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Mark tasks Senate on speedy passage of 2015 budget



• Lawmakers adjust oil benchmark to $52pb, decry poor implementation 

• Faults Okonjo-Iweala on non release of funds

PRESIDENT of the Senate, David Mark, yesterday called the attention of his colleagues to the far-reaching implications of non-passage of 2015 budget before going on Easter break.

  This topped their discussion in a closed-door session. The Senate had gone into a one-hour closed session shortly after prayers. By the time the session was over, Mark said that the session was to deliberate on issues bordering on national interest, national development and progress.

  Sources, however, revealed that the issue of 2015 Appropriation Bill was the major focus of their deliberations. Mark was said to have urged the committee to buckle up with budget defense to ensure the passage is not delayed beyond expectations.

  Senate also agreed to reduce oil benchmark to $52 per barrel. This was part of the discussion at the closed-door session yesterday. The oil benchmark was initially put at $65 in December last year.

  The reduction has become necessary following the decline in international price of crude oil.

  In compliance with Mark’s directives, various committees embarked on budget defense exercise. Unfortunately, the issue of poor implementation of the 2014 budget was common feature in all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

  At the committee on Establishment and Public Service, Chairman, Aloysius Etuk, described as shameful, the manner budgetary allocation was released to MDAs.

  “The rate of budgetary releases is shameful and unacceptable. For us to sit down to plan annual budget and at the end of the day, only 41 per cent performance is implemented is like cutting short the expectations of the people,” Etuk said.

  The committee, which took on the Head of Service of the Federation, Federal Housing Staff Loan Board, Public Service Institute of Nigeria, Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) and Public Civil Service Reform Bureau, also expressed concern over zero capital budget that characterise the 2015 fiscal year.

  The committee Chairman, Etuk, however, urged the agencies to design means of generating revenue outside government. “Time has come for MDAs to begin to seek alternative source of revenue for sustenance. Government is more concerned with paying salaries. It may have to cut overhead further to ensure that salaries are paid.”

  Etuk noted that the on-going defense exercise was crucial in the life of the 7th Senate as it marked the final assignment for most of the Senators, especially those who are not returning. “As such, it should be taken seriously,” he noted.

  He added that between now and the next Senate, his committee would engage in aggressive oversight activities to ensure that the reports submitted on implementation were in line with practical performances.

  Earlier, Head of Service of the Federation, Danladi Kefesi, told Senate committee that a sum of N11.5 billion was budgeted for the Head of Service of the Federation in 2014.

  Out of this sum, he informed that N5.1billion was budgeted for personnel cost, N1.9billion for overhead cost and N4.1billion for capital cost.

  According to him, the difference in the main budget, which was about N326million, was the part of the appropriation for one of the parastatals under the commission. He also disclosed that until present, the allocation for the last quarter of last year was yet to be released.

  Similar complaint was registered by all the parastatals in the civil service. They blamed lack of activities in the civil service and the nation at large on non-release of the allocation for the last quarter of last year.

  For Federal Housing Staff Loan Board, the Executive Secretary, Mrs. Hannatu Adamu Fika, said N722million was appropriated for the housing loan scheme, upgrading of ICT and monitoring of housing loan scheme in 2014. According to her, the sum of N301 was released. Also released was the N282million loan budget for housing scheme.

  Although N1.8billion was realized under the revolving loan scheme out of which N1.6billion has already been given out as loan to civil servants, the ES decried that it would be challenging to grant civil servants housing loan in the 2015 fiscal year with zero Capital budget.

  “In 2015, we are expecting zero allocation under Capital. We only have to pursue those who took loan to ensure they pay. Instruments are on ground to ensure those who took loan repay. That is what we have to fall back to,” she said.

  At the Committee on Power, Steel and Metallurgical Development, the Senate lambasted the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, accusing her of frustrating economic development through her deliberate decision to withhold money appropriated for project execution.

 The committee, which described the minister’s action as frustrating, expressed anger over the development, describing her attitude as an expression of carelessness and lack of planning initiative.

  The lawmakers were reacting to the budget 2015 presentation by the Minister of Steel, Musa Sada.

  While highlighting some of the performances of his ministry in 2014, the minister decried non-release of funds to implement planned projects.

  He said: “I find it frustrating – the matter of ministries and agencies. Government is not rocket science. This is lack of planning. This is carelessness. We will sit here and appropriate budget and somebody will refuse to release funds. It is frustrating. We cannot go on like this.

  “We have an opportunity to raise revenue for non-oil sector and the Minister of Finance will subject everyone to this envelope system and non-release of money. We must change the way we do things. That is the reason we have appropriation that is not yielding results. We have to change. We keep doing the same things that are not working. If a minister comes here and releases are not made, we take it as if it is part of the system. This is not acceptable,” said Senator Victor Lar.

  In his response, Chairman of the Committee, Philip Aduda, vowed the Senate would take necessary action to ensure things worked better in the 2015 fiscal year.

  In another committee room, Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Akon Eyakenyi, said that she inherited N39 billion debt as a result of non-release of funds.

  According to her, the non-release of funds had continued to militate against effective implementation of projects.

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