By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — THE 2015 Appropriation Bill of N4.357 trillion, yesterday, at the Senate, passed through the second reading, and was later referred to the Appropriation and Finance Committees for further legislative actions to be returned within four weeks.
It equally yesterday asked the Federal Government to tackle the emerging economic recession in the country following dwindling oil revenue.
This came as the Senate adjourned sitting for four weeks to enable members who picked the tickets to participate in next month’s senatorial election.
Presenting the lead debate on the budget, described as deficit and unrealistic budget by many Senators, Senate leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, said N411,840,000,000 was for Statutory Transfer and N943 billion for Debt Service.
Senator Ndoma-Egba also said N2,616,007,426,233 was earmarked for Recurrent Expenditure, while contribution to the development fund for Capital Expenditure was N627 billion.
Although, the revised 2015 budget estimate was predicated on $65 benchmark per barrel of oil and N165 exchange rate, the Senate said it was unrealistic going by the drastic fall of oil price in the international market and that passing the budget with such assumption would lead to a deficit budget where huge sums would be borrowed to finance it.
It noted that the budget was a budget of caution and austerity measure where Nigerians were required to fasten their belts, even as the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, noted that with the realities on ground, it would take time for the committee to come up with a more realistic benchmark.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, said going by the debate, he was happy that the Senators had woken up to their responsibilities, stressing that the development was a wake-up call to the nation following the challenging times of economic recession and the downward trend in the oil revenue.
Ekweremadu said: “I do believe that this is the time for us as a parliament to ensure that while considering the Appropriation Bill for 2015, all the revenue items are captured. Our committee on finance will help us to do that.
“We need to ensure that all the revenue items are captured in the budget and determine a pool of resources to implement the budget when passed. The Federal Government should also put up its listening cap to develop new areas of revenue generation that would help us to drive our economy. We have gone through this way before but eventually the oil price improved but unfortunately we did not learn any lesson.
“I hope that this period we will learn our lesson that will help us to be disciplined in our fiscal management and it is also time for us to also take seriously, about our fiscal federalism so that state can devolve their initiatives in increasing their revenue that would help them to manage themselves.
“We need to reflect as a nation on how to manage our economy and everybody will have to make sacrifices, going forward. For us as politicians, we have to be mindful of our election expenses and we need to do things within the provisions of the electoral act.”
In his contribution, Senator Victor Lar, representing Plateau South said: “Whether we like it or not, all top government officials and political office-holders must make sacrifices by cutting down considerably, the cost of governance in 2015 as part of the belt-tightening measure that we should undertake to be able to implement the budget.”
Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang noted that there had always been loopholes from the government agencies who always generate money and keep the money without remitting to the Federation Account.
Senator Enang, PDP Akwa Ibom North East said: “There is no point allowing the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Maritime Agency and Communication Commission to generate money and keep without putting it in the revenue account.
“I celebrate the fall of oil so that we can go back to see the amount of money generated by these agencies and determine the 20 per cent they should spend and the 80 per cent they should transmit to the federation account. We should go back to these instruments.
“How do countries that do not produce oil survive? It is through money they generate internally. Where is the excess crude account? The benchmark was $73 per barrel, but oil sold over $100 per barrel. Where is the excess crude share of the Federal Government? We are guilty because I raised alarm that no money from the excess crude should be expended without the consent of the National Assembly.
Senator Olubunmi Adetunmb, Ekiti North, APC, said the assumption upon which the budget was prepared was totally exaggerated which implied that there would be no money to finance the expenditure that the committees were asked to look at.
According to him, “right now there is a grossly exaggerated assumption that the price of oil is $65 per barrel. We know that the price for oil as we speak is in the threshold of $45 to $46 per barrel.”