By Henry Umoru
ABUJA—THE Senate, yesterday, uncovered padding of proposed expenditures in the Ministry of Power and duplication of items in the 2018 budget estimates.
In the budget proposals, the Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South-led Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, discovered that N120 million, N480 million and N288 million respectively, were budgeted for the purchase of utility vehicles by the ministry headed by the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola.
In the case of NEPZA, it emerged that the agency had raised its 2018 personnel budget by N205 million. That was besides the claim that the same agency in 2017 succeeded in padding its budget by N122 million.
According to the lawmakers, duplication of items has remained a recurring episode, where the Ministry present the same items repeatedly in the budget and ask for more funds to execute them.
During the 2018 budget defence yesterday, the Committee members queried the Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Mustapha Baba Shahuru and the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Frank Edozie for duplicating items in the budget.
In the 2018 budget, the Ministry earmarked N100 million for transfer and management of office files with the senators expressing anger over what they described as repetition of projects by the ministry.
The duplications were discovered when Senator Clifford Ordia, PDP, Edo Central raised the alarm over the duplication of purchase of utility vehicles, captured in three separate pages of the budget document, just as he asked the Minister and the Permanent Secretary to explain how the Ministry would spend N100 million to transfer files, despite another huge provision for ICT.
Senator Ordia said: “I need to understand this thing. Look at the different pages. You earmarked N120 million, N288 million and N480 million for the purchase of vehicles. I do not understand. Are these vehicles different? If you add up this figure, it gives you about N888 million.
“You also said that you want to spend N100 million on transfer of office files. How do you intend to do that? The people in your office, what have they been doing? I can also see from your estimates here that you captured another item for ICT, different from the N100 million for transfer of files. You need to explain these things.”
Corroborating Ordia, Senator Hassan Mohammed, APC, Yobe South, who took a swipe at the ministry officials, said that as lawmakers, they were tired of being bombarded every year with the same items, adding that the Ministry must put its house in order.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who revealed that the 2017 budget (capital) of the Ministry only recorded 18 per cent performance, said: “We will take it that the 2017 budget was abysmally low at only 18 per cent performance. This is unacceptable and I need to put it on record.”
Senators were surprised when the Minister of State, Shahuru, could not respond to questions posed to him and appealed to the committee to allow the Permanent Secretary, Mr. Edozie to provide answers on his behalf.
There was, however, a mild drama when the Senators vehemently rejected his proposal that the Permanent Secretary should answer all the questions because he had already introduced himself as the representative of Fashola.
Turning down Shahuru’s request, Senator Abaribe said: “You were sent here to represent the Minister. It means you are here to respond to our questions. Last week, we invited the permanent secretary to respond. Today, it is your turn.
“My colleagues asked me how come you are the person here and not Fashola. But I told them since you were also a Minister, you could be here to on behalf of your Minister.”
Babatunde Fashola, however shunned the Committee as he failed to appear before the Senators for budget defence, despite his assurance, last week, that he would come in person to defend the 2018 budget of the power sector.
Defending Fashola, the Minister of State told the lawmakers that Fashola was attending to other state matters.
Last week, the committee walked out Fashola over his alleged “unpreparedness to face the committee for his 2018 budget defence” because he did not come with necessary documentations.
Speaking on Fashola’s refusal to face the Committee, Senator Abaribe said: “Maybe Fashola decided to snub us because of some media reports, last week. But he ought not to have been angry by that. I am sure that was why he sent you because he did not want to come here.
“I said it that it was deliberate that Fashola did not show up. What we need to scrutinise the budget was not provided. We needed some things to make the process easy. Nobody is satisfied with these vague items. We are going to have to adjourn this meeting, pending when we will get these submissions from you.”
Abaribe asked the Minister of State and the Permanent Secretary to inform Fashola that he must present himself at the next yet -to-be date for the budget defence session. The Minister of State and other officials of the Ministry were asked to go back and return prepared next time.
Abaribe said: “We are asking you to inform the Minister to be here to properly respond to all the questions we need to ask. We will do a comprehensive letter asking for explanation on items where we have raised questions. That will guide you in giving your submissions. We need you to be prepared when next you come.”