Senator Ahmed Maccido, a two term senator representing Sokoto North Senatorial district is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation. In this interview, Senator Maccido traces the path the National Assembly passed through to pass the budget of the Federal Government and articulates safeguards put forward to ensure appropriate implementation. Excerpts:
Were there issues of unspent funds arising from the implementation of the 2012 budget?
Well, in time past, there used to be issues of unspent funds in the budget but this year, so far, the executive has not come with any figure or informing us that these were unspent funds from 2012.
However, one thing I know is that we would be going out on our statutory oversight duty and until such a time when we come back from such oversight duty, I would not be able to tell you anything about unspent funds.
What was the level of implementation of the 2012 budget?
The precise percentage we were given was 40 percent.
Do you mean the overall budget or the capital side?
No, overall would be about 70 percent but when I say 40 percent, I’m referring to the capital expenditure; the capital budget. As you know, the recurrent budget, which encompasses the overheads, payment of salaries and allied matters, they are always implemented 100 percent.
Therefore, we discount that when we talk of budget implementation. We always talk of capital budget when we ask for the level of implementation. As far as the capital budget for 2012 is concerned, the implementation is not more than 40 percent.
So, what happens to the remainder of the funds appropriated by the National Assembly?
That is exactly what we plan to find out now because as I told you earlier, unspent funds have not been brought to us; it has not been announced by anybody and we know that the capital budget has not been spent 100 percent.
We need to find that out; we are going out on oversight to find that out and rest assured, whatever we find out, we will tell Nigerians that this is where their monies are, or this is what has been done with their monies.
What was your reason for increasing the oil benchmark?
In as much as the budget is an economic document, we should also know that a little bit of politicking comes into it.
However, the House of Representatives raised their oil benchmark to $80, while we at the Senate increased by just $3, bringing it to $78 from the original $75 brought by the Executive.
This was as a result of the alarming figure we’ve always seen as budget deficit. We’ve always had the deficit in the budget and in the 2013 budget, we had over N1 trillion as deficit.
So, based on the figure we saw as the deficit from the Executive, we sat down and decided that we had to do something because, honestly, that figure was quite alarming to us. We knew we had only one alternative; to raise the benchmark so that we can get funds to offset the deficit.
That was the only reason we did that and if you look at the budget of 2013, we have reduced the deficit with the funds that has been saved from raising the oil benchmark. However, before then, it was the House which first raised its own to $80 and we settled for $78.
We had to sit down again, at the committee level to deliberate on this issue comprehensively.
After that, we went into executive sessions in both chambers and the Senate agreed that a committee should be raised for conferencing with the House of Representatives. It was at this conferencing that we agreed on a final figure of $79.
How was the Senate able to persuade the House to back down on its earlier stand of $80?
At the beginning, they were very adamant on maintaining the $80 but as I said earlier, it’s all politicking. All you needed to do was to have a way of convincing people. We made them see reason about the effect of raising it from $75 to $80.
The raise of $5, we felt, would be astronomical and that they needed to adjust and they saw reason that such raise could bring about problems within the economy and not just for the budget itself and fortunately for all concerned, they agreed on the final figure of $79.
Why is the National Assembly silent on the Excess Crude Account?
Well, the ECA is now tied to the Sovereign Wealth Fund; that is the problem and that is why it needs to be looked into. The Sovereign Wealth Fund, as far as we are concerned here, is yet to be made law but I can tell you that plans are already on in that direction because that is the only way those monies can be accounted for.
As it is now, the account is in place and such monies are being remitted into this account but it has no legal backing yet. We need to make that a legal entity. However, be rest assured that every single kobo that goes into that account will be accounted for. We will make sure of that.
Were the budgets of some parastatals such as the NCC, NDDC, NPA incorporated into the 2013 budget?
Oh yes, of course. We have captured them in the new budget; they are called agencies’ budgets. The way they were presented to us was exactly the way they were captured and approved in the 2013 budget. Even the NNPC brought its own budget in good time, too. They reasoned along with us and understood that they have to obey our laws.
What’s the National Assembly roadmap for budget implementation in 2013?
You see, as we go on, we see always places and loopholes where we need to make amends, where we need to make some changes.
This time around the National Assembly, not just the Senate, sat down and deliberated on this issue of implementation and our leadership also deliberated at their own level and came back to us, giving us details and telling us that there is going to be comprehensive oversight this year by all the standing committees in the Legislature.
Workings of the budget
They’ve told us how to go about this job. Each committee has been made to understand that they would be answerable to the Committee of the whole in both houses.
Every committee would be given a tentative time as to when they are expected to present reports of the oversight they have done. It’s is this report that we will now compile and find out which ministry is performing and which is not.
We also plan to have a data bank that would give us an instant insight into the workings of the budget itself by the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
The final report may not be ready this year but I can assure you that it is going to be very comprehensive as it would tell us immediately which MDA is working and which is not.
The data bank would definitely be collated this year; all you need do is to refer to it and find out who did what and who failed. We will definitely raise questions.