…lambast DG, Budget Office
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
House of Representatives Commitee on Science and Technology Monday said that the 2021 budget as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari was incapable of lifting Nigeria from the current economic recession.
It will be recalled that Buhari in early October this year presented 2021 budget estimate of N13.08 trillion to the national assembly for approval.
Last Saturday, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, announced that Nigeria had slid into recession, the second time in five years.
Sharing his views on the budget at a session, a member of the committee, Hon. Awaji-Inombek Abiante from Rivers State said the documents had allocation flaws that should be corrected.
His dissatisfaction however followed the absence of the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed and the Director-General, DG, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze who ignored the committee’s invitation to explain why capital projects in 2020 budget of many agencies of government in the Ministry of Science and Technology and others were not getting adequate funding.
The Committee had contended that trivial activities got 100% funding while capital projects that were people orientated suffered more.
Expected to make physical appearances to take direct questions, the officials rather sent representatives which the lawmakers considered as an affront.
Speaking at the session, Abiante said: “It won’t be very appropriate for their own views not to be reflected. For having this opportunity, I want it on record that it probably could have been an intended absence to avoid scrutiny of what had been presented. If there had been a written document before us, allowing the DG, probably, would have taken a few questions because to my mind, having looked at the budget of some agencies that we supervise as the Committee on science and technology as well as some other agencies supervised by some other Commitees, I want to honestly say that the budget office is one of the greatest problems we have in this country.
“What we have before us is no budget. We have looked at it. And if we continue like this, then we know where the problem of this country lies. Somebody may have been misinforming or even ill-advising Mr. President. I give you an instance, the parastatal was before us requesting for about one billion naira to have laboratory established and all they could get in 2020 budget was N20m out of a billion Naira for something that will turn around the economy of the country, something that will help to stop the importation of adhesives that are used in the leather industry. Who is causing us this problem?
”The Budget Office. So, how many years will it take to budget N20m each to arrive at the completion of a project of N1b that will be of a great importance to this country? The list is endless. You find a project that is supposed to cost N100m, the budget office will allocate N100.000? The budget office is the greatest problem. If the DG was here, I would have said more.
”People are looking for SARS. I think they are misdirecting it. You will allocate 100% to training as capital project. Conference 100% but the things that will turn around the economy of the country, you give 1%.
“To my mind, probably, …and they have avoided this interface. If another opportunity presents itself, well and good. If it doesn’t, let the House know that what is before us is not a budget, not even to talk of a budget that can help this country in this time of recession. It is not a budget. Convey to the leadership of this House that we don’t have a budget. The entire document should be sent back.”
Also speaking, Hon. Stanley Olajide from Oyo State appealed to his colleagues to give the officials a second chance.
“I heard what my colleague said. I am gonna toe a different line because we hold a duty of care and fair hearing. I will tell the representatives of the Ministry and the DG, this is a serious issue to address all the issues of Nigeria. I will not take a hardline because I think we want to hear from the DG and the minister directly. But there are a lot of questions to be answered. Please, I think we should go ahead and write a second letter and then from that point, Madam chair, I think you know, we can start toeing the hardline. But then, the issue of Nigeria rests on the questions that we have.
On his own part, Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, another member of the committee said the committee had questions.
“We have questions. We have issues that will benefit this Commitee and other Committees. For instance, how does an agency of government get 9% funding in terms of release for capital and there are others that have received 100% in Nigeria? We believe that there should be ways in allocating responsibilities to leaders of MDAs so that they can respond to burning issues. Some of these issues are time-bound. And we hope when they have an another opportunity, they will handle it better”, he said.
Baring her mind before calling for adjournment, the Chairman of the committee, Hon. Beni Lar said existing projects should be finished before embarking on new ones.
“I think the main point here is that we want to complete projects that have been started. Some key projects in the science and technology allocated some ridiculous amount of money. Not even enough to buy papers. We should have a system that will help them to finish the existing projects before starting new ones”, she said.