• N’Assembly laments lack of details, passes bill Dec 19

    Nassembly laments lack of details passes bill dec 19 - nigeria newspapers online
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    Indications emerged on Friday that the National Assembly would pass the 2024 Appropriation Bill of N27.5tn on Tuesday, December 19.

    The Senate and the House of Representatives had earlier on Friday passed the ‘Renewed Hope’ budget for second reading.

    The Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau, hinted during the plenary that the budget might be passed by the lawmakers on December 19 before embarking on their Christmas and New Year break.

    During deliberations on Friday, senators applauded President Bola Tinubu for his good intentions for the country, but some lamented the failure of the executive to provide the details of the budget.

    The budget was passed for second reading and referred to the Committee on Appropriations after being put to a voice vote by Barau, who presided over the session.

    “The budget is hereby referred to the Committee on Appropriations and the committee is mandated to submit the report to this chamber on December 19,” Barau stated.

    The President had on Wednesday presented to a joint session of the National Assembly the budget, which he named, ‘Budget of Renewed Hope’.

    Tinubu pegged the budget deficit for the 2024 fiscal year at N9.18tn.

    He said the deficit would represent 3.88 per cent of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product.

    Tinubu stated, “The N9.18tn deficit is lower than the N13.78tn deficit recorded in 2023, which represented 6.11 per cent of the GDP.

    “The deficit will be financed by new borrowings totalling N7.83tn; N298.49bn from privatisation proceeds and N1.05tn drawdown on multilateral and bilateral loans secured for specific development projects.”

    He added that his administration would limit the inflation rate to 21.4 per cent in 2024, adding that tax and fiscal policies were currently being reviewed.

    “Our target is to increase the ratio of revenue to GDP from less than 10 per cent currently to 18 per cent within the term of this administration,” the President added.

    To fund the budget, he stated that fresh loans would be collected, while the government would also explore public-private partnership arrangements to finance critical infrastructure.

    Commenting on the budget, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Wale Edun, said it would be financed with less deficit than the situation in the past.

    He said, “So, there will definitely be fresh loans, and if those loans are maturing, they will be financed.

    “And as always, you’re not going to be financing all the loans from the revenue; so, they will be fresh loans

    “There will be continuous reliance on loans, but less so. The important thing is that the size of the budget that is being relied on from borrowing is downsized.”

    Contributing to the debate on Friday, Senator Babangida Hussaini (All Progressives Congress, Jigawa North West), raised the issue of insecurity in the country, tracing it back to a lack of unemployment for citizens.

    According to him, it is a necessity to work on the skills of unemployed youths and create jobs for them.

    “Unemployment is a common problem in this country; we must find jobs for these youths. Sometimes there are jobs but no skills, so we should step up to look into the skills of these youths. We must also step up our legislative functions of oversight,” Hussaini stated.

    Senator Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno North) said, “There is a saying that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. There is a need for us to create and generate employment, which will ease the issues of insecurity in the country.”

    Senator Sadiq Umar (APC, Kwara North) expressed worry over the continuous rise in debt servicing, which he noted had been a trend since 2015.

    “The debt servicing (figure) is worrisome but we will look forward to how this will be managed. The recurring expenditure is very high as well and the capital expenditure is an increase over that of last year, and there has been a gradual increase since 2015”

    In his contributions, Senate Chief Whip, Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), responded to the issue of borrowing, stating that it would be worthwhile when Nigerians began to see the developments the loans were being used for.

    Ndume said, “The capital expenditure has now gone up, which is the first in the country. The deficit is also commendable.

    “Once Nigerians see the reason why we are borrowing, it will be worthwhile. What we need to do is allow the President to give us a renewed hope.”

    Senator Aliyu Kabiru said the basis of the 2024 budget was rational.

    “The oil price benchmark is rational; the exchange rate is also rational. However, I think we are beginning to see fiscal discipline in our budget framework. Projection around the revenue is also achievable and it is important to have a realistic bill and that will benefit the common man,” he submitted.

    Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (All Progressives Grand Alliance, Abia South), complained that the budget did not capture the state of the power sector despite being an important element driving the economy.

    Abaribe said, “How do we create jobs if the issue of power failure in Nigeria is not addressed? Aside from the government, all the self-employed people from manufacturing industries to business centre owners, need electricity to power their enterprises and remain in business.

    “At the committee level, we need to look around the projections and proposals made in the budget for required organisations, for what Nigeria and Nigerians need, or else if we leave it as it is, it is garbage in, garbage out.”

    Senator Abba Moro in his contribution said the seven per cent of the budget proposal earmarked for the education sector was too small and a far cry from the 26 per cent recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

    He added that the enveloping system of budgeting would not make the yearly budget impactful in terms of implementation.

    “The Enveloping system of budgeting is a cesspool of corruption. We need to seek alternatives because we cannot continue doing things the same way all the time and expect different results,” Moro added.

     Senator Francis Fadahunsi (PDP, Osun), expressed the hope that funds moved by President Tinubu from votes for infrastructure in the 2023 budget to the recently passed N2.17tn supplementary budget for palliatives would be reflected in the 2024 budget.

    He specifically mentioned the Ibadan-Ife-Ilesha-Akure road as part of the projects that suffered from such budgetary votes’ removal.

    Others who made contributions were senators Benson Kombowei (PDP, Bayelsa Central), Ede Dafinone (APC, Delta Central), Jide Ipinsagba (APC, Ondo North), Seriake Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa West), and Victor Umeh (LP, Anambra Central).

    During the debate on the budget on Thursday, lawmakers raised concerns over the lack of details for deliberations.

    Some of the senators lamented that they were working based on assumptions and projections made on revenues and expenditures in the proposals by Tinubu.

    The first to object was Senator Kawu Sumaila (New Nigerian People’s Party, Kano South), who stated that it was an aberration for lawmakers to debate the budget without seeing the details of what they were to consider.

    Sumaila said, “We cannot be considering a budget whose details we have not seen. We don’t have the sectoral breakdown; how do we know if we are doing the right thing? I don’t think we should be debating the budget now.

    “How are we sure that the interests of our constituents were captured in the budget?”

    Kawu was, however, countered by the Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau (APC, Kano North), who said that the bill was passed for second reading based on the merits and demerits of the principles.

    “The merits and demerits of the appropriation bill have been stated by the President and the same has been repeated by the Senate Leader in his presentation of which copies have also been released to all lawmakers present,” he said.

    This was followed by Senator Mohammed Onawo (PDP, Nasarawa South), who said he did not have the details of the budget, but based on a presentation made by the President, the projections and assumptions were realistic.

    Senator Garba Medoki (Kebbi South) said, “We can’t thoroughly debate this budget without the details. And I am speaking from the point of view that the past administration was not fair to us in Kebbi State.

    “I need to see the details to be sure that this administration will be fair to my people.

    “I am speaking on good authority that we the people of Kebbi don’t want the palliative that the President is giving; we want it converted to capital roads and used to fix our roads so that our people can earn a living.”

    Senator Eta Williams (Cross River Central), said the budget was a paradigm shift from the previous ones.

    He said, “I saw a diversion in the 2024 budgetary proposal presented by President Tinubu from what we used to have in the past.

    “The projections and proposals made are realistic and realisable, and in fact, clearly show that the mantra of renewed hope is for real.”

    Senator Olalere Oyewumi (PDP Osun West), said the budgetary proposals as presented by the President indicated a paradigm shift from previous ones.

    According to Senator Natasha Akpoti-Uduaghan (PDP Kogi Central), the country is on the path of economic growth as shown by the assumptions and projections made in the N27.5tn budget.

    However, in his contribution, Senator Binos Dauda Yaroe (PDP Adamawa South) accused President Tinubu of boxing the National Assembly into a tight corner regarding the passage of the 2024 budget.

    “The budget proposals were supposed to have been presented in September or early last month for thorough and diligent consideration,” the senator stated.

    The Senate thereafter adopted the votes and proceedings of the presentation and adjourned the plenary till December 23.

    The various committees within that window will meet with various Ministries, Departments and Agencies for their budget defence.

    The Senate will reconvene on December 12 and consider and pass the budget on December 19.

     House considers proposals

    The House of Representatives on Friday passed for second reading the N27.5tn budget for next year.

    Continuing the debate on the general principles of the budget on Friday, the member representing the Kosofe Federal Constituency of Lagos State, Kafilat Ogbara, described the 2024 Appropriation Bill as a people-centric budget aimed at bettering the lives of Nigerians.

    However, members took turns to ask for an upward review of the allocations to education and health, among others.

    A member of the Labour Party representing the Isiala Ngwa North/ South Federal Constituency, Abia State, Obinna Ginger, said, “From what was presented by Mr President, the education sector is not fully represented. Let us look at upgrading the allocation to education because we still have less than 26 per cent of the UNESCO benchmark.”

    Ginger, while calling for a holistic implementation of the budget, lamented what he called the continuous marginalisation of the South-East geo-political zone in the national scheme of things.

    “The 1999 Constitution as amended provides for the federal character principle, but I must say here that the South-East cannot continue to shout marginalisation and nobody is listening. There are no motorable federal roads in the South-East. Let us allocate more resources to the South-East so that our people can have a sense of belonging,” he pleaded.

    The debate offered opposition lawmakers an opportunity to call the attention of the All Progressives Congress-led government to the realities in their communities and the need to intervene through adequate budgetary allocations to alleviate their constituents’ plight.

    A member of the Peoples Democratic Party from Bayelsa State, Frederick Agbedi, lamented the plight of residents of rural areas, noting that they had been suffering untold hardship since the removal of subsidy on petrol.

    “Since the removal of fuel subsidy, life has become extremely difficult for our people. No effort is being made to address the effect of subsidy removal on our people, who are expending much to convey their goods and services. We would like to appeal that in considering this bill, effort is made to address this so that the riverside areas can be part of this budget,” he said.

    Applauding the allocation to security, a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker from Kaduna State, Bashir Yusuf, drew the attention of the Federal Government to the imperative of private sector involvement in the implementation of the budget. He however warned that only a safe environment would attract needed private sector investment.

    “Private sector involvement in the economy of any nation is only possible in a secure environment. As we look at diversifying our economy, the solid minerals sector needs to be given top priority. This is one way we can grow our non-oil revenue,” he said.

    Although he commended the focus on agriculture in the proposed budget, Yusuf noted that the allocation to the sector still fell short of the Maputo Declaration.

    “We are still short of the Maputo Declaration, which requires 10 per cent of the national budget to be spent on agriculture. To actualise this, we need the input of development partners,” he added.

    In his contribution, a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance representing the Aguata Federal Constituency, Anambra State, Ifeanyi Okafor, called on lawmakers to double their oversight function, particularly as it concerned defence and security.

    “It is not enough to allocate huge resources to security agencies and there is nothing to show for it. Some of the people who are into kidnapping do so because of unemployment,” Okafor stated.

    For Cyril Godwin, (PDP, Rivers State), 45 per cent of the revenue projection is expected to come from the oil sector, noting however that despite this reality, there had been no investment in the sector in the past 10 years.

    “In the past 10 years, the multi-national oil companies refused to carry out any critical investment in oil production. We need oil revenue to diversify the economy into other sectors. We need safer schools, particularly in the North,” he said.

    Also speaking, the lawmaker representing the Nkwerre/Isu/ Nwangele/Njaba of Imo State, Ugbonna Ozurigbo, said while effort was being made to pass the budget in record time, the Federal Government should increase revenue allocation to the Presidential Amnesty Programme given its role in ensuring peace and security around oil installations and facilities.

    Meanwhile, a mild drama played out on the floor of the House when in his contribution, Mr Sani Madaki, a political ally of a former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, faulted the ‘Renewed Hope’ title of the 2024 budget even as he slammed the government of former President Muhammadu Buhari.

    “There is hunger and insecurity everywhere. So, what are you renewing? It should have been a budget of hope not renewed because in the past eight years, there was nothing to be hopeful about,” he stated.

    His contribution elicited prolonged laughter among lawmakers even as Alhassan Doguwa, a member of the APC, made futile attempts to stop him through a point of order.

    Joining the debate, the member representing the Ebonyi/Ohaukwu Federal Constituency, Ebonyi State, Nwachukwu Eze (APC), urged his colleagues to improve their oversight of the budget for public primary schools.

    “You don’t find children in our public primary schools anymore. There is no oversight in our constituencies because the public schools there are not over-sighted,” Eze added.

     ‘We’re taking budget defence seriously’

    Meanwhile, the Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary, Oluwole Oke, has said the 10th House will not engage in business as usual with heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the defence of the 2024 budget.

    In an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH, Oke said, “The accounting officers of the MDAs are by law responsible for defending their budgets. Statutorily, they will be held responsible for any action or inaction, particularly going by the provisions of sections 20, 21 and 18 of the Public Procurement Act, 2007.”

    Following the passage of the N27.5tn Appropriation Bill, the Speaker, Tajudeen Abbas, adjourned the plenary to December 12, 2023.

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