Senate President, Senator David Mark and Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal on Wednesday frankly cautioned President Goodluck Jonathan over the 2013 Appropriation Bill asking him to ensure that the nation’s economy complies with global practices.
Mark, while delivering his opening remark before President Jonathan presented the 2013 Appropriation Bill to the joint sitting said, “the National Assembly is also conscious of the fact that urgent steps need to be taken to address our dire infrastructural challenges”.
His words: “We believe that so long as our budgets are only partially implemented, the full benefits of your administration’s economic policies may not be accomplished.
“When the 2013 budget is passed and signed into law, the National Assembly will deploy its full fledged weapon of oversight, more than ever before, to ensure accountability, probity, transparency and full implementation.
“The need to ensure the efficient utilisation of public finance for the promotion of the public good will be our guiding principle. We will work to ensure that the lofty developmental goals embedded in the budget are fully realised.
“Furthermore, we must strive to make our economy conform to global best practices. Experience has shown that the most virile economies are private sector driven. We advise that we continue to follow this time tested economic philosophy.
“It is important to ensure that the 2013 budget appropriately regulates the compass of the national economy and confronts our various economic, political and social challenges”.
“Our budgets, from my experience since 1999, have been dogged by three main areas of controversy of the time of presentation of the estimates to the National Assembly; whether the National Assembly has the constitutional power to make inputs on the budget estimates; and implementation of the budget.
“On the first issue, it is gratifying to note that the 2013 Budget Estimates is being presented unprecedentedly in October, 2012, yet a compelling case can still be made for a consistently earlier presentation to allow for a meticulous and exhaustive consideration and debate and ensure that we work towards passing it before the end of the year.
“As to whether the National Assembly has the power to make inputs to Appropriation Bills laid before it, our stand is that parliament is constitutionally empowered to make inputs. What the Constitution enjoins Mr. President to lay before the National Assembly are mere estimates, not immutable figures.
“And once the estimates are so laid, their consideration becomes subject to the constitutionally prescribed modes of exercising legislative power. Therefore, we do not think that the Constitution intended to turn the National Assembly into a mere mechanical rubber-stamp that must robotically pass budget estimates as presented.
“However, in exercising this constitutional power, we will be mindful of the fact that the social and economic challenges currently besetting our nation are the severest in our contemporary history. The National Assembly is also conscious of the fact that urgent steps need to be taken to address our dire infrastructural challenges.
“The third issue is that of implementation. We believe that so long as our budgets are only partially implemented, the full benefits of your administration’s economic policies may not be accomplished.
“When the 2013 budget is passed and signed into law, the National Assembly will deploy its weapon of oversight, more than ever before, to ensure accountability, probity, transparency and full implementation.
“The need to ensure the efficient utilisation of public finance for the promotion of the public good will be our guiding principle. We will work to ensure that the lofty developmental goals embedded in the budget are fully realised”.
In his closing remarks, the Speaker of House of Representative, Aminu Tambuwal told President that the information gathered from the House’s various committees that went on oversight visits was nothing but a deceit from the side of the nation’s public servants who find it difficult to say the truth to those in power.
“As I speak, interim field oversight reports from House Committees on the 2012 budget implementation are clearly unimpressive both in terms of releases as well as utilization and this is a great challenge to all of us.
“It is important to state at this point the clear provisions of Section 8 of the Appropriation Act to the effect that approved budgeted funds shall be released to MDAs “as at when due”. This is sadly observed more in breach”. He said
Tambuwal noted that the composition of the Public Procurement Council provided under the Public Procurement Act is very critical to budget implementation saying “the sanctity of extant legislations and respect for the rule of law are critical hallmarks of true democracy”.
He said “It will be recalled that the 2012 budget contained a deficit and the main source of funding this deficit was domestic borrowing.
“Figures emanating from the Debt Management Office regarding domestic borrowing are however worrisome. At a whopping 33.6 Billion US Dollars government appears to be monopolizing domestic borrowing to the unhealthy exclusion of the private sector.
“This is certainly a matter of grave concern because global statistics on sustainable debt-GDP ratio percentages can not continue to be used as guide for an economy that is not keeping pace with global trends.
“In our effort to address this concern, only yesterday, in passing the 2013-2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which is the basis for annual Budgets, the House resolved to raise the oil price benchmark from 75 US Dollars per barrel to 80 US Dollars per barrel with the objective that the difference of 5 US Dollars per barrel be channelled exclusively towards reducing the deficit in the budget and consequently reducing domestic borrowing for same purpose by 66%.
“This will make available these loanable funds to our private sector which will stimulate the economy and jobs creation for our teeming unemployed youths. The House of Representatives however observed two critical omissions on the MTEF namely: (i) That the Revenue from Gas, running into billions of dollars, is not reflected, and (ii) External borrowing is similarly not reflected”.
Tambuwal also mentioned the management of the excess crude revenues as another source of concern saying “since 2010 the Appropriation Act has legislated that the excess crude component of the Federation Account be operated under separate records for purpose of transparency and accountability”.
He said “the trend of Nigeria’s foreign reserves has taken an upward trajectory in recent months, on the back of steady production levels and robust oil prices.
The latest figure for the country’s foreign reserve, as of 04 October 2012, stands at 41.48Billion US Dollars, a 26-month high”.