Senators, ministers, civil servants tangle over 2010 budget

But last week, Senate spokesman, Ayogu Eze, had told journalists that the nomination of Makele was made in error and should not have been made in the first place. In a letter to the Minister of Finance, Alhaji Mansur Muhtar, dated November 6, 2009, Makele had written: “I am most honored and humbled to have been nominated by His Excellency, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Commander of the Armed Forces, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, with respect to the above mentioned position (Executive Commissioner, Legal at SEC). I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our dear country. Unfortunately, for personal reasons, I am not able to proceed with the nomination at this time. I thank you Sir, for this opportunity presented to me. I thank you for your timeless and sincere efforts on my behalf. I would be grateful if you would convey to His Excellency, the President, my appreciation and heartfelt thanks for nominating me. I remain available to serve my country and the administration of the President in the future. I commend the President, for the positive and significant steps he has taken so far to reposition our dear country and I remain confident of the success of the Administration.”

 

In his forwarding the letter to the Senate Committee on Capital Market, the Minister of Finance confirmed that Makele had decided to “withdraw his nomination on personal grounds,” adding, “accordingly, I have communicated his decision to Mr. President who has directed that the matter be referred to your distinguished Committee (on Capital Market) for appropriate action.” Senator Solomon’s Committee recommended the other nominee for the office of the Director-General of SEC, Ms Arunma Oteh, and Senate approved by the Senate. In his Committee report, Solomon explained that though Makele rejected his appointment, the Committee discovered on October 28, 2009 “that there is no vacancy in one of the slots for which nomination was made and an outright breach of Section 8 of the Investments and Securities Act (ISA) 2007, and resolved to invite the Honorable Minister of Finance for clarification on the nomination.” Solomon added: “At a brief session held on Wednesday November 4, 2009, the Minister informed the Committee of an internal arrangement to strengthen the Financial Sector of the economy as a result of the global economic crises, by repositioning some of the Parastatals under the Ministry with a view to strengthening them.

He added that the Securities and Exchange Commission and National Insurance Commission were the focus of the government. This, he said, involved the movement of certain political office holders. He informed the Committee that the nomination was intended to turn around the Nigerian Capital Market. He further gave a run down of the process and promised to correct the error made in the exercise. Sources in the National Assembly suggested that there was “a technical hitch” to the appointment because the office did not exist. In effect, Makele could have declined because he knew of the hitch.

However, various Senate Committees went about grilling Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) on the 2010 budget, amidst speculations that the lawmakers may be considering overriding Yar’Adua’s veto on the N352 billion 2009 Supplementary Budget. For example, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is seeking N3 billion to purchase operational vehicles to patrol federal roads with a view to reducing road accidents, just as the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs questioned the N100 million put in the 2010 Budget proposals to procure medals for National Merit Award winners.

Senate principal officer and member of the Senate Committee, Olorunimbe Mamora had asked when the Committee met a representative of the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF): “N100 million for medals for national honours? Is it not on the high side? If you divide N100 million by 300 people, what is the average?” Committee Chairman, Senator Smart Adeyemi said in his own remarks: “Why should this be in your budget? This money will be useless here. If you don’t convince us at the end we will add up the figures and ask for them to be transferred to other sectors.”

Defending the request for operational vehicles, FRSC boss, Osita Chidoka disclosed that 4,620 persons lost their lives in road accidents in the last one year adding that inadequate funding and the bad state of the country’s roads was responsible the huge loss of lives. On the controversial speed breakers put on major road junctions in the Federal Capital City, Chidoka backed the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA) for the bumps because it had reduced accidents. A representative of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Alhaji Ahmed Yayale, a permanent secretary in his office, Umar Ambursa said: “It is an intervention fund and our law allows that office.” On the amount set aside for national awards, he said, “it is a national honour. As at today, we are relying on foreign medals and I think that is why the cost is high. The average recipients are about 300 Nigerians.”

Another Senate Committee member, Senator Mujitaba Mallam wondered why the 2010 budget for the SGF contained duplication of templates under different headings. He questioned the provision for maintenance of office equipment on one hand and maintenance of office furniture on the other. Meanwhile, in a breakdown of the performance of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) presented to the Senate Committee, out of the N14, 100, 919, 005, over N10 billion has been released to the Commission.

On Personnel, N9, 808, 534, 714 was released, while N780, 507, 576 .73 was spent. A balance of nearly N1 billion was still being expected.

Last week, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs expressed displeasure at the failure of the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe, to explain the 2009 budget of the ministry. The Minister of State Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Jibir Maigari, and other Ministry officials who were in the Senate to defend the allocations made for the ministry in the 2010 budget were told to leave.

Committee Chairman, Jibril Aminu, exploded: “There are some rotten ideas in that ministry. How can you refuse to account to the legislature about what you have done with public funds and public properties? You could not even prepare an explanation on the way you spent your budget.”

Deputy Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba (SAN), was less charitable: “Apart from budget interventions, I don’t recall any interactions between the ministry of foreign affairs and this committee. So we connect only once a year. And foreign policy is no longer the exclusive preserve of the executive; the legislature is also involved in foreign policy. We are supposed to be working closely together but as far as we are concerned you people are riding a high horse.”

It was displeasure galore with Solid Minerals ministry as the Senate committee on solid minerals frowned at the diversion of the N300 billion in the Natural Resources Fund from the sector to agriculture. Minister for Solid Minerals, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, had earlier told the lawmakers that the President issued a directive that the Solid Minerals ministry should stay off the money because it had been diverted to the agricultural sector. Mrs Allison Maduekwe told the lawmakers that Mr. President gave Natural Resources Fund from which the solid mineral Ministry would have got a percentage to the Ministry of Agriculture solely for the next four years. But Chairman of the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, George Sekibo was not impressed.

His words: “The intention for this ministry is to push it to a point that even if oil stops flowing today it will be able to generate enough funds at least meet 50 per cent of what the country needs to manage the affairs of the country. But from the way you are going, do you think that this ministry needs to exist? Is it really achieving something? We should be realistic, the fault may not come from you, it may come from other sources, may be from the presidency because it may be an issue of focus, it is an issue of interest. If, for instance, the presidency hasn’t gotten the political will to push this sector forward, you on your own will not be able to do enough but we should be able to know so that when we are making certain policy statements we should be able to say this is what we found out.

“It is worrisome that over N300 billion meant for the development of the sector was left in an account and without being used to support the ministry we went into it. It becomes more worrisome if we are putting funds together to develop the sector and we are not using the fund and the fund is being used for something else for which it was established and then the Ministry is just staying quiet as if nothing is happening.”

And when the Senate sought answers, through the James Manager-led Committee on Niger Delta, on the non-execution of projects in the Niger Delta, the Minister in charge, Obong Ufot Ekaette, told the lawmakers that inadequate funding was responsible. Said Ekaette: “When the budget was passed, we knew that we were duty bound to implement it and we also knew that there is procedure for budget implementation as enshrined in the Public Procurement Act. Before you could implement any budget, you must have adequate fund to pay at least 15 per cent mobilisation. This is enshrined in the Act we have just referred to. And because of that we decided that it was necessary in order to fast track the development of the implementation of the various projects, to appoint consultants to do the drawing, the survey and the costing for all the projects that we knew.

“We had no problem with on-going projects because they were already there, they were transferred to us from the ministry of work and from the ministry of environment. So there were already people on the ground working except for the portion of Julius Berger, which of course we had to re-award. For the new projects, it dawned on us that it would be very difficult to implement them because the cost of each project compared with the budgetary allocation for each project was such that we could not pay 15 per cent mobilisation for any of these projects except for one or two. And that was why we arranged the meeting. It is obvious that without doing something there was no way we could implement the projects.

“I think the problem we had was that the N19.5 billion that was allocated for new projects was spread through too many projects. After doing the costing, it became apparent that there was no way those projects could be implemented at once. And that was why we sought permission to vire some money from some projects to the other so that we could implement some of them. But that also met its waterloo in the sense that some members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives said why should we move project from one State to another. So, we did not get the kind of virement that we wanted. So, when people start talking about the ministry spending so much time on consultancy without implementing the project, this is the background. There was no way we could have implemented any of those road projects, water projects, without doing that costing and knowing the cost of the project before we go ahead. I thought I should explain that.”

In another development, the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) rejected the N7.5 billion inserted in the 2010 budget proposal for the execution of the projects proposed in the Petroleum Industry Bill still being processed by the National Assembly. It directed the Petroleum Ministry to provide it with all details concerning the projects as well as the imperatives of making budgets for projects contained in a Bill that was yet to be passed into law. Chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Emmanuel Paulker warned the ministry officials on the consequences of the action.

He added: “First, none of the ministers in the ministry turned up for this meeting. We received only hours before our scheduled meeting yesterday a response to our invitation to the Minister of Petroleum Resources that the two ministers were out of the country and that they are to be represented by the ministry’s Permanent Secretary. Let it be on record that the Senate is not happy with this trend and henceforth our Committee would not entertain budget defense sessions without the presence of the minister. Worse still, you don’t have your facts right at all on all the proposals you have come to defend. Why do you insert what you have not fine-tuned in budgets? You put money where you should not have put them at the expense of other areas of need. Definitely we cannot pass this proposal until you fully furnish the committee with all the details on the proposal.”



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