…insist President must apologise over controversy
Some members of the House of Representatives yesterday, expressed displeasure over the N795m budgeted for website update in the corrected version of the 2016 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari. They also frowned at the N536m earmarked to link cables from drivers’rest room, guest house to the Aso Villa, describing it as a fraud.
The lawmakers also asked Buhari to apologise to Nigerians over the unnecessary controversy he allowed to trail the 2016 Appropriation bill. They further described the corrected version of the N6.08trn budget proposal submitted to the House as wasteful and a fraud.
The legislators insisted that the act has caused the country an embarrassment in the eyes of the international community. Some members of the House, who made their dissatisfaction with the budget known during the debate on the Appropriation bill, accused the government of corruption.
Contributing to the debate, Johnson Agbonayinma, representing Egor, Ikpoba, Okha Federal Constituency of Edo State, said he did not see the first budget that was laid before the House on 22nd December, 2015 by the President. He said it was his right to know the contents of the first and the second document.
He also said the president should apologise to the nation over the embarrassment the alleged smuggling of the budget caused the country. Although, he was interrupted by the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, Agbonayinma contended that it was a “monumental fraud” for the president, who was talking about cutting cost of governance to earmark about N800m just for website update in the Villa.
He also wondered the rationale behind allocating N322m just to link cable from the drivers’ rest room to the Villa and another N213m to link cable from the Guest House to the General House.
Speaking in an interview after the plenary, he said: “First of all I represent a constituency, Egor, Ikpoba, Okha Federal Constituency of Edo State and if you go around you see a lot of youth unemployed.
“In the 21st century in a nation where you are talking about economic crunch you are now budgeting N780m to upgrade website. “To me, that is monumental fraud, that is deceit; I want Nigerians to see the light of day; I want democracy to be sustainable. However we must have Nigeria’s interest at heart.
“Until we engage ourselves adhering to the three principal tenets of democratic doctrine; that is participation, loyalty and commitment to your dear nation, it’s not just speaking it, we must act; we must adhere to it in putting Nigerian first. This budget should speak for Nigerians not for certain individuals.
“There is no where on earth that you are upgrading a website and you are using seven hundred and ninety something million? That is almost a billion.” Julius Pondi, representing Burutu Federal Constituency of Edo State said the budget would not be realistic even as he described it as not being friendly.
Pondi wondered why government should allocate N4bn to Aso Rock clinic, even when the few privileged Nigerians working there always travelled out for medical treatment.
Segun Adekola, in his own contribution, said the Federal Government should have included the recovered funds as funding window in the budget. He said: “Everyday we hear that money is being recovered, this should be part of the funding of the budget.”
It was learnt that N3,889,015bn was budgeted for purchase of vehicles in the first budget, but this was reduced to N340m in the corrected version, while N3,914,197,062bn, which was not in the first budget document was now brought in the new one for annual maintenance of Villa facilities.
Besides, N228.6m for sourcing and purchasing equipment ( purchase and importation), which was not in the first budget was contained in the corrected version.
The senate also yesterday continued debate on the budget, with most senators calling for the upward review of the current tax regime to fund the appropriation bill.
According to them, with the crashing of crude oil price in the international market, government is left with the option of seeking other none oil revenues to fund the budget. The budget was predicated on $38 per barrel, but crude is currently selling below $30.
The lawmakers also criticised the idea of borrowing N500m daily to fund the budget as proposed. One of the strong proponents of increased taxation, Senate Chief Whip, Olusola Adeyeye (APC Osun Central), argued that unless government spreads its taxation dragnets far and wide, it would be difficult to source enough funds to fund the budget.
He recommended that the country needs to go back to the model of governance used during the First Republic where every adult was made to pay tax, including farmers. He said: “If we are going to move this country forward, we must go back to what we did in the days of Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe.
“Nobody in my village will go to his farm until he can produce his tax receipt; we need ingenuity to bring this to pass. We must begin to tax things like cigarette, alcohol; you beat your wife you pay heavily.
“Text messages cost N3.81 a page: if we ask just N1 to a page of text message and we say that money belongs to government we will make billions.
“We must install toll roads but that is not enough; across the world, when you park at any airport you pay per hour. We must do what the rest of the world does. “We must begin to tax allowances; Nigeria is the only country that shelters the bulk of the earnings of its workers and calls them allowances. You don’t want your allowances taxed? They will be taxed because they must be taxed.”
Deputy Minority Whip, Abiodun Olujimi ( PDP Ekiti South) spoke strongly against the planned borrowing by government to fund the budget. She regretted that the budget only made projections for heavy revenues through massive borrowing without serious plans for the repayment of such loans.
According to her, as things are presently, the budget, which came with a deficit of N2.2trn, may end up having a deficit of N2.6trn, which will invariably make the country to be borrowing average of N500m daily for its financing. But Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), in his contribution, said there was nothing wrong in borrowing in a situation we presently find ourselves.
According to him, monies projected for borrowing this time around, would not end up in people’s pockets as it was in the past without anything on ground to show for them.
Other senators who made contributions to the debate are Aliyu Sabi (APC Niger North), Sam Egwu (PDP Ebonyi North), David Umaru (APC Niger East), Binta Marshi Garba (APC Adamawa North), Danjuma Lar (PDP Kaduna South) among others.