Senators, Reps abandon 2011 budget for electioneering

There are indications that the country may be headed for another shoddy budget implementation as members of the National Assembly have ignored the 2011 budget lying before them.

Investigations showed on Wednesday that Senators and members of the House of Representatives were more concerned about getting re-elected at the April polls than working on the important financial document.

A National Assembly official, who made this known to THE PUNCH, however, said that the development was not unusual.

He said, “It is expected; this is an election year. Most of the lawmakers, especially those who have secured their re-election tickets, are busy with campaigns in their constituencies.

“Even those who failed to secure tickets are still engaged in electioneering, one way or the other. It is election time.”

President Goodluck Jonathan had presented the 2011 Appropriation Bill of N4.2tn to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 14, 2010.

The 2011 budget had passed first and second readings at the Senate and the House before lawmakers proceeded on the Christmas and New Year break last December.

The two chambers reconvened on January 25 only to hurriedly adjourn again for two weeks. The House adjourned the same day (January 25), while the Senate adjourned the next day (January 26).

However, the adjournment was meant to cover only the plenary of both chambers as all committees were directed to sit and work on the budget.

At the House of Representatives for example, the Speaker, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, had explained that the shutting of plenary was to give lawmakers enough time to work on the budget and monitor the voter registration.

However, findings indicated that one week into the two-week adjournment, no serious work had been done on the budget.

So far, only the House Committee on Labour and Productivity; Committee on Defence; and the Committee on Housing/Habitat met briefly with the top officials of their respective ministries and agencies in the last one week.

There are over 80 committees in the House. The majority usually work on the budget details before submitting their reports to the main Committee on Appropriation for fine-tuning in conjunction with the Committee on Finance.

At the Senate, the situation is not better, as not an item of the budget has been discussed by any committee since senators embarked on the two-week break.

The President of the Senate, David Mark, while shutting plenary on January 26, had urged the committees to stay back to conduct the screening of the budget.

Investigations however show that a week after the directive by Mark, no budget activities had commenced.

Although the Senate Committee on Aviation met with the Ministry of Aviation and its agencies on Tuesday, it restricted its agenda to ‘mere interactions,’ shifting the budget defence to next week.

There are also no signs that the budgets of 31 agencies requested by the National Assembly before the commencement of the budget scrutiny have been sent by the relevant agencies.

When contacted on Wednesday, the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Ayodele Adeseun, admitted that lawmakers had been “busy” with preparations for elections.

But he denied that the budget had been ignored.

He said, “We have all been busy with our campaign and election plans; but that is not to say that we are not working on the budget.

“We are working on the budget and certainly by Thursday (today) we should be able to talk on the direction we are going.”

The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Ita Enang, also claimed that “some of the committees have been working.”

“They worked on Wednesday and Thursday (last week),” he said.

When asked whether the committees met in secret, as there was no evidence of their meetings, Enang replied that the committees “slowed down so that members could monitor on the Internet, the names (of candidates) submitted (by political parties) to INEC.”

The 2009 and 2010 budgets had faced similar delays caused by both the Executive and the Legislature, resulting in the country posting poor implementation of capital projects.

While the N4.6tn budget of 2010 was laid before the National Assembly on November 24, 2009 by the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, it was not until March 24, 2010 that it left the legislature.

For about five months, the budget went through a series of adjustments, as both arms continued to tinker with it, sending it back and forth.

President Jonathan eventually signed the first appropriation bill for 2010 into law on April 22, 2010. Several amendments and supplementary requests were later sent to the legislature, mid-way into the year.

The consequences were that funds were not released to ministries and agencies on time to enable them to execute projects.

As late as October, only N800bn out of N1.7bn capital component of 2010 budget had been released to agencies, a development which stalled the majority of projects listed in the budget.

The National Assembly later came under pressure from the Executive to extend the implementation period of the capital component to March 31 this year.

With less than two months to the expiration of the extension, it is unclear how much of the capital component has been executed.

Meanwhile, the recurrent component of the budget, covering overhead, personnel cost and office perks for public officials had been drawn 100 per cent before December 31, 2010.

Budget performance in the country is said to have hovered between 30 per cent and 50 per cent since 1999.

Findings showed that delays by both arms of government (Executive and Legislature) had largely accounted for the poor execution of the financial document in the past.

The 2011 budget was predicated on a daily oil production of 2.3 million barrels and a benchmark of $65 per barrel.

The Federal Government fixed the Exchange rate at N150/US$, while Joint Venture Cash Calls had a provision of $5.4bn.

The projected Gross Domestic Product growth rate was seven per cent.

Cued from Punch News
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About Akins Mathew

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