Budget 2020 faces fresh hurdle over N50 billion extra projects

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THE N10.594 trillion 2020 budget approved by the National Assembly and sent to President Muhammadu Buhari last week for assent is already engulfed in serious crisis that might impede its implementation.

It was learnt that the crisis is being fuelled by the alleged lopsided distribution of part of the N2.465 trillion capital projects across the country and the alleged inflation of figures for many expenditure items in the budget.

Aside from the N100 billion worth of capital projects ceded to the National Assembly members, it was learnt that over N50 billion worth of capital projects accrued to the lawmakers from the N264 billion increase effected by the two chambers when the budget figure was raised from N10.330 trillion to N10.594 trillion.

Moreover, the increase in the budget has resulted in the hike of many sub-heads in the aspects of the budget that relate to the National Assembly.

Apart from the statutory allocation which increased from N125 billion to N128 billion, the N10 billion earlier proposed for some renovation at the National Assembly has now been increased to N37 billion, and it is placed under the allocation for the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA).

Also, N1billion has been allocated for the review of the 1999 Constitution as amended which is yet to commence.

Regarding the allocation of more funds for projects across the country, it was learnt that some lawmakers whose senatorial districts and federal constituencies did not benefit much from the additional allocation resolved to take the matter to President Buhari, who had recently expressed worries about the failure of the National Assembly to utilise constituency projects for the benefit of the ordinary people.

On the likely effects of drawing the attention of the president to the alleged inflation of the budget and discrimination in the sharing of projects, a lawmaker said: “Why I am disturbed is that we least expected this to reoccur in this 9th National Assembly because it was an issue so much criticised in the Eighth Assembly. How do you expect the legislature to unite against the executive when from the beginning we have demonstrated so much discrimination against one another in appropriation for projects? I am not surprised if the matter is dragged to the level of the presidency. It only means that the foundation for faulty implementation of the budget is already being laid in the legislature. “

A close look at the distribution of projects as contained in the 2020 budget document showed that while some senatorial districts got over a billion naira worth of projects each, others were given below N20 million projects or nothing at all.

Among the main areas of contention is the N1. 8 billion worth of projects spread across Yobe North Senatorial District which the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, represents in the Senate. The projects include the N900 million appropriated for the construction of rural roads at Fadawa and some selected local government areas within Yobe North senatorial zone, and the N475 million for procurement of farm implements and accessories in the same Yobe North district.

Others are the allocation of N143 million for the construction of six culverts and drains in Karasuwa and Jakusko local council, Yobe State; N144 million for the construction of six culverts and drains in Bade and Yusufari local councils, Yobe State; and another N143 million for the construction of six culverts and drains in Nguru and Machina local councils, Yobe State.

Senator Solomon Olamilekan, who represents Lagos West, got a whopping N1 billion for “empowerment, training in boat operations and fishing for rural fishermen” in his senatorial district, particularly for Badagry, Ojo, Amuwo-Odofin, Ifako, Ijaiye and Agege areas.

Also causing trouble is the allocation of N700 million for “installation of all-in-one solar powered street lights across the eight local government areas of Delta Central Senatorial District, namely Ughelli North, Ughelli South, Ethiope East, Ethiope West, Udu, Okpe, Sapele and Uvwie.” The Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege, represents this district.

Similarly, N500 million was appropriated for “Grants to youths and women in IDP camps” in Borno Central Senatorial District, which is represented by former governor, Shettima Kassim, the man who sponsored the failed vote of confidence motion on Lawan last week.

In Gombe North Senatorial District represented by Saidu Alkali, N560 million was appropriated for projects, including the N100 million for “empowerment of youths and women, purchase of motorcycles, sewing machines, refrigerators and grinding machines, as well as the N460 million for the construction of maternity clinic and purchase of hospital equipment.”

That was followed by the allocation of another N400 million for training and support of civilian JTF in Jere/MMC/KAGA federal constituencies of Borno State.

In Nasarawa West District which Abdullahi Adamu represents, projects worth N600 million were allocated, including N500 million for the provision of motorised boreholes;

N120 million for the construction of 12kms rural road from Shabuagwada junction to Barkinogishabu; and another N500 million for the provision of farm implements and input to farmers.

Other projects in Nasarawa West are N500 million for training and empowerment of youths and women in various agricultural value chains; N100 million for the provision of solar street lights across communities in Keffi; and the N200 million for the provision of agricultural equipment for farmers.

Among other contentious allocations is the N300 million for vocational training and provision of empowerment materials for youths and women in Lagos central district represented in the Senate by Oluremi Tinubu.

It was learnt that some projects were inserted to benefit some unnamed persons.

“They include N1 billion for the construction of rural roads; N468. 4 million for Federal Government support for women in agribusiness; and N554.3 million Federal Government support for youths in agribusiness; N1.15 billion for the provision and installation of solar street light nationwide.”

Other such projects were listed as the N500 million for the supply of laptops and writing materials to secondary schools in Borno State; N500 million for the construction of classrooms in primary schools in Zarawuyaku and Fikayel; N500 million for the supply of instructional materials to various schools in northeast; and N500 million for the renovation of selected primary and secondary schools in northeast.

But the Senate insisted yesterday that by passing the 2020 budget the way it was, it had met its obligations.

The upper chambers’ spokesman, Godiya Akwashiki, insisted that by facilitating the return of the budget to January-December circle, the Senate deserved commendation.

Akwashiki said that the ninth assembly, by this feat, had demonstrated that they were out to better the lives of Nigerians, stressing that the January-December budget circle would in no doubt offer the executive arm the opportunity for a full implementation.

In a response to questions on the crisis being generated by the alleged lopsided distribution of the projects, Akwashiki said: “What I know is the N100 billion constituency development projects funds from where the Senate got N40 billion while the House of Representatives got N60 billion.”

He said he could not defend allegations of some insertions made by the National Assembly into the budget.

“I don’t know whether other insertions were made to the budget because I am not a member of the appropriation committee. I’m hearing this for the first time. It may be true and it may be false because the chances of senators inserting projects into the budget are 50 per cent, and the chances of saying it is not true are also 50 per cent. As it is now, the budget has not been signed into law. The proposal came from the executive and it would still be scrutinised by the executive.

“The Senate Committee on Appropriation told us that they discovered additional revenue which was not captured and decided to apply it to some departments and ministries. That was the explanation they gave for the increment in the size of the budget.”

Meanwhile, the leadership of the National Assembly has remained on collision course with the presidency over issues relating to the constituency projects.

President Buhari had recently lamented that there was little to show for the more than N1 trillion spent on constituency projects of the National Assembly members in the last 10 years.

“It is on record that in the past 10 years N1 trillion has been appropriated for constituency projects, yet the impact of such huge spending on the lives and welfare of ordinary Nigerians can hardly be seen,” Buhari said at an event organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).

Senate Minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, described the president’s comment as erroneous and containing elements of false information.

“We are not worried about the statement. The reason we are not worried is because we know that it was a statement that was erroneous. Somebody must have written a speech and then put false information in the speech.

“I have done constituency projects and we have always said that they are not done by senators or members of the House of Representatives. They are domiciled in the executive arm of government who executes it. If the president said he had not seen anything, he should ask his ministers and the agencies under him as they are the people who have been executing these projects,” he said.

The House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, while commenting on the matter following a point of order raised under privileges by the Minority Leader of the House, Ndidi Elumelu, expressed concern about the unintended consequences of the statement.

“I think it is a breach of our collective privilege as a House and not one person. My concern is the unintended consequences of words spoken. These are words emanating from a report by ICPC. There could be unintended consequences that could come out of them. You put peoples well being at risk.”

Guardian

– Dec. 16, 2019 @ 08:39 GMT |

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