Echoes from 2019 budget defence sessions in senate

Last week, heads of the over 600 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) were at the National Assembly to defend their 2018 budgetary allocations and 2019 proposals. Taiye Odewale reports some of the sessions in the senate.

Allocation by fiat

Penultimate Wednesday, precisely on the 20th of last month the senate suspended plenary to today for its various standing committees to have budget defence sessions with the MDAs under their purview. 

Many had thought heads of such agencies would not appear as they did between January and April last year. When they failed then it eventually made the N8.6 trillion 2018 budget presented to the National Assembly on the 7th of November, 2017 to spend seven solid  months with the federal lawmakers before its passage in May last year as N9.12 trillion budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year.

Apparently to prevent such a scenario from unfolding again,  the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, while announcing the suspension of plenary for the budget defence sessions at committee levels, told the various chairmen of the senate’s standing committees to push to the Appropriation Committee whatever budgetary allocations made for any MDAs  in the N8.83trillion 2019 budget estimates presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on the 19th of December last year in the case of non appearance of heads of any of the MDAs.

Unexpected turn up

Perhaps, because 2019 being a year of transition of tenure and particularly end of a legislative session for a fresh one at the National Assembly, many of heads of the MDAs bombarded the various committees at both chambers for defence of their implementations of the allocations given to them in the 2018 fiscal year as well as defence fresh proposals for them in the 2019 fiscal year.

More funds for terminals

First to make such appearances before the committees over-sighting ministries and agencies under them, was the Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, on Monday last week when he appeared before the senate committee on aviation. Sirika at the budget defence session sought for approval of $461.8million for additional work on the ongoing new terminals at some airports across the country.

According to him, the required amount would be added to the $500 million loan already secured from China Exim Bank particularly for tackling challenges being encountered in the process of building the new terminals. For some of these terminals he explained: “are changes in the structural designs of the airports, foundation footing and escalators”.

He added that there was a need to make provisions for the biggest modern aircrafts, change in departure and arrival floors to flow with railway stations, provision of adequate power supply and relocation of control tower and fire service stations among others.

“The challenges have resulted in the need for variations and additional works to the tune of $461,795, 551.02, which has been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC)”, he said.

He specifically submitted that “two of the new terminals, in Port Harcourt and Abuja have been commissioned while Lagos and Kano will be completed shortly, aside adequate provisions that had been made to complete the new terminal buildings at Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu”.

Only 11% allocation released for aviation

On the 2018 budget implementation level, he said the total appropriation for the aviation sub-sector for 2018 was N26.9billion out of which a paltry sum of N3.12 billion representing 11.6 per cent was released to the sector and out which the sum of N2.99 billion representing 96 per cent had been expended as at March 15, 2019.

Further, he said the sum of N508.8 million was appropriated for overhead expenditure for the Ministry of Transport, which includes aviation, marine and land sectors in 2018 out of which N296.8 million, representing 58.3 per cent was released, while N296.8 million representing 99.9 per cent was expended as at December 2018.

F9 for FCT

A similar presentation showing poor funding of budget estimates was also made by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory ( FCT, Abuja), Mallam Muhammed  Bello when he appeared before the Senate Committee on FCT headed by Senator Dino Melaye ( PDP Kogi West).

Melaye in his remarks at the session said: “Based on verifiable statistics and information before this committee, capital component of FCT’s budget allocations have plummeted over the years from N109billion in 2008 to N30billion in 2019.

“It was even worrisome that out of the N30.39 billion approved for capital projects in the 2017 budget of the territory, only N12.7billion was released which was about 40.1percent.

” The declining trend worsened in 2018, when out of the N30.2billion approved as capital expenditure for the territory, only N9.6billion was released, which is just   31.9 percent.

“This to us, by WAEC (West Africa Examination Council) standard, is F9 and not acceptable. The trend, if not reversed, is a recipe for failure as far as infrastructural development is concerned “.

Proffering solution, he said the government must prioritise its spending by getting more money for FCT to execute its capital projects, particularly at the various satellite towns.

Adverse effect of poor releases

In his own remarks, the FCT Minister, Muhammed Bello, said “out of 33 projects proposed in the 2018 budget for execution only 15 were being executed even at very low percentage level due to paucity of fund.

“We are happy that the F9 given was not for us but the ministry of finance which has not been forth-coming with expected releases due to shortfall in projected revenue generation”.

NDA laments as well

The Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA) was also not left out in the lamentation galore over inadequate funding of 2018 budget estimates and pleas for the 2019 fiscal year to be better in terms of adequate funding of budgetary allocations.

The Commandant of the military institution, Major-General Adeniyi Oyebade, who appeared before the Senate Committee on Defence, complained of shortfall of about N1.3billion in the cash backing of the 2018 budget estimates for the academy.

The shortfalls, he said, had handicapped the NDA from paying non regular allowances to its personnel in the form of hazard, responsible and excess workload allowances.

“Aside the N1.3billion shortfall out of the N8.9billion capital votes appropriated for the academy in the 2018 fiscal year, only N4.1billion has been released so far, making the implementation performance within the capital component to be 47 percent as at last month”, he said.

NDA promised succour

However assurance of adequate appropriations for the 2019 budget proposals for the academy was given by the committee headed by Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC Borno North) just as the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Alhaji Lai Mohammed in his own appearance before the committee on information, said the ministry achieved 67 percent budget implementation performance in 2018.

He appealed to the committee headed by Senator Suleiman Adokwe (PDP Nasarawa South) to ensure appropriation of the entire N6.121billion budgetary allocations proposed for the ministry in the 2019 fiscal year.

With the winding off of budget defence sessions at committee levels at both chambers this week and submission of reports to the Appropriation Committees, the stage is certainly set for the passage of the N8.83 trillion 2019 budget by both chambers this month,  before embarking on Easter break.

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