Senators insist on restructuring appropriation bill
The House of Representatives yesterday passed for second reading the N6.08 trillion budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015 But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the lower chamber has condemned the appropriation bill, describing it as “incomplete budget.”
Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, who led the pack of PDP lawmakers to knock the budget, said the proposed budget could best be described as “incomplete budget.”
Ogor argued that there are a lot of things that got missing in the budget, noting that the proposal for many government agencies was missing. Citing the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007, which provides that the Minister of Finance shall cause to be attached to the budget the revenue and expenditure projections of all the government agencies; whereas not all agencies were included in the proposal.
On his own part, Hon. Jerry Alagboso (PDP, Imo) said the amount of funds earmarked for road construction under the 2016 budget by the government is not sufficient to tackle the level of infrastructural decay on all the federal roads in the country.
Similarly, Hon. Samson Okwu (PDP, Benue) said that the drop in the budget benchmark for crude oil price from $38 to $28 has affected the government’s revenue projections in the budget.
He, therefore, emphasised the need for the government to diversify into other revenue sources, apart from oil resources. Hon. Osy Prestige Osy (PDP, Abia) said that the budget lacks immediate plans on how to diversify government’s revenue away from oil resources.
He noted that there is need to have a reduction in domestic borrowing and deficit expenditure in the budget to be able to manage inflation and increase the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). Hon. Ossai N Ossai (PDP, Delta) however, caused a stir when he maintained that the 2016 budget has failed all known litmus test. He pointed out many shortfalls in capital projections of the budget. He further hinted that all government agencies that have statutory transfer status were not captured as such, while others that were captured have no such status.
At this point, leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) rose in support of the budget and raised a point of order to cut short Ossai’s contribution. Gbajabiamila argued that Ossai’s submission was based on irrelevancies and the point of order was sustained by the Speaker Yakubu Dogara. Other lawmakers who spoke such as Dennis Amadi (PDP, Enugu), Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), Golu Timothy (PDP, Plataeu) and Dennis Agbo (PDP, Enugu) in their separate contributions, harped on the need for government to diversify the economy and reduce dependence on oil for its revenues.
Commenting on the missing link in the budget, Hon. Bode Ayorinde (APC, Ondo) stated that 2016 budget is not comprehensive enough, noting that the $1.4 trillion fined MTN Nigeria by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was not captured in the budget.
Hon. Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) said the House should scrutinise all the items in the budget to ensure that Nigerians get value for their money. The lawmaker advised Buhari to set up a budget team whose mandate is to properly scrutinise the document before it is presented to lawmakers for approval. But the chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin (APC, Kano), in his summation, acknowledged the vituperations by the lawmakers on the budget and assured that they will work to ensure that the budget is properly implemented.
Through a unanimous voice vote, the budget passed into second reading and was committed to the Committee on Appropriation and its relevant sub-committees by Speaker Dogara. Meanwhile, Senator representing Lagos Central, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu, declared that the content of the budget was not a reflection of the change Nigerians voted for in the 2015 general elections.
Tinubu, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, spoke yesterday while contributing to the general principles of the bill, being considered for approval by the National Assembly. She said that the governing APC might incur the wrath of women folk in Nigeria if it did not restructure the 2016 budget to cater for the needs of women. The lawmaker pointed out that the ruling party made a lot of promises during the 2015 electioneering on how it would put policies and programmes in place to facilitate women empowerment and general development, but appeared to have reneged on the promises.
She noted that the paltry allocation to the Ministry of Women Affairs was grossly insignificant and at variance with the campaign promises of the party to the women folk. Her words: “Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, is it not true with the saying that when we educate the girl-child we have educated the entire nation?
“The APC, in its manifesto, mentioned that there is need for an all-encompassing empowerment programme for Nigerian women; such comprehensive empowerment requires fund, which should be included in the budget for implementation. “I am just laying this case on behalf of the Nigerian women that this is not going to go well; it is as if we have been used during the campaign, and we said this is a government of change and that her change mantra is supposed to change things across board. “But what they have allotted to the Nigerian woman has not really done so well. It is not encouraging.
When we talk about change, that doesn’t mean we are going to be supporting what is not working. We are just starting and this is not the best way to start, and this is not going down well with us.
“On behalf of the Nigerian women, I am making their case today that this budget is not telling anything and not making any promises. So, when they get to the committee level, they should have a way of trying to amend this budget so that it would meet all the needs that the Nigerian women are still expecting.
“So, the women are not just going to be used for campaign as several promises are made to them; if not implemented, they are going to incur the wrath of the Nigerian woman.”
In his contribution, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Jeremiah Useni (PDP, Plateau), advised the government to scrap security vote from the budget, pointing out that the provision had always been a conduit through which those in authority drained the nation’s funds. Other senators, who made contributions, also harped on the need to restructure the budget to be in tune with the contemporary economic realities in the country. Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo) enjoined the Senate to carry out a forensic analysis of the document so as to do comprehensive adjustments that would make the budget not just implementable, but also people-oriented.
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba) blamed the present economic woes of the country on the failure of successive government to develop agricultural sector. Senators Aliyu Wamakko and Mustapha Abubakar urged the chamber to critically work on the budget to make it resultoriented. The duo applauded the executive for improved capital component of the budget.
At the close of the plenary, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki announced that the debate on the budget would end today so that the bill would be committed to the various standing committees of the Senate for more legislative action.