Speaking at an interactive session on the budget, president of the Senate, David Mark, who was represented by his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, lambasted the Executive for accusing the National Assembly of tampering with the budget, thereby making its full implementation impossible.
The presence of former president of the Senate and the secretary to the government of the federation, (SGF) Anyim Pius Anyim, the minister of state for finance, minister of transport, the director-general of Budget Office, and the auditor general at the interactive session could not sway the lawmakers in sparing Okonjo-Iweala and hearing the government team out.
Mark lamented that Okonjo-Iweala’s absence was a major setback to the appraisal of the budget performance so far.
“We had expected the minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy to be here today because she is central to all that we are going to discuss here. As our chairman on appropriation had mentioned, this matter was supposed to be discussed last week but the minister was unavoidably absent, he said.
“We learnt that she went to Asaba to declare open a SURE-P Programme. We consider our meeting with her on issue that has to do with budget implementation to be more important than any other assignment. Today we have also been told that she’s gone to London to represent the president on an investment forum for which we know there are other ministers and government officials that could as well have done that to enable her to be here with us this afternoon.”
He further said: “Now the stage is set but the minister is not here and we are worried about it. So, it will be absolutely impossible for us to do this dialogue with the absence of the coordinating minister of the economy. I have discussed with my colleagues and what we intend to do now is to allow our committee on appropriation to look for an appropriate date possibly by Thursday and ensure that the minister comes.
“Even if she needs to be summoned, she needs to appear before the committee to tell Nigerians the degree of releases, and, of course, for the SGF to tell Nigerians the degree of utilization by MDAs. It’s not just enough that releases were made and then utilization.
“We want to see whether those releases and utilization are improving the lives of Nigerians. We want to see it in roads; we want to see the water projects going on; we want to see the electricity projects going on. We are appropriated about for security situation in the country. We want to see whether there have been releases and whether they were utilized. That’s exactly what we thought this public hearing will afford all of us today. So for now, we are disappointed that it’s not going to take place.
“I have the mandate of my colleagues to adjourn this public hearing to enable the minister of finance and coordinating minister to show up. And as I said, the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation should take immediate steps, including, if possible summoning the minister to show up before the Senate Committee on Appropriation and other relevant committees by Thursday this week.
“So this public hearing is adjourned to Thursday at the same time and the minister for finance is expected to be there no matter the circumstance. We have to do everything possible to get her to be here on Thursday by 1pm.
“it is regrettable that she is not here. I recall that when the 2012 budget was presented to us as a draft bill, we in the NASS decided that we were going to do everything possible to send it back to the Executive the way it came, so that there would be no arguments on whether it would be implemented or not, because over the years we’ve had this issue of non-implementation of the budget, and the reasons or whatever reasons they give surround NASS inputs. So we decided that we were going to make minimal input if there’s need to make any input at all.
“On the basis of this, we returned the budget the way it came and even when we identified the areas on which some adjustments need to be made, we had to bend over at the risk of being accused of tampering with the budget. We had to do that to ensure that they received the budget the way and manner they wanted it so that the implementation would be much easier. Unfortunately the level of implementation has been anything less than commendable and that’s why we are worried.
“One of the excuses we’ve read on the pages of newspapers for non-performance of the budget is what they considered as tinkering by the National Assembly. And so what we had wanted to do today is to hear from the Executive what those tinkering are. Let us hear and let the people of Nigeria hear what NASS did to the budget that made it impossible for it to be implemented so that our committee chairmen here would have the opportunity of responding.”
Earlier, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Appropriation, Senator Ahmed Maccido put the performance of the 2012 budget at 21.56 per cent, contrary to claims of 56 per cent by the finance minister. He lamented that although it is the third quarter of the year and discussions on the conceptualisation of the 2013 Appropriation Bill are soon to begin, the country is at a loss on the level of performance of the 2012 Appropriation Act.