By Nuel Suji, Abuja.
Senators on Tuesday faulted the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo – Iweala over poor implementation of the 2014 budget, blaming her for the nation’s current economy woes.
Senators criticised her at various committee levels during 2015 budget Defence of Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) based on submissions made by them that their capital budgets for 2014 were poorly funded by the Ministry of Finance.
At the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, where the Minister of Power, Professor Chinedu Nebo and his counterpart from the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, Musa Mohammed Sada, defended their 2015 budget proposals, Okonjo Iweala was specifically accused by the committee members of ‘killing’ the Nation’s economy through yearly poor funding of MDAs capital budgets.
A member of the Committee, Senator Victor Lar, threw the first salvo, by declaring that it was very frustrating and wicked for the Minister of Finance, to be rendering capital budgets proposals of the various MDAs useless on yearly basis through poor funding.
According to him, “A situation where we considered a budget, have it approved, then somebody sits in an office and refuses to make releases is too bad.
“Ministers and heads of various agencies who had awarded contracts could not pay but somebody would sit in the comfort of her office and declare a surplus. Is that an economy that is growing?
“This is simple planlessness, this is frustrating and it cannot go on like this. The presentation by the Minister of steel for instance is an opportunity to raise the revenue profile of the ministry from a non oil sector which would have enhance economic growth was frustrated.
“A serious nation would have encouraged this ministry to ensure that everything required was provided but this is the same ministry that had been subjected to the same envelope system, to the same non releases among others.
“We need to change the way we do things because if we have a problem and you keep on using an approach that has not yielded the desired results, common sense demands that you change the approach.
“We keep doing the same thing wrongly and we expect to get the desired results. It will not work. It is now becoming part of our tradition to get budgets approved as a parliament and someone refused to provide funds for its implementation.
“Also, Senator Chris Ngige, expressed fears that the economy of Nigeria would collapse completely if the current trend of non release of funds for project execution continue unchallenged by the appropriate arms of government.
He said, “We as legislators should be interested in putting in place, structures that will enable the country to realise additional sources of revenue apart from the oil sector.”
Another member of the committee, Senator Ibrahim Gobir, stressed the need for the country to harmonise all available resources in the country by developing the natural resources.
He said, “Our internal debt now is too high, which is over N1trl. The foreign debt is also very high. Poverty is very high and to worsen the situation, naira is being devalued by 30 percent. All these are happening because we cannot sustain production.
“The only way we can move the nation forward economically, is to make sure that web diversify our economy to make extra revenue. We budget about N50bn for capital projects and only N20bn would be released at the end of the day because there is no cash backing.
“Something is really wrong somewhere and infact, something is wrong fundamentally . There is need for the other ministers to be talking now against what Okonjo Iweala is doing and subjecting thief ministries to, and not just watching”.
Also at the committee on Lands and Housing the Senators expressed shock when the Minister of Lands and Housing, Mrs.Akon Eyakenyi, said her ministry was owing contractors, over N39bn.She also said new projects cannot be embarked upon last year because of the heavy burden on it.
Senators Bukar Ibrahim and Aisha Al – Hassan, wondered how the ministry would tackle the housing challenges confronting the country when there was no provision for it to build a single house due to non release of funds. Also the Chairman, Committee on Establishment and Public Service, Senator Aloysius Etuk, described as shameful, the manner budgetary allocation was released to MDAs.
“The rate of budgetary releases is shameful and unacceptable. For us to sit down to plan annual budget and at the end of the day, only 41 per cent performance is implemented is like cutting short the expectations of the people”, Etuk said.
The Committee, which took on the Head of Service of the Federation, Federal Housing Staff Loan Board, Public Service Institute of Nigeria, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria and Public Civil Service Reform Bureau, also expressed concern over zero Capital Budget that characterize the 2015 fiscal year.Etuk however urged the agencies to design means of generating revenue outside government.
“Time has come for MDAs to begin to seek alternative source of revenue for sustenance. Government is more concerned with paying salaries.It may have to cut overhead further to ensure that salaries are paid”
Etuk noted that the on-going defense exercise was crucial in the life of the 7th Senate as it marked the final assignment for most of the Senators, especially those who are not coming back.Meanwhile the Senate yesterday before holding its plenary session held a closed-door meeting over imminent failure of the 2015 budget estimates.
Senators who spoke to our reporter after the meeting said, lawmakers expressed concern over meagre allocation of N387 billion for capital projects in the 2015 budget.
This, they said, is unprecedented even as the recurrent component was allocated over 90 percent of the N4.3 trillion budget.
The lawmakers, according to sources, insisted that they will not approve such huge lopsided budget allocation.