NIGERIA: Senate summons Okonjo-Iweala, Ngama to explain budget performance

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ABUJA — PEEVED by alleged comments by Minister of State for Finance, Dr Yerima Ngama that the 2013 budget was no longer implementable due to what he called “over-bloated revenue estimates by the National Assembly”, the Senate yesterday, directed its Committee on Finance to, as a matter of urgency, summon the two ministers of finance to appear before it to defend the allegation.
The Senate also said it was awaiting the Accountant-General of the Federation to present before it, the various monies released in the on-going year for ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, in accordance with clauses 6 and 9 of the 2013 Appropriation Act.
The development came even as Senate President, David Mark blamed the various committees for not doing enough to monitor budget performances by the executive arm of government.
The Senate which deliberated the issue at its plenary, mandated Committees on Finance and Appropriation to immediately summon Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, as well as  the Ministry of State, Finance, Dr Yerima Ngama to appear before it to give explanation and submit its report within three weeks.
The summon followed a motion to that effect, sponsored by the Senate Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi, PDP, Bauchi Central, and 13 others praying the upper legislative chamber to probe the performance of the budget, with a view to critically assess the position of the nation’s economy.
Senator Ningi, in his lead debate, said the minister’s statement was worrisome, as the National Assembly enactment guiding the implementation of the budget, most especially clause 6 of the 2013 Appropriation Act, stipulates that the “Minister of Finance shall ensure that funds appropriated under the Act are released to the appropriate agencies and organs of government as at when due, provided that no funds for any quarter of the fiscal year shall be differed without prior waiver from the National Assembly”
He said the essence of the motion was to bring the issue to the fore that the National Assembly was not to blame for failure of the executive to implement the 2013 budget.
“There has not been any communication from the executive that there’s a shortfall in the revenue projections and Mr. President said time and again that this economy is healthy”, he said.
While noting that the 2013 Appropriation Bill was passed on December 20, 2012, and subsequently assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 15, 2013, Ningi expressed concern that the release indications from first to third quarter saw the capital at N 855,141 billion while approved budget stands at N1, 591, 657 trillion, saying there was a difference of N736, 466 billion.
He expressed dismay over the minister’s statement, saying it was targeted at blackmailing the National Assembly, considering that all the revenue variables were within the target expectations.
He observed that part of the minister’s argument was that the benchmark being used for the budget implementation was over bloated which made it impossible to be implementable.
Ningi insisted that the alleged declaration by the minister should be discussed because the benchmark fixed for the 2013 budget was $79 per barrel of crude oil whereas the current price of the commodity is now $107 per barrel.
He requested the senate to consult relevant agencies saddled with the responsibilities of monitoring budget performances to get the true state of the nation’s economy.
Contributing to the debate, Senator James Manager, PDP, Delta South, said the development was a wake up call for the National Assembly to find out what went wrong in the budget implementation just as he said it was wrong for the executive to always blame the legislature for budget failure.
Senator Bello Tukur, PDP, Adamawa Central, wondered why it was taking so long to bring out the facts and blamed the Senate committee responsible for monitoring budget implementation for not raising the issue before things got to the present level.
Senator Ali Ndume, PDP, Borno South, blamed the Minister of State for Finance for making the pronouncement, saying he lacked such powers.
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