The Senate yesterday, rejected the N23 billion 2020 budget for the Niger Delta Ministry, declaring that the budget was designed to fail. After a marathon budget defence session with the Minister for Niger Delta, Sen. Goodwill Akpabio, the Senate Committee on Niger Delta submitted that the N23.890 billion allocated to the ministry in the 2020 budget was not only meagre but too unrealistic to make any impact
Members of the panel expressed sadness that despite the outstanding N21billion worth of projects that were not implemented in the 2019 budget, the executive arm of government voted only N23 billion for capital projects by the ministry in the 2020 budget. The committee was also unhappy about the failure of the executive arm of government to release any money from the allocation for capital projects in the 2019 budget.
Accordingly, the senators resolved to reject the budgetary allocation for the ministry and also directed the minister and other officials of the ministry at the session to rework it thoroughly; capture all observations made by them and present it to the committee for scrutiny on Monday. The Chairman of the Committee, Peter Nwaoboshi, also condemned the failure of the ministry to consult stakeholders in the Niger Delta before drawing up the budget.
“Where is the director in charge of projects? How did you come about the projects? Did you sit in your office and bring projects or did you consult stakeholders in the Niger Delta before you advise the minister on the projects to be put in the budget? Can you tell us the stakeholders you consulted before you prepared this budget and gave the minister? Are you aware that there are legislators who are also stakeholders from Niger Delta? Are you aware they have a stake in the development of the Niger Delta and they are entitled to advise you on what is important to them? Did you confer with any member of the National Assembly from that area?” he queried.
The Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, who is also a member of the committee, said: “This is an uncommon budget. When a budget is designed to fail, it is uncommon. I will suggest that the budget be taken back for reworking, taking into cognisance all the projects that were pointed out. We give them another day to come and defend the budget.” Attempts by Akpabio and his minister of state, Tayo Alasoadura, to persuade the lawmakers to retain the budgetary allocation for 2020 proved abortive as the committee ruled that the minister should return next Monday to defend the revised budget.
Akpabio explained that: “The 2020 budget proposal was prepared using the approved Zero-Based Budgeting Approach and also in line with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework/Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). A total budgetary proposal of N25,910,486,285.00 was allocated to the ministry, with personnel getting N1,143,046,763.00, overhead (N877,089,123.00) and capital projects (N23,890,350,399.00). This proposal had been defended before the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning during which the ministry bemoaned the meagre and inadequate funds allocated for its 2020 expenditure.” The Senate committee said it was more disturbing that President Muhammadu Buhari had not commissioned any project executed by the ministry since 2015.
Meanwhile, the presidency has claimed that some of the vehicles being used for daily operations in the State House are old since they were purchased as far back as 1999, despite a yearly allocation for new vehicles. The Permanent Secretary, Mr. Jalal Arabi, who led a team of officials to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Special Duties to defend the 2020 budget proposals of the State House said there was an urgent need to replace those vehicles which he claimed had become very difficult to maintain.
“With the release of funds in 2018, some of the vehicles, especially security vehicles, were replaced and spares purchased, but we are still nowhere near our optimal level since no vehicles were purchased this year (2019),” Arabi said. According to him, “the proposals are in line with our provisions in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) document, discussed and agreed with the Budget Office of the Federation, and are to be implemented over a three-year period.”
A statement by the Deputy Director, Information, Attah Esa, yesterday explained that N6.569 billion was proposed for capital expenditure, representing a 5.5 per cent reduction in the capital budget proposal for 2019 expenditure of the seat of government. The statement further explained that the Chairman of the committee, Samaila Suleiman, while expressing satisfaction with the presentation, assured that the panel would carefully consider it.
However, details gleaned from previously reported records showed that President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2015 proposed to spend N18.1 billion for the 2016 budget to run the State House, an amount that was N11.5 billion more than what his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, spent in 2015.
One of the most outstanding State House spendings in 2016 was the purchase of BMW saloon cars at N3.63 billion. It is not clear yet what purpose the cars would serve. Again N198, 000,000 was penciled for “Motor Vehicles and Buses” in the 2017 budget. The State House planned to spend N907.102 million on purchase of motor vehicles out of a total budget of N11. 545 billion, as contained in the 2018 budget.
Estimates for vehicles in the 2018 budget included N100.8 million to buy three SUVs; N97.2 million for three 16-seater buses; N54 million for coaster vehicles; while tyres for various categories of cars and trucks were allocated N94.575 million. Thus, in three years, the Buhari government budgeted N4.73 billion for the purchase of vehicles. However, details as to whether the budgets were approved and releases made could not be established at press time.
Also yesterday, the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs quizzed the representatives of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) over the alleged secret recruitment exercises carried out by some federal agencies. The Secretary of the FCC, Mohammed Tukur had led a management team of the commission to the upper chamber in the National Assembly to defend the 2020 budget proposal of his agency.
The committee, under the leadership of Danjuma La’ah, which asked Tukur if he was aware of the secret recruitment exercises, said he should explain how due process was followed in the one allegedly done by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and other agencies. Tukur told his hosts that his agency was aware of the alleged recruitment exercises by some agencies and that it had started an investigation.