It has been two really busy legislative weeks for both senators and members of the House of Representatives.
This is as a result of budget defence sessions held by lawmakers for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
The budget defence sessions by committees of the national assembly are part of the process for consideration and passage of the 2020 budget – also called the Appropriation Bill.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on October 8 presented the bill to a joint committee of the national assembly. He proposed N10.33 trillion for national spending for the year 2020.
Lawmakers of both chambers thereafter, deliberated on the provisions of the budget in separate plenary sessions. While some hailed the president’s proposition, others raised some concerns about some aspects of the bill.
The budget was then referred to the Senate and House committees on appropriation which spread the budget across the committees for MDAs to defend their budgets – hence, the budget defence sessions.
Although representatives of the various MDAs came prepared to give the performance of their 2019 budget as well as defend their 2020 proposals, there were, however, some revelations from some of the sessions.
These include alleged support for illegal mining by governors, increased judgement debt of the federal government and inflated and non-uniform budget sums.
PREMIUM TIMES highlights of some of these revelations:
1, Governors supporting illegal mining
The Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Olamilekan Adegbite, revealed that some state governors are behind the illegal mining of solid mineral resources in some parts of the country.
During the ministry’s budget defence session, he told the Senate Committee on Solid Minerals, Mines and Steel Development and Metallurgy that some governors support illegal mining by providing police escorts for unlicensed foreign miners in the states.
Although the minister did not mention names, this is however, a direct indictment on state governors – especially states with reports of illegal mining.
Some of these states are Katsina, Enugu, Zamfara, Plateau, Niger among others.
PREMIUM TIMES has exclusively reported how miners in Kankara, Katsina State operate with crude implements and little or no regulation from the federal government which reserves mining on its exclusive list.
While the federal government has budgeted N18.3 billion for the ministry, the chairman of the committee, Tanko Al-Makura, called for increased investment in the mining sector.
2, Judgement debt
Nigeria’s Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, revealed that the nation’s judgement debt has risen to N150 billion.
Appearing before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters for the defence of his ministry’s budget for 2020, he said judgement debt arose from bad cases, contract failures, damages and especially fines for human rights abuses. He also said the country was facing “hydra-headed challenges” meeting up with the obligations.
While N10 billion was paid in 2017, N150 billion remains unpaid; prompting beneficiaries to mount severe pressure on the ministry, he said.
Although N33 billion was proposed in the 2020 budget for the justice ministry, the minister requested an extra N30 billion for his ministry to service judgement debts annually.
3, Over-spending by NDDC
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) allegedly spent over N65 billion for the silting and clearing of water hyacinth against the 2.5 billion budgeted for the activity.
The chairman of the Senate’s Public Accounts Committee, Matthew Urhoghide, disclosed this during the commission’s budget defence session.
Although he said it is an accusation until members of the commission appear before the committee with the necessary documents to clarify the situation, the NDDC has failed to do so.
The committee has vowed to investigate the issue and has given the Acting Managing Director of the Commission until next Wednesday to present necessary documents and counter the allegations.
The NDDC has little to show for the billions of naira it has received since its creation in 2008 by former President Umaru Yar’adua. Many blame the failure of the commission on the fact that it has become a platform for compensating loyal politicians.
4, Non-existent projects
Some ‘nonexistent’ projects worth N4 billion was discovered in the 2020 budget proposal of the National Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA).
A joint session of the House of Representatives Committee on Inland Waterways, Land Transport, Ports and Harbours, and Marine Safety and Education, and the Senate Committee on Marine Transport made the revelation during the agency’s budget defence session.
In 2018, N2.2 billion was appropriated for the projects and an additional N1 billion was appropriated in the 2019 budget.
The said projects include the National Freight Office in Idi-Iroko, Ogun State, for which N40.5 million was appropriated in 2017; N166 million in 2018; and N99 million in 2019. About N400 million was proposed in the 2020 budget estimates of the Federal Ministry of Transportation’s budget line item ERGP27102753 for the same project.
Other projects are the procurement of dredgers and other related equipment/vessels, for which N1.5 billion was proposed in NIWA’s 2020 proposal.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Waterways, Jarigbe Jarigbe, said the discoveries are “infractions in the successive budgets”. He said a thorough investigation on the matter will follow.
5, MDAs overpricing projects
The projects of some MDAs are overpriced, Senate President Ahmad Lawan disclosed.
He made the revelation during the national hearing of the 2020 budget organised by the Senate committee on appropriation as he called for streamlining of the process of allocation and releases of funds to ministries.
The budget also shows figures are quoted without adequate market survey. An example is an ongoing project of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) with the code ERGP10140070, named “purchase of one 500KVA soundproof generator for Lagos office”, and priced at ₦26,930,992.
According to online sales shop Jumia, this item goes for ₦19 million.
Mr Lawan, however, said there will be uniformity in the approved prices for similar projects of ministries.
6, Lawmakers pressure MDAs for job slots
Some lawmakers are allegedly asking for job opportunities in various MDAs to request for job slots from them, Punch reports.
Officials of the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Central Bank of Nigeria and other agencies are allegedly under the most pressure from the committees that have oversight powers over them for job slots.
The Senate Committee on Interior had even challenged the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to increase the number of new recruits from 5,000 to 10,000, promising to make provisions in the budget for 2020 to accommodate their salaries and allowances.
Earlier, the Senate spokesperson, Adedayo Adeyeye, feigned ignorance of reported secret allocation of employment slots to members of the National Assembly.
He told journalists that he has been too busy and as such, was unaware of the matter.
However, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Character, Danjuma La’ah, disclosed that the committee is investigating the secret recruitment. He also said some agencies had been secretly recruiting staff without advertising the vacancies.
Some of the federal agencies involved are FIRS, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and National Open University.
So far, one common complaint from the MDAs is the late release of funds as well as the need for an increase in their budgetary allocations
The lawmakers are expected to resume plenary next Tuesday and it is expected that the appropriation committee will present its report of the budget defence of MDAs.
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