The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, was absent at Monday’s budget defence as senators alleged duplication of items in the 2018 budget estimates as well as padding of proposed expenditures.
The senators said N120 million, N480 million and N288 million were budgeted for the purchase of utility vehicles by the ministry and that NEPZA raised its 2018 personnel budget by N205 million.
But the spokesperson of Mr. Fashola, Hakeem Bello, told PREMIUM TIMES that there was no error in the 2018 budget estimates or duplication of items.
The lawmakers had claimed that NEPZA succeeded in padded its budget by N122 million in 2017 and that it has remained a recurring episode for the Ministry to present the same items repeatedly in the budget and ask for more funds to execute them.
Members of the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, headed by Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South), expressed disappointment at the Minister of State for the ministry, Mustapha Shahuru, and the Permanent Secretary, Frank Edozie, for the alleged duplication of items in the budget.
Clifford Ordia, (PDP, Edo Central) raised the alarm over the duplication of purchase of utility vehicles, captured in three separate pages of the budget document, and then asked the Minister and the Permanent Secretary to explain how the Ministry would spend N100 million to transfer files, despite another huge provision for ICT.
The ministry had estimated N100 million for transfer and management of office files in the 2018 budget estimate with the senators expressing anger over what they described as repetition of projects by the ministry.
“I need to understand this thing. Look at the different pages. You earmarked N120 million, N288 million and N480 million for the purchase of vehicles. I do not understand. Are these vehicles different? If you add up this figure, it gives you about N888 million.
“You also said that you want to spend N100 million on transfer of office files. How do you intend to do that? The people in your office, what have they been doing? I can also see from your estimates here that you captured another item for ICT, different from the N100 million for transfer of files. You need to explain these things,” Mr. Ordia said.
Hassan Mohammed, (APC, Yobe South), also angry at the proposal, said that as lawmakers, they were tired of being bombarded every year with the same items, adding that the ministry must put its house in order.
The chairman of the committee, Mr. Abaribe, who revealed that the 2017 budget (capital) of the Ministry only recorded 18 per cent performance, said, “We will take it that the 2017 budget was abysmally low at only 18 per cent performance. This is unacceptable and I need to put it on record.”
Senators were further angered when the Minister of State, Mr. Shahuru, could not respond to questions posed to him and appealed to the committee to allow the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Edozie, to provide answers on his behalf.
There was, however, chaos at the meeting when the senators rejected his proposal that the Permanent Secretary should answer all the question, stating that he had already introduced himself as the representative of Mr. Fashola.
Turning down Mr. Shahuru’s request, Mr. Abaribe said: “You were sent here to represent the Minister. It means you are here to respond to our questions. Last week, we invited the Permanent Secretary to respond. Today, it is your turn.
“My colleagues asked me how come you are the person here and not Fashola. But I told them since you were also a Minister, you could be here on behalf of your Minister.”
Mr. Fashola failed to appear before the senators for budget defence, despite his assurance last week that he would appear in person to defend the 2018 budget of the power sector.
The Minister of State told the lawmakers that Mr. Fashola was attending to other state matters.
The committee had last week, walked out Mr. Fashola over his alleged “unpreparedness to face the committee for his 2018 budget defence” because he did not come with necessary documentations.
“Maybe Fashola decided to snub us because of some media reports, last week. But he ought not to have been angry by that. I am sure that was why he sent you because he did not want to come here.
“I said it that it was deliberate that Fashola did not show up. What we need to scrutinise the budget was not provided. We needed some things to make the process easy. Nobody is satisfied with these vague items. We are going to have to adjourn this meeting, pending when we will get these submissions from you,” Mr. Abaribe said.
The Minister of State and other officials of the Ministry were asked to go back and return prepared next time.
Mr. Abaribe said: “We are asking you to inform the Minister to be here to properly respond to all the questions we need to ask. We will do a comprehensive letter asking for explanation on items where we have raised questions. That will guide you in giving your submissions. We need you to be prepared when next you come.”
When contacted, the spokesperson to Mr. Fashola, Mr. Bello, said there was no error or duplication of items in the budget.
He said the Ministry would in due time clarify the issues concerning the 2018 budget estimate.