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Punch Newspaper Headline (January 24th,2019)

Punch Newspaper Headline (January 24th,2019)
  • The House of Representatives, during the second reading   of the 2019 Appropriation Bill on Wednesday, detected some miscalculations in the budget.

The House therefore directed ministries of finance and budget to reconcile the figures latest by Thursday (today).At the opening of the plenary, the Majority Leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, led the debate on the appropriation bill, urging the lawmakers to consider the benefits of the budget.

…We don’t form a quorum, PDP lawmaker protests

However, a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker, Rita Orji, raised a point of order to notify the House that the lawmakers had not formed a quorum and should not legislate over an important subject like the appropriation bill.

As of the time Orji raised the issue, our correspondent observed that only 42 lawmakers were present, including the Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara.  The one-third requirement is 120.

Doraga however shot down the protest, saying, Orji was not in charge of the legislature’s register and could therefore not determine the quorum of the House.

The Speaker, then, ruled that the debate should continue, asking the Deputy Speaker, Mr Yusuf Lasun, to speak next.

Lasun faulted those who criticised the 2019 budget, noting that about 80 per cent of projects in the 2018 budget were rolled over into 2019.

The Deputy Speaker said, “In contributing to this debate on this 2019 budget, the question is whether we have a budget that can sustain the size of the population we have. The answer is, no

Lasun added, “We are not what we think we are as a nation. We can deduct it from the figures the executive arm of government has always sent to us. We think we are a rich country but from the figures, we are very poor.

“The 2019 budget says the proposal is N8.7tn, of which if we do a direct conversion, that is just merely $28.5bn. What does that mean? It means the totality of the Nigerian budget for 2019 is just $29bn. Apple alone declare a profit of almost $100bn after tax. So, if for 160 million people, it shows that for 2019, the total money that is due for one head is just $178.52 in a year. And so we all have the duty as Nigerians to begin to think outside the box of how we can develop our country.”

Members identify errors in budget, raise the alarm

However, the debate was suspended briefly when a member, Mr Abubakar  Adamu, identified some errors in the budget.

Adamu identified errors in the figures of the ministries of finance, education; budget and national planning; as well as the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

He said, “I want to, before my contribution, raise some issues, particularly some errors I noticed in the national budget. As everybody knows, the schedule in the budget consists of part ‘A’ which is the statutory transfers, and part ‘B’ which is the Debt Servicing, part ‘C’ which is the recurrent expenditure and part ‘D’ which is the capital expenditure.”

The lawmaker noted that in the Ministry of Education, the recurrent expenditure which consisted of both the personnel and overhead cost, was N462.2bn.

He stated that under the summary of the budget by the MDAs, (line item Number 410518), the figure had changed to N539bn. “I don’t know what figure was added at that level,” he stated.

He also cited the example of the ministry of finance where the recurrent expenditure was N10.8bn, under which personnel was N7.4bn. He, however, said the overhead had changed to N2.26bn, with the total (of personnel and overhead) put at N2.27bn, which he faulted.

Adamu further said, “In the ministry of budget and planning, in the part ‘C’ is N9.3bn, but when you go to the summary by MDAs, which is number 280238, personnel has now become N66.21bn. Then, overhead also changed there; it has now become N832.2bn. Then the total, which is personnel and overheard, in that aspect has now become N1.49bn.

“The capital also has changed to about N655.9bn, indicating that a total allocation of the Ministry of Budget and Planning, instead of N9.3bn, has now become N2.15tn.”

Dogara, who was surprised by the discovery, asked another lawmaker, Mr Aliyu Ahman-Pategi, if the issues raised by Adamu were valid, which he confirmed.

Ahman-Pategi said, “If you look at the budget; in the budget of the Ministry of Finance, the detail of overhead, salary and all that,  is correct. But in the summary detail on the right side column, that is where the mistake was made.”

After Dogara sought further clarification, Ahman-Pategi said, “Anytime we discover it (error), they (executive) can attend to it. We know that what we are discussing are the general principles. It (budget) will still get to the committee level and all those can be done. As for the ministry, we can get the leadership – the Minister of Finance – and the Chairman of Finance and Chairman of Appropriations to liaise with these three bodies: the Budget Office (of the Federation), the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the Ministry of Finance.”

As the lawmaker was speaking, Adamu walked up to the Speaker with a copy of the bill to show him the errors. He was followed by Gbajabiamila; the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Edward Pwajok; and the Clerk to the House. They held an emergency meeting that lasted for about 10 minutes.

After the meeting, Dogara admitted that there were irregularities in the figures but the lawmakers would continue with the debate, focusing only on the general principles of the budget.

…direct ministries to reconcile conflicting figures today

The Speaker said, “After consultations by the leadership, even though it is apparent on the surface of the budget that there are so many irreconcilable differences in the figures allotted, basically we are discussing the general principles of the budget by virtues of the provisions of our rules at this time. So, we will talk about general principles at this time.

“I am sure we are not concluding the debate today (Wednesday). I will direct relevant committee chairmen to liaise with the ministries of finance and the budget and national planning, to ensure that by tomorrow, before we conclude the debate on the budget, we have the reconciled figures.

“So, for today, I want to admonish and plead with us to make sure that we confine ourselves to the general principles of the budget. I am by this announcement drawing the attention of the Ministries of Budget and National Planning; and Finance to the irreconcilable differences in the figures allotted in the budget. And, unfailingly, by tomorrow, if we must continue the debate on the budget, they must give us reconciled figures.”

Continuing with the debate, Adamu, among other issues, pointed out that while 2019 budget predicated on oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day, at $60 per barrel, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries had cut Nigeria’s oil output to 1.68mbpd.

Errors are normal things –Gbajabiamila

But speaking with journalists later, Gbajabiamila said the erroneous parts of the budget would be taken back to the executive for corrections.

He said, “Mathematical errors are things that are normal. At worst, they may reflect some kind of tardiness but they don’t take away the substance and the merit of what we are debating. And if you know the rules of the House very well, we are not here to debate the intricate details of the figures and numbers of the budget, we debate the general principles. That is what the debate is about.

“It is a good observation and I believe it has been noted. Like the Speaker said, it will be sent back; the communication will be done. They will correct the figures just here and there, that may have the potential of distorting the numbers. That will be cleaned up.”

Gbajabiamila also dismissed Nigeria’s oil output cut by OPEC as having no effect on the 2019 budget.

“In terms of what OPEC has done or has not done, you know we have joint ventures and all sort of things that culminate into the 2.3mbpd. Whatever the case, I believe that these are projections and assumptions. An assumption today, even if they say it is 1.6mbpd, something may happen tomorrow after we have passed the budget.

“They are assumptions, they are not cast in stones, they are not concrete, and we will adjust accordingly. That is why we have the rules that allow amendments, supplementary, virement and all those things. Those mechanisms have already been worked into the budget to allow this kind of potential distortions,” he said.