Senate halts spending by 38 federal agencies
• Gives ultimatum to submit budget estimates
• We’ve done so, insist CBN, NDIC
• Lawmakers invite FIRS, others over alleged $5b tax fraud
The Senate yesterday passed a resolution directing 38 agencies of the Federal Government to immediately stop making further expenditure because they are yet to submit their budget proposals.
The lawmakers gave the president a two-week ultimatum to submit the 2017 budgets of the affected agencies for proper appropriation by the National Assembly.
During a legislative session on Tuesday, the Senate disclosed that the agencies, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) had continued to make huge extra-budgetary expenditure in breach of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.
Section 21 of the law makes it mandatory for all departments and agencies to submit their spending plans to the National Assembly for approval.Many of the affected agencies, including NNPC and FIRS, are revenue generators while others like the CBN perform crucial roles in the execution of government’s fiscal and monetary policies for proper running of the economy. Halting their expenditure will cripple their activities that may lead to a shutdown of the economy. Non-compliance by the agencies, however, may lead to a frosty relationship between the legislature and the executive that may threaten governance of the country.
As part of measures to guide against future abuses, the lawmakers also resolved to urgently amend the Fiscal Responsibility Act, to penalise infractions.The position of the Senate was reached following the adoption of a motion tagged, “Non-submission of 2017 budget by public corporations in violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act” sponsored by the Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah.
On Tuesday, the upper legislative chamber expressed shock that despite the huge claims by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration of waging a successful war against corruption, agencies of the same Federal Government keep breaching the basic rules for checking corruption.
Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, while speaking on the issue, said the matter in question was not only an infraction of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, but the constitution.
He drew attention to section 80 of the constitution which, according to him, prohibits withdrawal of monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, except in a manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
“We must begin to show that we operate by the laws we make. We cannot be going back and forth. It is our responsibility to compel the agencies concerned to submit their budgets for approval. We must give the agencies an ultimatum to submit their budgets for appropriation by the National Assembly.”
Noting what he called disrespect for the constitution, Ekweremadu urged the Senate to do what was right to protect the law.Earlier, Na’Allah said: “Non-compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act constitutes abuse of power and economic sabotage, aimed at frustrating the current measures being taken by the present administration to address economic recession.
“The absence of penalties in the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act may have emboldened and encouraged the perpetration of this act. The Fiscal Responsibility Commission is failing in its responsibility through complacency in the execution of this mandate.”
George Sekibo said one of the functions of the executive was to ensure that the laws are obeyed. He said the failure of agencies to submit their budgets for appropriation was gross misconduct. “They are spending public money,” he noted.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had told heads of the various standing committees to discontinue whatever they were doing on budgets for those agencies, pointing out that until the president submits the budgets in accordance with Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, any exercise by the committees would be voided.
“Truly, this motion is at the heart of this fight against corruption, and it is very important. The amount of revenue spent by those agencies exceeds how much we got as revenue. So, it is a huge amount to our revenue line. And even when we are talking about looking for money to fund projects like hospitals and education, this is where the source of the revenue is. I cannot see how, in a society where we are fighting corruption, people will be spending money without approval, without appropriations. This must stop. It will stop and is going to stop from now.
“Clearly, we have made our position that based on this motion, these agencies must get their budgets to us in two weeks. For committee chairmen, I want to appeal that once we get the budget on our own part, let us ensure that we do it in public and very diligently. We should try and turn it around as quick as possible.”
Other agencies which are to submit their budgets for approval include the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASEI), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), National Maritime Authority (NMA), Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), National Sugar Development Council (NSDC), Nigerian Postal Service (NPS), Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
Also on the list are the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC), National Communications Commission (NCC), National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
Others are National Insurance Commission (NIC), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigerian Copyrights Commission (NCC), Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Radio Nigeria, Federal Housing Authority (FHA), Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), National Automotive Design and Development Council (NADDC), Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA), National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB), Federal Mortgage Bank, National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), as well as Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGZFA).
Some of the agencies have declared that the lawmakers’ claim that they did not submit budget proposals is untrue.Three of the agencies – NDIC, CBN and BPE – told The Guardian that they had submitted their budgets. NDIC declared that a team from the National Assembly visited its head office in Abuja to scrutinise its budget, following which the NDIC was commended.
The NDIC spokesman, Alhaji Hadi Birchi, said: “ We are shocked beyond reason. A committee from the National Assembly visited us to scrutinise our budget. We defended it and received approval and commendation. The subject formed a press statement which was widely reported by the media sometime in February of this year. I think there is a mistake somewhere as far as the NDIC and this budget issue is concerned.“
The Acting Director of Corporate Communications of the CBN, Mr. Isaac Okorafor declared that the bank had already submitted its budget and was ready for a defence if invited.BPE’s newly reassigned head of Corporate Communications, Mr. Chukwuma Nwokoh promised to check with the equally newly appointed Director- General, Mr. Alex Okoh and get back to The Guardian.
The Senate also yesterday invited the leadership of the FIRS, CBN, NAPIMS, Chevron Nigeria Limited and NNPC to provide detailed information on what they know about the alleged $5 billion tax fraud.
The decision was taken by the Senate adhoc committee investigating the fraud allegation against Chevron. The Magus Abe-led panel was inaugurated yesterday by Saraki.At the event, Abe said the committee would not be biased in its investigation even as it vowed to find the truth about the alleged fraud.
The Senate condemned the assumption of office of the Director-General, National Lottery Regulatory Commission (NLRC), Mr. Lanre Gbajabiamila, without confirmation by the Senate.
This is sequel to a Point of Order raised by Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) during plenary.Melaye quoted Section 8(1) of the National Lottery Act 2015 which stipulates that there shall be for the commission, a director-general whom shall be appointed by the president subject to the confirmation of the senate.
“It is sad to note that a new director general of the National Lottery Commission has not only been appointed by the president but he has resumed office without being confirmed.
“He has started signing documents and carrying out functions of the office of the director general of the commission without referral or confirmation by the Senate.
“We have a list of the likes of the DG of Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) waiting for Senate’s confirmation. The executive arm of government cannot choose which law to obey or which not to obey. We must stand on the truth and we must communicate this misbehaviour and rascality to those concerned.”
Saraki said the issues were very weighty and that they bordered “on the constitution, the rule of law, our democracy and how we practise it.”Saraki said: “We have to check if truly this gentleman has decided on his own to disregard the law and resume. And if that is what he has done, I am sure when that attention has been communicated to him, he will stop that nonsense and wait for confirmation.
“The leader of the Senate should confirm whether what Dino has said is the truth. The law which I have is very clear, and we must ensure that we are seen to be doing the right thing. He should wait for his confirmation before resuming.”
Meanwhile, the lawmakers yesterday commenced moves to make health insurance compulsory for all in the country with a public hearing on the repeal of the law establishing the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
The move is to replace the NHIS with the National Health Insurance Commission (NHIC). During the public hearing, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Olarenwanju Tejuosho said the current Act made health insurance optional and that it must be made mandatory to strengthen the country’s health sector.