By Oke Ndiribe
Hon. Samson Osagie represents Orhiomwon/Uhunmwode Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. Last Tuesday, he moved the motion which led to the House summoning the Minister of Finance, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, over the alarm she allegedly raised that the nation could be shut down by September if the National Assembly refused to pass President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2013 Budget Amendment Proposal. In this telephone interview, Osagie throws light on how the issue of constituency projects remains the bone of contention in the current face-off between the National Assembly and the Presidency.
What do you have to say about media reports that the current stand-off between the Executive arm of government and the National Assembly over the 2013 Budget arose due to the fact that the Presidency refused to execute the constituency projects in the Appropriation Act?
I am not surprised because the issue of constituency projects has been the source of conflicts between both arms of government. I insist that due to our level of development as a country, lawmakers better understand the problems of the people. As such, we have every right to insist that development projects must be executed. We have no apologies to anybody for taking that position.
Our problem with the Executive stems from the undue tardiness that they always exhibit in implementing capital projects in general; not just constituency projects. Apart from constituency projects, which constitute less than 20 % of the approved capital expenditure of the budget, there are so many other capital projects that were initiated by the Executive arm itself which they are not executing. It was only recently that the Federal Ministry of Works has been seen everywhere trying to look at the roads.
What about the other sectors like health, education and power? The constituency projects are not just for members of the National Assembly. They are projects meant for the development of our people. The budget is not segmented as to say there is an aspect devoted to only constituency projects. They are all capital projects introduced into the budget by members of the National Assembly.
We know the problems confronting our people and they include lack of basic amenities like electricity, potable water, good roads and schools. During our electioneering campaigns, we made promises to our people that we would provide these amenities to them when elected.
No Minister has ever visited the nooks and crannies of this country to solicit for the support of the people during the electioneering period. It is the legislators that visited every hamlet and village to interact with the people. So we are properly placed to ask for development projects for our people.
But going by the letter President Goodluck Jonathan sent to the National Assembly two weeks ago, which could be referred to as 2013 Budget Amendment proposal, he gave the impression that the National Assembly diverted funds from certain top priority capital projects like the Lokoja-Abuja Highway, Kano-Maiduguri Highway and several others like that. Can you give your perspective on that?
Let me also tell you that it is an anomaly to ask for an amendment to an Appropriation Act. The best approach should have been for the President to present a supplementary budget proposal. A supplementary budget is meant to address the revenue shortfall for a particular project in a particular fiscal year. In order to address this problem, the President ought to come with a supplementary budget proposal to make up for the projects that need to be executed. On the issue of moving funds from one budget sub-head to another, only the Committee on Appropriation can speak about that.
Even at that, what about the initial funds appropriated for various capital budget heads? How much of those funds have been released? If, for instance, you requested for N10,000 for a project, and only N8,000 was appropriated, the question that needs to be asked first is whether you have spent the initial N8,000 allocated for the project? The answer to that question is no. So, what they ought to have done is to first utilize the funds that have been appropriated and then come by way of supplementary budget to ask for additional funds to cover the ground that needs to be covered.
So, the idea of hiding under an amendment budget, to renew the entire budget is unacceptable and is unknown to our constitution in terms of budgeting. That is the problem on ground.
Even the Senate has said that given the nature of the so-called amendment proposal which is so voluminous, it is unlikely that the senators can consider it before embarking on vacation. Do you know that the Executive asked for an additional N40 billion in the amendment proposal they brought? So, what the Executive is trying to do is to blackmail us and cite that as excuse for their failure to implement the 2013 Budget.
How do you mean?
This is because most sectors of the economy are not working. Those who are handling the economy are causing confusion by giving the impression that economic growth has no relationship with job creation and other concrete indices of development.
Nigerians are being deceived about the state of the economy.
How can they say there is economic growth when the people cannot feed or get jobs?
But there’s SURE-P and they also claim to have data showing that they’ve been creating jobs?
They said they are creating jobs here and there under the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P). How many people do you know who have secured jobs under the SURE-P ? You can’t just assemble 30 young unemployed people and pay them N10,000 and repeat that in another three months and you call that job creation.
The handlers of our economy think that Nigerians are fools who don’t know what they are doing. The people cannot see the impact of what the handlers of our economy are doing; it is not being felt despite all the propaganda. That is why we in the National Assembly are saying “we are no fools”. If you say we have tampered with some of the budget heads, we have the right to do so for good reasons.
They have not released the funds we appropriated for capital projects. As a result of this, ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs) are crying over non-release of funds to them.
What can you say was the reason for the slash in the recurrent expenditure projections of the budget?
The Committee on Appropriation is working out the details on that. However, there was an issue pertaining to that which has been confirmed by the Ministry of Finance. You may recall that after the 2013 Budget was passed by the National Assembly, the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation came out to tell Nigerians that they discovered over 450,000 ghost workers in the civil service. But the salaries and allowances of those ghost workers had already been appropriated for in the 2013 Budget. What happened was that both personnel and overhead expenditure proposals were unreasonable in most cases.
There are agencies which exist on paper but which are not on ground and budgetary provisions were made for them.
So, if in an effort to exercise the role of acting as checks and balances on the Executive, we decide that such agencies do not require bloated allocations, you cannot blame us. It is left for them to come forward with convincing arguments to tell us these are the total statistics of the work force they have. But when they who are making the proposal to us telling us that they have ghost workers in the service, it means they don’t even know how many actual workers they have.
It is the same people that appropriate money for both real and ghost workers. Until they are sure of how many workers they have in the service, we cannot be certain if what we appropriated for workers salaries is not even more than what is required.
The unnecessary alarm that the Minister of Finance, Dr (Mrs) Okonjo Iweala, has raised was designed to blackmail and stampede the National Assembly into doing what they want. It is for this reason that we have said that the picture the Minister has painted about the budget is not correct.