Last week completed the fortnight-long sessions of budget defence at the National Assembly. Being the concluding week for the defence, it was busy for senators from Monday till Friday.
In the full glare of journalists, apart from closed-door sessions, heads of MDAs fielded questions from lawmakers on matters about their budgets.
Below are some of the activities at the Senate.
The week started with the Senate alleging an illegal transfer of N14.3 billion from the 2017 budgetary allocation of the Nigerian Export Processing Zones Authority (NEPZA) to a private company, Nigeria Special Economic Zones Company.
However, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Edet Akpan, said the money was not eventually released to the company and that it is still in the custody of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The Senate has ordered an intensive probe into to matter.
On the same day, the minister of labour and employment, Chris Ngige, said the ministry is underfunded, a stance that was shared by the Chairman of the House Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity, Ali Wudi.
On his part, however, his Senate counterpart, Benjamin Uwajumogu, said the committee’s job is to conduct oversight.
He said the committee had a brief that there are cases of illegal recruitment, uncoordinated implementation of projects and inflation of contracts in some MDAS. Mr Uwajumogu said the committee would investigate the matter.
More probes took centre stage on Tuesday.
The Senate Committee on Public Accounts had in the previous week asked the Acting Managing Director of Niger Delta Development Commission, Enyia Akwagaga, to present necessary documents to aid its probe into the award of contracts by the agency.
Mrs Akwagaga failed to present the needed documents but she was given respite till October 30 to do so.
A joint session of the House Committee on Inland Waterways, Land Transport, Ports and Harbours, and Marine Safety and Education, and the Senate Committee on Marine Transport reportedly uncovered ‘nonexistent’ projects worth N4 billion in the 2020 budget proposal it received from the National Inland Waterways Agency (NIWA).
The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, complained about the overpricing of contracts by MDAs.
Meanwhile, with a debt of N24.9 trillion (N81.3 billion) at the end of March 2019, and the projection of N2.4 trillion to service both local and foreign debts, the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, said the country is not in a debt crisis as it is within 20 per cent of GDP threshold.
She said Nigeria’s challenge is revenue generation.
Being an autonomous agency domiciled under the CBN, the Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Moddibo Tukur, said he expected that the agency’s salary structure and conditions of service should reflect that of the CBN.
He, therefore, requested the operatives of the agency to be captured as a sub-head under the budget of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The works and housing ministry in the breakdown of its plan for 2020 fiscal year said it plans to build 2,383 housing units. However, an estimated 700,000 units of housing yearly is required to address Nigeria’s housing deficit.
The Attorney and General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, aligned with those who complained about the allocation to their offices as being small.
He told the senate committee on judiciary, human rights and legal matters that he wants 2.5 per cent of recovered loots to be appropriated to his office to “service logistics, operational cost, payment to private lawyers and consultants.”
Lawmakers asked him to turn his demand to a bill and forward to the National Assembly.
Mr Malami visited the principals of the National Assembly to discuss matters centering on passage and assent to bills. He said his visit was to forestall any executives-legislative faceoff as it was in the 8th assembly.
In his session with the Senate Committee on Appropriation, the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babtunde Fowler, urged the National Assembly to make laws that will send tax defaulters to jail.
He added that there are over 40,000 eligible taxpayers who record between N100 million and N1 billion turnover in their accounts but are not in the tax net.
Also, the Senate committee on INEC raised concern about the commission spending N503 million without applying for virement from the National Assembly.
But the chairman of the electoral commission, Yakub Mahmood, said the money was used in emergency situations, in line with the independence of the commission to carry out its responsibilities.
Likewise, in a bid to tackle insecurity in the country, the Minister of Communications, Isa Pantami, said his ministry is on a mandate to block unregistered SIM cards.
He added that so far, 2.4 million have been blocked. He, therefore, said the ministry can assist the security agencies in tracking a crime in which the use of SIM card was involved.
On Friday, there was a call by the Director-General of the National Institute for Legislative & Democratic Studies (NILDS), Abubakar Sulaiman, to the Independent National Electoral Commission to cut down the number of political parties in the country to a maximum of three.
There are currently 93 registered parties.
The acting chairman of the National Population Commission, Bimbola Hundeyin, told the Senate Committee on National Population and Identity Card that the commission is bracing for a national census soon. However, it awaits the nod of the president before other plans are put in place.
On Friday, the Clerk of the Senate Committee on Special Duties, Umar Kabir, said he does not want “anyhow” and “unconventional” media outlet to be present during the budget defence of the North-east Development Commission, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs.
He ordered journalists out of a meeting.
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