Senate ups Buhari’s virement by N33bn
By Ezrel Taiwo and Taiye Odewale
The Senate yesterday alleged sharp practices by the revenue generating agencies in the management of some N1.5trillion proceeds raised between 2012 and 2016.
Although, the lawmakers were silent on the agencies involved in the ‘shady’ deals, but the list of the nation’s revenue generating outfits include among others, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Ports Authority, Federal Inland Revenue Service and the Nigerian Communications Commission.
Specifically, the agencies are being accused of under remitting or non remittance of proceeds from the revenue to the nation’s coffer.
To this end, the legislature set up a six-man ad hoc committee to investigate the ‘irregularities’ in the last five years, and turn in its report in six weeks.
The decision followed the adoption of a motion tagged: “Urgent Need to Investigate Revenue Generation agencies for Non Remittance of Generated Revenue,” and sponsored by Senator Solomon Adeola (APC, Lagos West).
Their position came barely two weeks after the Federal Government, through the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, also accused the nation’s revenue-generating agencies of short-changing the system.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, who named Adeola as the committee chairman, lamented that the revenue agencies were given a N1.5 trillion target last year, but could only deliver less than N500 billion.
Saraki said, “I want to join others in thanking Senator Solomon Adeola for this very important motion. As I keep on hammering, independent revenue and non-oil revenue are very important areas of our budget. This independent revenue is 37 per cent. You remember that last year it was almost N1.5 trillion and I am being told now that this year is likely to come down to N500 billion because they could not meet the target.
“The inability to meet the target is not that they do not have the capacity to meet the target. The problem is that there is too much abuse on this operating surpluses where people spend up to the last naira in all.
“I think the best way forward is for us to address this issue in blocking these leakages and I believe that in constituting the ad hoc committee, we would just take the best hands and still bring people from Finance and Public Accounts Committees.”
Senator Adeola, while presenting his motion earlier, said all revenues and monies raised or received are expected be paid into the consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
He revealed that the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007 was enacted to ensure transparency, accountability and to prevent corrupt practices in relation to public revenues and expenditure.
The lawmaker expressed worry that government owned companies had over the years, grossly violated the letters of the 1999 Constitution and the Fiscal Responsibility Act in relation to their revenue generation activities and expenditures.
“The various audit queries against these agencies over the years, further indicate possible mismanagement of public funds against the spirit of the Constitution and Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“In view of Federal Government’s dwindling revenues from the traditional crude oil sector and the ongoing recession, these government bodies are continuing in short-changing government of needed revenue through various illegal practices,” Adeola noted.
In his contribution, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, said there was need to review the existing laws setting up the agencies, stressing that if the revenues generated are carefully monitored, there may not be need to borrow money to fund the budget.
Ekweremadu said: “We have a lot of leakages. I think it is time for us to look back and look at those laws. We need to look at those laws and review them. We are talking about borrowing money to fund the budget, whereas, monies generated are going into private pockets.”
“Every day we talk about how to share the cake but today, we have the privilege and opportunity to discuss how to bake the cake and I think there is enough cake to go round except that we have a lot of leakages and some of these leakages were created by us.
“I think that we must admit that when those laws were made they were made with the best of intentions but just as they say the road to hell is also made with the best of intentions. I believe that since they have been abused it is for all of us to look back and have a second look at those laws and ensure that they are appropriately amended or put appropriate measures to ensure that these leakages are fixed.”
In his own submission, Senator Ahmed Lawan stressed the need for the Senate to do more and where possible, reduce the number of the agencies.
He said, “Some of these agencies have their Acts supported by law. We have to amend these laws. Another thing we can do is to intensify our oversight. We need to know how these agencies utilise the funds. Many of these agencies are just there. We should be looking at reducing these agencies so that those that will be left to collect revenues will be thoroughly supervised.”
In a similar vein, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, noted that issues raised in the motion should not be treated with levity, but given the seriousness they deserve in the interest of the country.
Senate approves virement
Meanwhile, the Senate has upped the virement request for the 2016 Budget by President Muhammadu Buhari from the N180.8 billion to N213billion, indicating a N33billion differential.
The sum is to be sourced from the N500billion earmarked for Special Intervention Programmes in the budget.
President Buhari had in his request, on the 27th of last month, explained that it arose due to a number of reasons including: shortfalls in provisions for personnel costs; inadequate provision for some items like the amnesty programme; continuing requirements to sustain the war against insurgency; and depreciation of the naira.
He specifically requested for total sum of N14.208billion as capital component of the virement and N166.630billion as recurrent component of the virement.
But based on report submitted by its Committee on Appropriation, the Senate approved N39.208billion for capital component of the virement and N169.613billion for recurrent component, aside extra N5billion approved for sustainable development goals in the Ministry of Housing based on special request during consideration of the entire proposal, totalling N213.8billion.
Breakdown of the expenditure items of the virement as submitted by the Appropriation Committee Chairman, Senator Danjuma Goje (APC Gombe Central), are service wide vote: Public Service Wage Adjustment (PSWA) N71.8billion, service wide vote Contingency N1.2billion, Service wide vote: Margin for increase in cost N2billion and service wide vote: Amnesty programme N35billion.
Others are, service wide vote: Internal operations of the Armed Forces N5.2billion, service wide vote: Operation Lafiya Dole N13.933billion, NYSC N19.792billion, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Foreign Missions) N16.349billion etc.
However, before giving its approval, issue of unconstitutionality of the request was raised by Deputy Senate President Ekweremadu, who stated that there was no provision for that in the Nigerian constitution.
According to him, “though virement has been made in our budget implementation on yearly basis but there is no room for the practice in the Constitution which only provides for supplementary budget in situations like this”.
Responding, Senate President Saraki said, Ekweremadu’s observation was in order, but that for the sake of stimulating the economy through budget implementation, the virement proposal needed to be approved.
He said: “I think your observation as far as the Constitution is concerned is well noted. I think we are all fully aware of that and that is why I cannot continue to thank my colleagues so much in the way we have been addressing the issue of the economy and we are not looking at it whichever party we are or whatever side we belong.
“If we stick to the Constitution you are very right and is part of our support and cooperation to the Executive, to Nigerians to move things forward. As you rightly said, this should come as a supplementary budget but in part of trying to make this move and incorporate it and ensuring that we give the support, and the executive should also take note.”