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From Fred Itua, Abuja
Barely one month to the end of the year, the Presidency, yesterday, shocked lawmakers when it revealed that less than N1 billion, out of the N500 billion Social Welfare Scheme in the 2016 budget, has been released.
Special Adviser to the President for Social Protection Plan, Mrs Mariam Uwais, said this at a meeting of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriations, with respect to a N181 billion virement request by President Muhammadu Buhari.
She said since the 2016 budget became law, only N25 billion has been released for the scheme. Mrs. Uwais, however, expressed optimism that another N40 billion would be released to it before the end of the year but pointed out that it would be impossible for the scheme to utilise the funds within the remaining short period to the end of the year. She stressed need to vire the remaining fund to MDAs which had shortfalls in the budget.
“Out of the N500 billion appropriated for the social intervention programme, we have not spent up to N1 billion. We have been preparing, we have the framework in place but, unfortunately, we did not get the release early enough.”
At the meeting, some agencies presented figures which conflicted sharply with the figures presented by the president to the two chambers of the National for virement of N180 billion from the N6.06 trillion 2016 budget. The joint committee expressed shock that the scheme, which is a key campaign promise of the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration could be treated with levity to the extent that only less than one billion had been spent out of the N500 billion appropriated for it. Committee members, led by chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives’ Committees on Appropriations, Dajuma Goje and Mustapha Bala Dawaki, respectively, expressed reservations about the readiness of the executive arm to implement the scheme.
Said Goje: “I don’t know if you are aware that your agency is borne out of our campaign promises. And, you are here to say that you don’t need the money? You don’t need the balance of the money, you want it appropriated to other agencies? After we have promised people that we are going to provide them money and the money will be sent to them? It’s quite sad.”
However, discrepancies were observed in the figures presented for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC).
The development attracted the attention of lawmakers when the Director of Finance and Accounts in NYSC, Mr. AIB Adeleke, informed the committee that the Corps only needed N8.5 billion as opposed to the N19.792 billion proposed by president Buhari.
Goje insisted that Adeleke should be sure of his facts and figures to avoid throwing the system into confusion but the NYSC finance director stood his ground that his figures were correct.
But, Director-General of the Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, swiftly intervened and informed the committee that Adeleke got the figures mixed up. Akabueze said there was another N11.2 billion which the NYSC had requested, earlier in the year, which Buhari wanted to deploy to take care of all NYSC needs at once by asking for N19.792 billion.
When called upon later to declare his final position, the seeming confused Adeleke rose and said “I agree with the submission of the DG Budget.”
Other agencies which presented conflicting figures with the President’s fugures include Public Complaints Commision, which asked the committee to approve the sum of N2.5 billion against Buhari’s N1.2 billion.
Also, the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme for which the President voted N35 billion asked the National Assembly committee to approve N35.2 billion.