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NIGERIAN SENATORS: Arrest Okonjo-Iweala!

Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was under fire yesterday at the Senate.
The Coordinating Minister for the Economy was absent at a session on the budget’s implementation.
She is to appear before the Senate tomorrow to explain reasons for the non implementation of the 2012 Appropriation Act – the heart of the House’s threat to launch impeachment proceedings against President Goodluck Jonathan.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who chaired yesterday’s aborted interactive session on the implementation of the Appropriation Act 2012, spoke of the Senate’s worry about the “poor implementation” of the budget.
Appropriation Committee chair Senator Ahmed Maccido, who flagged off the short meeting, noted that the session was to “clear doubts and put records straight as well as to know what might have constituted a hindrance to the implementation of the 2012 budget and how it should be corrected”.
Maccido said that the Senate was at a loss on the level of performance of the 2012 Appropriation Act and desired to know what the problem was.
He said that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala told Nigerians that the 2012 budget performance is 56 per cent but that records indicated a performance level of 21.56 per cent.
Ekweremadu underscored the displeasure of the Senate over the minister’s absence at the meeting.
For the Deputy Senate President, nothing could have been more important to the Minister than coming to explain to Nigerians how far the budget has fared.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, he said, should have appreciated the fact that she was invited not for a family affair but for a serious business.
He noted that the minister had failed twice to honour Senate’s invitation on budget implementation.
Ekweremadu mandated the joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance to ensure that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala appeared before it tomorrow even if it meant summoning her.
Some Senators shouted that a warrant of arrest should be issued immediately against the Minister.
He said: “We are here to have a public hearing on the performance of the 2012 budget.
“This is supposed to include the degree of releases to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and the degree of utilisation by MDAs.
“It is not a family meeting; it is a very serious business.
“We had expected the Coordinating Minister and Minister of Finance to be here today because she is central to all that we are going to discuss today.
“As our Chairman on Appropriation mentioned; this matter was supposed to have been discussed last week Thursday. The minister was absent and we learnt she went to Asaba to declare open the SURE- programme.
“We consider our meeting with her on the issue that has to do with budget implementation to be more important than any other assignment.
“Today, we have also been told she has gone to London to represent the President at an investment forum of which we know there are other ministers and government officials that could have gone and done that to enable her to be here with us this afternoon.
“So it is regrettable that she is not here.
“I recall that when the 2012 budget was presented to us as a draft Bill, we in the National Assembly decided that we are going to do everything possible to send it back to the Executive the way it came so that there will be no argument of whether it will be implemented or not.
“Over the years, we’ve had this issue of non-implementation of the budget and the reason they usually give revolves around the area of National Assembly input.
“So, we decided we are going to make minimal input – if anything at all. On the basis of this, we returned the budget basically the way it came.
“Even when we criticised some areas of which some adjustments needed to be made, we had to bend over at the risk of being accused of tampering with the budget.
“We had to do that to ensure that they received the budget the way and manner they wanted so that implementation will be easier. Unfortunately, the level of implementation has been anything less than commendable and that is why we are worried.
“As we read from the papers what they have not implemented is what they considered the tinkering by the National Assembly. What we had wanted to do today is to hear from the Executive what those tinkering are. Let the people of Nigeria hear exactly what the National Assembly did to the budget that made it impossible for it to be implemented.
“It is not enough for the Executive or the Ministry of Finance to accuse the National Assembly of tampering the budget that made it impossible to be implemented and then the National Assembly is saying, no we did not do anything.
“We decided on a situation where the press will be the arbiter and then they will listen to us and listen to the Executive to know if we did anything.
“If there are such areas the Nigerian public will hear. And if they ask for response from the National Assembly our appropriate committees will also respond.
“Now the stage is set but the Minister is not here and we are worried about it. It is absolutely impossible for us to continue this dialogue in the absence of the Minister.
“I have discussed with my colleagues and what we are going to do is to allow our committee on Appropriation to look for an appropriate date, possibly by Thursday, and ensure that the Minister comes, even if it means summoning her to ensure that she appears before the committee to tell Nigerians the degree of releases and, of course, for the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to tell Nigerians the degree of utilisation.
“It is not just enough that releases were made but we want to see the releases and then utilisation. We want to see a situation where those releases and utilization are impacting on the lives of Nigerians. We want to see roads being worked on; we want to see the water projects going on. We want to see electricity projects going on.
“We appropriated about N900billion for the security situation in the country. We want to see whether these monies have been released and we want to see the desired impact of the utilisation in Kano , in Sokoto, in Kaduna , in Yobe and all the northern parts of Nigeria .
“That is exactly what we thought this public hearing will afford us all today. But now we are disappointed that it is not going to take place.
“I have the mandate of my colleagues to adjourn this public hearing to enable the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister to show up.
“And as I said, the chairman of the committee should take necessary steps, including, if possible, summoning the minister to show up before the Senate Committee on Appropriation and other relevant committees by Thursday this week.”
A document obtained by our correspondent on the 2012 Capital budget performance as at 20th July, 2012 showed that out of N1,519,986,106,691.00, 2012 Capital Allocation, total releases is N401,648,460,791; Amount cash backed is N324,556,851,948; Utilisation is N184,848,092,533.
According to the document, “The performance of 56.95 per cent as indicated by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation is the percentage of amount utilised (N184bn) of the amount cash backed(N324bn) as at 20th July, 2012 not of the entire capital budget.
“The actual utilization of N184 billion against the total capital budget of N1.5 trillion is 12.16 per cent.”
At the aborted meeting were Secretary to the Government of the Federation Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Minister of State for Finance Yerima Ngama and Minister of Transport Senator Idris Umar.

Culled from a Nigerian newspaper, The Nation

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