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Senate flays govt’s poor budget implementation

….Yar’Adua presents 2010 budget tomorrow

By Emmanuel Aziken
Emotions over poor budgetary implementation by President Umaru Yar’Adua overflowed in the Senate yesterday, forcing the intervention of the Senate President, Senator David Mark, to stop the derailment of the president’s latest proposals on the 2009 budget.

Senator Mark, in seeming submission to the agitations of senators, ruled that the Senate would from next year reject requests for the virement of funds from one sub-head to the other as he charged the government, ministries and departments to programme themselves for full implementation of their budgets.

The agitations, nonetheless, the National Assembly will tomorrow receive Yar‘Adua’s 2010 budget plans.

The outpouring at the session was upon the request by President Yar‘Adua to move billions of naira from sub-heads in the 2009 budget to other areas.

Notably affected were road projects in the South-South geopolitical region and the procurement of ammunition for Nigeria’s United Nations Mission in Darfur, Sudan.

Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba was the first to rise against the virement request. He noted that projects in Cross River State were mostly affected by the movement of funds.

Noting the excision of Bakassi and erasure of oil wells from the state, Ndoma-Egba expressed regret that his state was seemingly being put down as a second class in the Niger Delta and in the country.

His comments were further articulated by Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw (PDP, Cross River South), who noted that the Senate was yet to consider issues relating to the excision of Bakassi from the country.

“What offence has Cross River State committed in Nigeria or are we trying to say that Nigerians do not appreciate civilized behaviour?’’ He asked.

Other senators from the Niger Delta region also lapped up the issue, with many of them lamenting that projects earmarked in the budget for the region were being shifted away on account of the movement of funds from the projects.

Those who spoke included senators Paulker Emmanuel (PDP, Bayelsa Central), Nimi Barigha-Amange (PDP, Bayelsa East) and Lee Maeba (PDP, Rivers).

Emmanuel asserted that contrary to claims by the Cross River senators, the effect of the virements were sweeping across projects in the Niger Delta.

Senators from outside the Niger Delta region also gave resonance to the complaints.  They included Ike Ekweremadu, the Deputy Senate President; Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, Chairman,  Senate Committee on Health;  Mohammed Mana, Deputy Majority Whip; Uche Chukwuemerije (PPA, Abia North) and  Abubakar Sodangi (PDP, Nasarawa West) among others.

Obasanjo-Bello (PDP, Ogun Central), while affirming that she had no problem with virement of funds, however, expressed concern on the impact of the virement on some ongoing projects. She noted that Primary Health Care projects which were 85% complete were to be affected wondering why projects could be brought to that stage and abandoned.

Senator Ekweremadu in his comments expressed concern that the virement of funds was a hangover from the military era as he affirmed that there was no provision in the 1999 constitution for the virement of funds.

“We have two sets of appropriation, the main appropriation and supplementary appropriation and outside of these, there is no part of this constitution where we can find virement. There is no provision for you to move funds from one project to the other and we have to blame ourselves for this because we created the issue of virement in the appropriation act,” he said.

“From 2010, we should outlaw the issue of virement, if the money for a project is not enough what the Federal Government is supposed to do is to come to the National Assembly for further funding,’’ Senator Ekweremadu affirmed.

Summarizing the contributions of the Senators, Senator Mark affirmed:

“We have not been sufficiently given the reason for this virement. This is bound to receive the kind of resistance it has received here because nobody is going to sit down and watch money for projects in his area moved elsewhere. I want to also sympathise with Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Edo and Delta where it seems a lot of money is being moved from,’’ Senator Mark said.

Echoing Senator Ekweremadu on the legal uncertainties of approving the virement of funds, Senator Mark said:

“Having made our comments we have created this because in passing the 2009 budget we allowed for virement which was wrong. In 2010 we should provide no room for virement at all. If ministries cannot programme themselves properly then they should be held responsible not us in this chamber,’’ Senator Mark ruled as he called on Senators to remove their objections to the consideration of the virement proposals.


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