By Henry Umoru
ABUJA—AHEAD of the passage of the 2018 Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly, the Federal Government was, yesterday, skeptical of its effective implementation when passed and signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to the government, there is the tendency that early politicking ahead of 2019 general elections in the country may disrupt the implementation of the budget.
Speaking, yesterday, in Abuja when he appeared before Senate Committee on Federal Character, Secretary to Government of the Federation, SGF, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said there were strong indications that the Federal Government might not fully implement the 2018 budget, if the National Assembly failed to pass it on time.
The SGF, who noted that preparation for the 2019 general elections would commence by end of February, said, however, that serious government business would end by November when political parties would commence campaigns and conduct primaries.
He also pleaded with the National Assembly to pass the 2018 Appropriation Bill into law as soon as possible to avoid poor implementation.
Mustapha said: “I will make an appeal that the 2018 budget must be passed on time. We do not have time. If you consider the time left for us as politicians and in line with the timetable released by INEC, you will realise that we have till November 2018 to do what we have to do.
“By then, politicians will be engaged in political activities. There will be no time. I am appealing that we pass this budget on time. This is the last budget we will have to deliver on the dividends of democracy. For those of you coming back, promises will not work. What will work will be the scorecard.
“I am begging that it should be passed as quickly as possible. I am also appealing to the executive arm to appear for budget defence. Intense political activities will begin in February and as public officials, we have to quickly deliver.”
The SGF noted that President Buhari has approved the setting up of a monitoring unit in his office to track budget implementation by Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs.
He said ministers had been given a template to collate projects executed since 2015 when Buhari came into office, adding that the outcome of the exercise would assist Nigerians in assessing Buhari’s government at the end of his administration.
He said: “Let me assure you that whatever the National Assembly budgets for the MDAs, ministers will give detailed reports on what they have done since 2015. From now till the end of February, they will give briefings.
Monetisation of vehicles for ex-presidents
The SGF also explained why his office opted for monetisation of vehicles for former presidents and former vice presidents, saying though the Appropriation Act clearly stipulates that vehicles should be bought for them, his office opted for the second option since it was a better choice.
He said: “A decision was taken that instead of buying them vehicles, the money should be given to them so that they can buy themselves. The purchase of these vehicles is tenured. It is done after every four years.
“The issue of the purchase of vehicles, I agree is an Appropriation Act. The issue of monetisation is done in the MDAs. It is also done in the National Assembly. Some of these former leaders may not even want to buy Prado SUV which the law says.
‘’But many of them may not like it. They may prefer saloon cars, which maybe more comfortable for them. That was why we released a memo for them to do that.”
On the performance of the 2017 budget of his office, the SGF said: “The office of SGF is the tink-tank of the government. We coordinate activities of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. Approved for capital was N2 billion. For personal cost, N2 billion. Overhead cost cost is N3 billion. Total is N9.5 billion.
“Performance for capital is N1.2 billion released as at end of December, 2017. It represents 50 per cent. We are hoping that the National Assembly will extend the lifespan of the budget so that we can handle other procurement processes.
“My office had issues with poor releases when I came in. We are hoping that as we move forward, we will be properly and adequately funded so that we can carry out our duties effectively.”
Responding, chairman of the committee, Senator Tijjani Kaura, promised that the leadership of the National Assembly will pass the budget as soon as possible, informing the SGF that lawmakers had to cut short their holidays to consider the 2018 budget.
“The leadership is keen on passing the budget on time. That is why we cut our vacation short to be here to attend to budget defence.
‘’This is to tell you the importance of this issue. If you look at the 2017 budget, you will see that this committee did not tamper with the figure submitted to us. We did that because we know the enormous responsibility attached to that office.”
In his remarks, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi, APC,Kaduna North, complained about underfunding of the office of the SGF, stressing that as a critical unit of the Federal Government, the office should get more funds to run its operations.