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Iriase: Disagreements over 2018 budget in Nigeria’s best interest

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Pally Iriase


• We Can’t Lie About A Non-performing Budget

Honourable PALLY IRIASE is the Deputy Chief Whip and member representing Owan Federal Constituency. He spoke to Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu in his Otuo country home.

Disagreements even from APC lawmakers over 2018 budget
It might look as if it is something that is not good for my party. But if you look closely at the root cause of the challenges bedeviling the budget, it was a carryover of the mismanagement of resources in this country. Because the moment the price of oil plummeted, this nation could not find its balance any more. The reason for that is that during the bumper harvest when oil was at all times not less than one hundred dollars per barrel, the administration then did not save anything. You hear stories about pensions not being paid; it just permeated every level of government at that time. Now budget 2017 is suffering from lack of funds. A situation whereby the capital portion of that budget was to be funded totally by loans was certainly not healthy. The fiscal deficit in that budget compared very favourably with the total allocation to the capital expenditure. In other words, 100 percent, of budget 2017 capital portion was to be funded by borrowing. And you know borrowing was only recently sourced through the Euro bond and that has left budget 2017 unimplemented in terms of capital expenditure. Now, the essence of politics is to fight for the voiceless, so it has nothing to do with the party.

That was why we were elected. We feel that Mr. President has been quite honest with the situation we found ourselves and he assured us that so long as the National Assembly approves the Euro bond and it is got, budget 2017 must perform 50 per cent before the budget is put aside. But even the capital expenditure that could not be completed because of paucity of funds would have to be rolled over. Members of the national Assembly are there for the people and they have to speak for their people. We cannot because we are APC tell a lie that a budget that is not performing is performing. That is the issue, it is not being partisan. We are calling the attention of the executive to the fact that you cannot pass a whole budget and put it away and start a new one.

So if this budget is being criticized we are not criticizing the president because he did not cause this in the first instance. But that together we must for the sake of the people of Nigeria make it work. And you saw the way we passed the request for Euro bond. And happily for Nigeria things are getting better here. We have to encourage them to work the talk. So it is not a question of APC VS PDP in the National Assembly, it is a question of interest of the people. And in this matter we are not being antagonistic to the Executive, nobody says the budget should not be passed, but the right thing must be done.

But there are apprehensions that taking Euro bond is like submitting Nigeria to World Bank and IMF policies.
Those who think that way are not very informed. Going to the market directly, not through IMF or World Bank is a bold step to preserve the sovereignty of Nigeria. Because as they went out there they did what we call book building in financial parlance, going for institutional investors. They believe in you, they put their money down; by the time they collated they found that the bond is oversubscribed, which shows the level of confidence the offshore institutional investors have in the Nigerian economy. This Euro bond has nothing to do with IMF, if it is IMF facility, you would have heard all sorts of conditionality, but that is not the same as Euro bond. It is not correct that we are mortgaging the sovereignty of Nigeria by going for Euro bond; rather what it is set to do is that the highest rate is in the region of a little above seven per cent. Much of it is even much less than that. Secondly, the reduced interest rate, you know Nigeria has been battling for single digit interest rate, but that is a mirage. The government is going offshore to get these loans through sovereign bonds at single digit, by the time you put it in the basket of our loan portfolio, the average rate of debt service will drop drastically. In fact, the Minister of Finance has put a figure to it, that with what is coming we can save at least N90billion in debt service going forward. That is a huge take. So you cannot fault what is being done. And what is more, the institutional investors buying into the Nigerian bonds are no fools. They are also watching your viability and they found that Nigeria is also viable. It makes sense for us to have a home grown method about how not to fritter away these loans and you could see that the usage of those loans is in such a way that you could track what those loans are to be used for. So we are joining hands with the executive.

Rumours that Atiku’s defection to PDP will herald the movement of some aggrieved APC lawmakers to PDP
In my life I tried not to deal in rumours, but I can assure you that this government of APC, let’s put politics aside, is actually taking Nigeria on the right path. It is just that the rot that you need to clean up to start seeing light at the end of the tunnel is so humongous. We as human beings by nature want quick fix but it is not possible to do quick fix. Even as at now, you are talking about predicating your budget on $45 benchmark. All throughout the last administration, we were talking about $90 to $98 per barrel. Can we talk about that kind of money now? No. So people have to be reasonable. You had a wonderful opportunity but you frittered it away, somebody had the ill luck to take over, when the damage has been done and he is trying his best to correct the ills and put you on a path of sustainable development but ironically those who led Nigeria to where we are today are the ones making noise. I don’t want to start playing politics yet and that is why I am reserving my comment about defectors, but I can say outright that there is no Atiku factor in Edo politics.

But Atiku accused the APC-led government of deviating in its promises to Nigerians
Nobody has deviated from those promises. The rate of achieving those promises depends on factors that are beyond the control of individuals. You took over government at a time when the oil price fell to as low as between $27 and $30 per barrel. It is just like going to where you work and they tell you that due to hardship that we don’t want to downsize but we will cut your salaries, which will surely affect your family. But we politicians, with the gift of the gab we tell lay a lot. It does not make sense to me when people see a spade they call it by another name. Look at all these billions that are being traced, they are in the hands of Nigerians and you could see the battle by the President to recover those funds. Mr. President cited it the other day we met him. He said when he was in the military, once you were known to be a thief, he would bundle you into the prison, then from there you would prove whether you were clean or not.

But this time when you see a thief looting and going away with your money, they will tell you he is innocent until proven guilty by the court. He said we could see his dilemma.  And I feel for the President. So you can see what is happening. When people say corruption is fighting back, people do not know how virulent the fight back of corruption can be; it is serious. But I believe that given a lot of things that are quietly going on despite the paucity of funds, Nigerians will see the sincerity of purpose in this government. When it is time to start pinpointing what has been achieved, the greater majority of Nigerians will know the difference. If you are in Abuja you will observe that for the 16 years of the PDP administration, the Airport road was under construction throughout, it was never completed. You needed to swerve, bypass, before you passed. But go there now, the government is working silently and achieving results. The Airport road in Abuja is now a straight and completed road. The rot that is in the system is too humongous to be cleared overnight. That is what those who want to use it to play politics are not telling us.

What is your take on Mainagate?
If you have been following the House of Reps committee that is probing the Maina issue you will marvel at the kind of revelations that are coming out. We now know who did the reinstatement. Initially, serious effort was made to put it on the head of the hardworking Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, but the truth is out. The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Interior has owned up that he did it. If the House did not wade into it we would not have known. We have several of such expository investigations that are helping the nation. Now we know that Maina is not a ghost. Many more revelations will come; lies are being unraveled.

Another issue is the Intel VS NPA. The House has constituted a committee of which I am the chairman. We are working silently behind the scene; that is yet something that we need to open up. Is it true that this nation is gradually becoming unfriendly to investors? Is it true that all that was done was dirty politics in action? Was it a vendetta? These are things that will be exposed. 

What is the fate of Ikhin, Otuo/Afuze road in your constituency and state of the General Hospital in Otuo?
When Nigerians hear about constituency projects, which we call zonal intervention projects, it is more trite to denigrate National Assembly members and sweep us all into the garbage heap of corrupt people who do nothing with such funds. The seed money that eventually saw to it that the roads came into place was sourced from my zonal intervention funds, because you have to be able to show your love for your constituents to draw forth the attention of the requisite ministry, department or agency, in this particular case, my zonal intervention under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs for the 2016 budget. But happily, when they saw what that meant, they came to my aid and mobilized the contractors. Happily, the Ministry of Niger Delta knowing that these are the things that cause restiveness in this area, bad roads, poor infrastructural facilities, came to my aid and featured it in that budget. I am happy that my intervention gave rise to that road and people are better for it.
 
Secondly, you talked about the hospital. I also used my zonal intervention to assist the state government by ensuring that a large chunk of the equipment needed in that hospital are supplied through those funds. I love to involve myself in capital-intensive projects that will impact maximally on the lives of the people. And the result is what you are seeing in those areas you have mentioned. Mine can be used as an example of the helpfulness of zonal intervention funds. As for standard of the roads, the Ministry of Niger Delta has ensured that those roads are designed to last.


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Pally Iriase
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