committee advised President Goodluck Jonathan to relieve her of her position, House of Representatives Committee came up with another allegation that she was supervising a Ministry that extorts money from contractors before releasing contract papers and taking the firms to site.
The Committee headed by Hon Uche Ekwunife had earlier alleged a N396 billion shortfall in the Ecological Funds deductions and recommended that the Minister be sacked by the President.
The Minister swiftly denied the allegation. She said that she had never heard nor seen such practice in the ministry.
Chairman of the committee, Ekwunife, claimed that there had been complaints from some circles over the procurement and process of awarding contract by the Ministry.
The Minister had to temporary rest the defence of her ministry’s 2013 budget to defend herself in the new allegation. She had to return another day to defend the budget for next year.
More and more dramas are still coming out of the budget issue in the Senate and House, but the focus now is on whether the two chambers will keep to its promise of passing the budget before the end of the year.