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‘We did not have access to funds to steal’ 

By Karls Tsokar
04 July 2016   |   1:31 am
Our concept of budgeting is zero budgeting where we only appropriate money for key projects that the government considers important for implementation of its key policies.
 Secretary to Government of the Federation,  Babachir David Lawal

Secretary to Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal

The unending political friction between the Executive and Legislative arms of government has been a source of worry to many. This, among others, which ranged from budget padding to ambassadorial nominees down to the political travails of the Senate leadership were addressed by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir Lawal at a session with journalists in Abuja. KARLS TSOKAR was there and reports.

Implementation of 2016 budget
Our concept of budgeting is zero budgeting where we only appropriate money for key projects that the government considers important for implementation of its key policies. To that effect, the Ministry of Budget and Planning has sent out memos for MDAs to submit their request for capital releases and they have all complied. The Budget Office has started releasing the capital projects releases according to the priorities of government. This is because the revenue of government has fallen by about 47 percent since the National Assembly approved the budget. Some projects that are in the Budget might not be a priority for the MDAs.

As you are aware, during the Budget process, we had this issue of padding in which the executive discovered that the National Assembly included certain projects in the Budget and appropriated for them, even when they did not originate from the Executive arm. So, obviously, such projects will not be considered a priority for the executive arm of government if at all they manage to sneak through the vetting process jointly carried out by the Executive and the National Assembly, which eventually produced the budget.

Now, even those that have been appropriated for, in the light of the dwindling revenue of government would still need to be re-prioritized. For example, the government might find it very difficult to implement the constituency projects to the letter because MDAs might not find constituency projects as critical to the execution of their mandates and given the dwindling resources, these could be some of the areas that would suffer during implementation.

Senate summon on ambassadorial nominees
The constitution makes it clear that it is the President’s prerogative to nominate ambassadors, and the criteria he would use to do so is also the constitutional right of the President. Whatever criterion he chooses to use is constitutional. Be that as it may, I must say that we are disappointed that the National Assembly took the decision that it did, but again we believe that the Senate we know is made up of very responsible and patriotic Nigerians, there are some past governors who have governed and known the constitutional provisions regarding separation of powers. We know the Senate would not do anything that will bring the country into disrepute because right now Nigeria enjoys tremendous goodwill all over the globe. It is important to have ambassadors to sustain this goodwill.

Again, a lot of the travels by the President and government representatives are to attract foreign direct investment into the country and ambassadors are key to sustaining this and ensuring that the goals are achieved. The third reason why we think ambassadors are key is because of the phenomenon of global terrorism. Almost every nation around the world is facing it, and all nations are now collaborating with each other to fight this international terrorism. We read in the newspapers some of their concerns such as federal character and so on. At the last count, my recollection is that out of the 47 diplomats-nominees, 32 out of 36 states and the FCT were represented.

Now, while the constitution preaches federal character, it does not always say that every state must be represented in every appointment except of course, in the case of ministers where the constitution said there should be a minister from every state. So, the spirit of the constitution has been fully satisfied by having ambassadors from 32 states out of 36 plus one. I believe every objective analyst would agree with this. Secondly, there has to be merit and qualifications in every nomination.

Now, one of the criteria, I understand that was used was that it is important not to appoint someone that would soon retire. Again, another criterion that was considered was your seniority level. You must be someone on GL16/17. Now, due to no fault of this government, not all states have people in the Foreign Service Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is also the requirement of gender sensitivity. This government in its APC manifesto promises gender equality; this is another that was used to the extent that we have about 12 women in the list of 47, among other criteria.

Again, it is solely the President’s prerogative to determine the criteria to use to appoint an ambassador while we acknowledge also that it is also the prerogative of the Senate to approve or not to approve that nomination. These are only career diplomats fully drawn from the civil service and not political ambassadors.

Again we should understand that there are other ambassadorial appointments that will come from outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or related agencies, those I could call maybe purely non-career diplomats. It is obvious the government will use those appointments to try and balance any lopsidedness in the current list. I don’t understand the stepping down of the consideration, which is very injurious to the country. A simple telephone call to me would have addressed these issues.

Link with the travails of Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu
The Office of the Secretary to Government is the punching bag of everybody. My own understanding of the present government in relation with the opposition is such that the integrity of our president has been established over his almost 73 years as solid; you cannot assail it. In my life, I have seen Ekweremadu for, maybe twice, and the second one, was incidentally, in a church in Yola.

I do not understand the psychology of, when you are accused of something, instead of defending yourself; you start hunting for who could have been the cause of your travails. It is an aberration; but the Senators decided, which is their constitutional right, to create the aberration. So, whoever tells you that I am responsible for the travails of Ekweremadu is burying his head in the sand rather than running.

Mr. President and corrupt persons in APC
Let us be very sincere and reasonable. Obviously, to my mind, the preponderance of corrupt people would be in the PDP for one reason; they have been in government for 16 years and they were the only ones enjoying the booty, and they were doing it in a flagrant manner. PDP were the ones in government; they were the ones the President was approving money for sharing; they were the ones that took government money to fund their elections. This is the truth. You remember they even shifted the elections; it was so clear they were going to lose, and so they thought they could buy it.

Throughout the last tenure of the Goodluck Jonathan campaign, their goodwill among Nigerians was on the decline and they were spending, and it got to a stage that they did not care about following due process anymore because they thought they were in power and they thought they could buy their way through and remain in perpetuity. So, they became even careless about the manner they were taking the money. Remember Nigeria even borrowed $100million from the international market to fund the war on Boko Haram and they simply shared it. APC did not borrow. We were not sharing oil wells. We had no access to NNPC funds.

So, if these agencies were converted into agencies for looting and pilfering, it is obvious that even if we had corrupt men in the APC, they did not have the opportunity to steal. I cannot, in all honesty, say that all of us in APC are saints, but the truth is, we did not have access to funds to steal in the first place, and so we did not have opportunity also to reject the stealing. Let them carry their cross. They can make all the noises and try to deflate APC, but our hands are clean by providence. Look, let us face it. If they arrest you, why don’t you say, ‘I shared the money with so and so persons’ and then let him turn out to be in APC? Those that they are arresting, it is from the interrogation that the information burst out. This is just the beginning. They will return our money by the time we finish digging their soak-aways and bringing down their (overhead) tanks.