The Senate on Tuesday began debate on the 2014 Appropriation bill with members disagreeing along party lines on its passage. While the Peoples Democratic Party senators commended the bill and called for its immediate approval, their All Progressives Congress counterparts sought its rejection and return to the Executive for a rejig.
To the PDP senators, the appropriation bill should be passed because it would promote economic growth and add fillip to the Transformation Agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration. But the APC lawmakers believed that it was not packaged to empower the people and address insecurity in the country, especially in the North-East.
In fact, one of the APC lawmakers, who said the bill “does not worth the paper it was written on,” called for the resignation of the Minister of Finance and the Supervising Minister for the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, because she had disappointed Nigerians. Before the lawmakers started making their contributions, the President of the Senate, David Mark, had enjoined them to use “national magnifying glasses to view the budget instead of reducing it to partisan politics.”
The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma – Egba, in the lead debate, had explained that the budget was premised on the 2014 -2016 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, which took into consideration, the heightened global economic uncertainty in 2013. He attributed the drop in the 2014 budget estimates to the challenges caused by oil theft, pipeline sabotage and production shut-ins at oil fields.
Ndoma – Egba said in spite of the drop, the financial framework would add impetus to the transformation agenda of the current administration. The Senate Leader added that the budget was laudable because it would promote economic growth, wealth creation, service delivery and employment opportunities. He, however, faulted the non-equitable distribution of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme Funds and the reduction in the allocation to the Judiciary in the budget.
But he went ahead to urge his colleagues to support the budget’s second reading and committal to committees for further consideration. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, also appealed to his colleagues to take the debate on the budget with all seriousness it deserved because it was key to the implementation of ongoing projects in the country. He, however, expressed concern that some critical projects being executed in various parts of the country were not captured in the 2014 budget. Senator George Akume stressed the need for the Ministry of Finance to forward to the National Assembly, the necessary documents on the Fiscal Responsibility Bill to aid deliberations on the 2014 budget.
He described the N268.3bn SURE-P Fund as an omnibus and wondered the real purpose of the money. The lawmaker called for the prioritisation of the issues that would be accommodated in the budget based on the nation’s expenditure profile in the next three years. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, urged the lawmakers to follow the example of the APC-controlled Rivers State by passing the budget without further deliberation. Senator Issa Galaudu also urged them to support the bill, but faulted the implementation of the 2013 budget, especially the decision of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to spend $8bn on kerosene subsidy.
Galaudu noted that the poor implementation of budgets had been a major challenge since 1999, because they had continued to grow. He said, “From N947bn in 1999 to N4.6 tn today, it has grown by over 400 per cent, yet, the impact has not been felt by all Nigerians. There are some bloated expenses. Even with huge security budget, every MDA has security provisions. All these make capital expenditure smaller.” Senators Paulinus Igwe, Phillip Aduda and Giang Pajok, all supported the passage of the budget but stressed the need for increased allocation to the Federal Capital Territory, defence and the judiciary.
However, most of the APC members who contributed to the debate like Senators Ahmed Lawan, Alkali Jajere, Abubakar Yar’Adua, Abdulmumuni Hassan and Babajide Omoworare, condemned the budget and asked their colleagues to reject it.
Lawan, who described the budget as anti -people, said it was packaged to further boost the economic power of politicians, senior civil servants and high networth industrialists. He stated that 74 per cent of the N4.6 tn was set aside for recurrent expenditure while 26 per cent was for capital projects. The senator wondered while over N100bn was allocated to the Niger Delta, which is currently enjoying relative peace while only N2bn was allocated to the North- East, which is experiencing a high level of insecurity. He said, “I want to clarify that I have nothing against the South-South or the Niger Delta. But what I am saying is that the funds proposed for defence are far low compared to the amount earmarked for 30,000 militants and the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta.
“The amnesty programme and the 30,000 militants will have N52bn while defence will have just about N34bn. And what we are saying is that we have a state of emergency in the North-East and that security agents should be well funded. “Why don’t we fund the security agencies better when you are taking so much money for what is, in my opinion, not more important than the security of our people. I believe that while fighting insurgency, we need to have a special package or special funding or some kind of Marshal Plan for the North- East.
“And for the proposal for N2bn, I say we reject it as North-East Development Initiative by the Federal Government compared to N163bn going to the Niger Delta. Are we serious about tackling the problems in the North-East?” Lawan asked the National Assembly to rework the budget, leave whatever was proposed for the Niger Delta, but make appreciable funds available for the North-East. He then called for the immediate resignation of Okonjo-Iweala over her failure to reduce the recurrent expenditure in the 2014 budget.
He said, “74 per cent is what was provided as recurrent expenditure in 2011 when this administration came in. In 2013, it went down to 71, now we have gone back to 74. How many people are going to enjoy the recurrent expenditure? “What we are saying is that only about 13 per cent is going to the masses of this country. How do you create jobs and alleviate poverty, the people must be at the centre. They should be at the centre of the implementation of the budget. “We cannot have peace when we spend much of our funds on ourselves. We have to spend the bulk of our funds on the people so that everybody will have something to do and everybody would be safe.
Yar’Adua also said the budget “does not worth the paper on which it was written because it does not hold anything for the common man. Everything in the budget is for the political class, for the rich and the bureaucrat.“Is our economy better today than 15 years ago? Are we more developed today than we were 15 years ago? , he asked, adding, “I want Okonjo -Iweala to resign because she has disappointed us.” it looks as if we have surrendered our legislative duties to the Executive. The budget belongs to the parliament and it is our responsibility to tinker with it.” He called for the invocation of Section 82 of the constitution to allow the lawmakers the time to dissect the budget .
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