BY OKEY NDIRIBE
The Federal Government was yesterday accused of not presenting the seven billion naira reportedly allocated for the convening of the on-going National Conference in its 2014 Budget proposal presently before the National Assembly and that the Federal Government’s expenditure of a whopping N1.3 trillion on petroleum products subsidy was a serious threat to the economy of the entire nation
This allegation by Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi while speaking at the Progressive Governors Forum roundtable dialogue with legislators and civil society leaders.
The Senator cited this as one of the examples of extra-budgetary expenditure currently embarked upon by the present administration.
The lawmaker cited other examples to include the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC unilateral disbursement of kerosene subsidy, and the allocation to Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme of the Federal Government.
He further advocated that the budgetary system under a future All Progressives Congress, APC, controlled Federal Government, would be guided by the need for the enactment of tighter laws on fiscal control and budgeting.
According to him: “APC should design an accounting system which would ensure that all revenues collected by the agencies of the Federal Government are paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation”.
He further proposed the need for the creation of a new budget time-table which must also be a new law.
In his own remarks at the occasion, Senator Bukola Saraki declared that the Federal Government’s expenditure of a whopping N1.3 trillion on petroleum products subsidy was a serious threat to the economy of the entire nation.
He continued: “This expenditure is not under our scrutiny because it was not even appropriated for”.
“For instance,how do we handle the issue of kerosene subsidy which we did not even appropriate for? “ he asked.
He presented another poser: “How was possible that some of these huge funds were deducted from source even when they were not budgeted?”
Saraki further observed that as long as the National Assembly continued to condone this type of expenditure pattern on the part of the executive arm of government, there is no way infrastructural development would take place in the country.
Commenting on recent remarks made by the Minister of Petroleum Resources Mrs Diezani Alliison-Madueke that the subsidy on petroleum products should be entirely removed, Saraki said the problem faced by the present administration was the management of the subsidy funds.
Said he: “The removal of fuel subsidy is not the solution to the problem, but the proper management of the subsidy funds.”
He reminded his colleagues who were present that sections 80 to 89 of the 1999 Constitution as amended gave the National Assembly clear powers on the control of the National Treasury.
He however, commended APC over the efforts it had made in recent times by exposing corruption in public places adding that the excess crude oil account which had been declining for long had began to rise again in recent times.
Speaking at the occasion, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamilla said the National Assembly carries the full weight, burden and pains of this country adding it must take its oversight functions more seriously, conduct more vigorous and rigorous public hearings and in performing its oversight functions must as a matter of necessity, scrap the service wide votes sub-head of the budget.
He further advocated that the National Assembly should address the nation’s economic development more seriously.
Said he: “ I have sponsored the Economic Stimulus Bill which has passed the second reading in the House. The Bill seeks to dedicate for the next five years a minimum of 40 percent allocation in our annual budget to capital expenditure. If the Executive refuses to do the right thing, then the legislature must pick up the gauntlet and compel it”.
In a communique that was issued at the end of the occasion, participants agreed there exists an urgent need to put in place a national budget time table to ensure that the budgeting process is not subject to the whims of the Federal Government; that Structures and institutions at all levels must be strengthened to ensure accountability in budgeting; that the budgeting process must be designed based on sector plans, not mere statements of intended expenditure or mere line budgeting to be executed at the whims of the civil service; that there must be provision for a closing figure for the previous year before any new budget is presented; that the National Assembly’s oversight function must be reinvigorated to ensure strict compliance with budgetary provisions and that extra-budgetary expenditure which is an impeachable offenc must be halted and punished where applicable.
Participants also agreed that the envelope system, which guarantees payment amounts to certain line charges regardless of needs must be discarded; that there is need for more vigorous public hearings in relation to budgets and public expenditure processes; that there is urgent need to set up a National Assembly Budget Office similar to the Congressional Budget Office in the USA.
They also resolved that Progressive Governors should put in place structures and programmes to fight corruption and poverty which undermine transparency, security, participation and fundamental freedom and that legislators and Civil Society Organisations must work together to promote public awareness and ensure that the public is able to demand for accountability for all public funds budgeted and spent.
They also urged the public to view public funds as their own and respond to the way they are spent. Participants also agreed that APC governed States must lead by example and promote citizen participation in the budgeting process.