Nigeria Budget – Who Is Right Between Senate and Okonjo-Iweala?
Like a comic show, the Senators boiled, but Okonjo-Iweala demolished the substance. UCHENNA AWOM asks: who blinks first?
It was indeed a week that fuelled palpable tension suggesting that the Senate may have added to the brewing face-off between the executive and the National Assembly over the implementation of the 2012 budget.
The fear was not far fetched when views against the backdrop of the subtle threat by the senators to order the arrest of the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala unless she appears before it to defend the 2012 budget releases and its utilization.
Obviously enraged, the lawmakers warned that they could use all means necessary to mandate the coordinating Minister to appear before it on Thursday.
The threat aside, the Senators also faulted claims by the minister that the budget has attained 56 percent performance, insisting that the performance level is as low as 21.56 percent.
Leading the attack, Senate President, David Mark, who was represented by his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu also lambasted the executive for accusing the National Assembly of tampering with the budget thus making it impossible for its full implementation.
Ironically, the presence of former President of the Senate and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF) Anyim Pius Anyim, the Minister of State for Finance, Minister of Transport, the Director General of Budget office and the Auditor General at the interactive session could not sway the lawmakers to spear Okonjo-Iweala and hear the government team out.
Mark lamented that the absence of Okonjo Iweala saying it was a major set back to the appraisal of the budget performance so far.
“We had expected the Minister of Finance and coordinating minister for the economy to be here today because she is central to all that we are going to discuss here today as our chairman on appropriation had mentioned, this matter was supposed to be discussed last week but the Minister was unavoidably absent.
“We learnt that she went to Asaba to declare open a SURE-P Programme. We consider our meeting with her on issue that has to do with budget implementation to be more important than any other assignment.
“Today we have also been told that she’s gone to London to represent the President on an investment forum for which we know there are other ministers and government officials that could as well have done that to enable her to be here with us this afternoon.
“Now the stage is set but now the minister is not here and we are worried about it. So, it will be absolutely impossible for us to do this dialogue with the absence of the coordinating minister of the economy. So I have discussed with my colleagues and what we intend to do now is to allow our committee on appropriation to look for an appropriate date possibly by Thursday and ensure that the minister comes.
“Even if needs summoning her to ensure that she appears before the committee to tell Nigerians the degree of releases and of course for the SGF to tell Nigerians the degree of utilization by MDAs. It’s not just enough that releases were made and then utilization.
” We want to see whether those releases and utilization are impacting on Nigerians. We want to see it in roads, we want to see the water projects going on, we want to see the electricity projects going on.
“We are appropriated about for security situation in the country. We want to see whether they have been releases and whether they are utilized. That’s exactly what we thought this public hearing will afford all of us today. So for now we are disappointed that it’s not going to take place.
Then Thursday came.
As if well choreographed, first a profused appology then a serial demolition of the lawmakers position.
Okonjo-Iweala not giving to polemics, insisted that 56 percent remains the performance level of the 2012 budget as at July.
She told the bewildered senators also that the 2013 budget draft would be ready for presentation to the National Assembly by September.
As if to water their ego, she assured that the presidency has no problem with the contentious issue of constituency projects adding that delay on its implementation is because of procurement.
However, while answering questions at the interactive session organized by the Senate, Okonjo-Iweala explained that the 56percent was derived from the N324billion cash backed, so far.
According to her N404bilion has been released from the N1.3trillion capital allocation with cash backed amount of N324billion.
“We have used 56 per cent of the amount cash backed,meaning there is 44 per cent remaining, which and we are working hard to ensure the remaining 44 per cent is utilised.
“We have a proper management of the resources, we have released all the money available, Central Bank are our bankers and if CBN is here, they would have testified that no money is withheld. 44 per cent of what was released is yet to be used. What we are now doing is to focus on the utilisation of the remaining resources.
“I understand that the National Assembly has been looking at various other ratios with regards to budget performance. We should look at the best way that describe the situation we are in. Of the budget appropriated, what is the implementation so far?
“That is one way National Assembly has been looking at it.
We should have released N446billion, but we released N404billion between April and now, but we have utilized N184billion and that is 41per cent.
“I feel we are on the same page but I am interested in letting Nigerians know how their money has been used.
“I want to say two things, there is no difference between what the senate and the president want to do. The president has been insistent on the need for full implementation of the budget and that results are achieved, as a result, he has been holding meetings on the use of resources so that Nigerians can get what they are looking for. we have been open and transparent on the figures we have. I want to say that when I read papers, I am amazed with some figures, some section of the media has been misinforming. We sent out a press release, detailing all what has been done regarding the use of resources but even with written comments, it has been twisted, thereby leading to misinformation, I appreciate this opportunity to dialogue”.
So between both parties who is right? Okonjo-Iweala armed dexterously with technical detailes could not be pinned down and ofcourse the senators frantically sought for non-existent angles to ‘continue the discussion’, but found none.
Pity, now who will blink first? what happens with the House of Representatives? Sounds like Okonjo-Iweala”s game.
By Uchenna Awom, Leadership