When about a month ago, the original copy of the 2016 Budget presented to a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly disappeared, the Senate raised an alarm. After blames and counter blames and from what we today know, it has become clear to Nigerians that it was not a false alarm.
The truth was that the original document was indeed removed and certain corrections made, which Senators called padding. Some Senators fingered one of Buhari’s aides on National Assembly Matters for complicity in the smuggling-in of fresh issues into the original fiscal document.
What is clear to Nigerians today is that the Transport Ministry’s Calabar-Lagos rail project was one of the additions made to the budget after its disappearance.
When the matter was resolved or thought to have been resolved, the executive concluded that the Senate would work with the amended version, based on which Transport Minister, Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, was allowed to waste his time defending the new insertion. Unfortunately, Amaechi may be close to the President, but is not the President.
Senate sources apparently resolved to abide by the Constitution which makes Buhari the lone official with powers to withdraw, amend and return the Budget document he presented. None other, has the power to add or subtract from the fiscal document and rather than toe the constitutional path, the executive through Amaechi hoped that all things were possible.
After claims and counter claims over the non-reflection of the Calabar-Lagos Rail project in the original budget copy Buhari presented, the Media Adviser to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr James Akpandem, last Tuesday insisted that the relevant committees of the Parliament received the document.
Relevant Committees? The Budget was presented to the Senate by President Buhari. It is the Senate that should assign necessary sections to various committees of the Senate. Did Akpandem imply, as perceived by many that it was during the committee stage that documents concerning projects not originally captured were forwarded? Likely.
This is because Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdullahi Sabi was unequivocal when he debunked claims by some members of the executive that the controversial N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail project was captured in the original Budget copy presented by Buhari to the NASS.
Senator Sabi insisted that ‘contrary to the position of the executive that the Amaechi project was captured in the budget, (it) was not included’, and asked the executive to stop instigating Nigerians against the legislature which according to him, has done so much in the budget to ensure dividends of democracy were speedily delivered to them.
Akpandem’s statement tacitly confirmed the Senate’s position when he said in his statement, ‘it will be recalled that the Budget office (of the Executive) made a number of errors IN THE INITIAL PROPOSALS (emphasis mine) of a number of ministries’.
He went further, “These errors were all corrected by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the corrected versions were submitted to the relevant Committees of the National Assembly. This INCLUDED THAT OF THE MINISTERY OF TRANSPORT (emphasis mine).
Whose duty is it to correct mistakes made in a fiscal document presented to the National Assembly by the President? Only the President. Otherwise, any Ministry could amend its own allocation through the Assembly’s Committee and alter the original document.
If the Budget Ministry, an arm of the Executive inadvertently omitted a project as important as the Calabar-Lagos rail project, the option should not have been to secretly withdraw the original document and replace it with the corrected version and expect the law makers to accept because it affected Amaechi. The right thing to do, as professed change agents, was to acknowledge the omission or mistakes made by the Budget Department, officially withdraw the budget proposal, make the desired corrections and infusions, and have the President return the corrected version to the National Assembly for their work.
Since no one was punished for what became known to Nigerians as padding of the budget, there is no telling what cannot be done. So, a careful Senate ought to go strictly by the books, meaning, working on the original proposals presented to it by President Buhari and nothing else.
Amaechi may be close to Buhari and so can get away with most things. He left office without handing over to a successor and got away with it. He shut down an arm of the government, the Judiciary in Rivers State for nearly two years and got away with it. He traversed the state during the rerun elections guided by armed soldiers against the electoral law which limited his movement to Ubima, and got away with it.
So why should a simple inclusion of a project ‘inadvertently’ left out by the budget office be such a problem to him? It must have been with that mindset, that Amaechi apparently appeared before the Senate Committee defending what was not part of his hosts’ original mandate. So, they allowed Amaechi to defend what he alone had a mandate to defend and not what his listeners wanted to hear.
According to Akpandem, “the amended Ministry of Transport budget was accepted by the relevant committees and that was the version defended by the Minister of Transport and his team”.
The question is, if the Calabar-Lagos project was in the Ministry’s proposal in the original budget presented to the NASS by Buhari, what was contained in the amended version? What was that, that was amended?
The APC-led Federal Government should come to terms with reality. This is a democracy where, separation of powers is key and clearly outlined. The Executive arm should perform its functions properly and allow the Legislature perform its own duties.
The Budget was a product of the Executive arm. Only after a thorough perusal, study, debate and eventual adoption, is the President expected to present same to the legislature. From that moment, the document belongs to the National Assembly.
It is the duty of the law-makers, also as elected representatives of the people, to study the document and eventually pass it into law. That is when the budget becomes a national document, belonging neither to the executive nor the legislature.
Therefore, the Federal Government must do the needful. Blame itself for the initial errors, President’s failure to recall the document amidst rumours of padding and failing to represent a vetted and final copy. Sad as it is, there is some iota of truth that the Calabar-Lagos rail was not captured in the original budget presented to the NASS.
The Budget Ministry’s Media Adviser paid so much premium to the Calabar- Lagos rail project, claiming the N60 billion provided in the budget for it and the Lagos-Kano rail lines, respectively, is counterpart funding to support the Chinese financing the projects.
“These projects are part of the strategic implementation plan of the government which was disclosed by the Minister of Budget and National Planning at the National Economic Council retreat in March 2016.”
So why is such a key project now an issue of contention? Why are Nigerians getting the impression that all the denials of disappearance of original copy of the 2016 Budget and half truths about non-padding, are all to protect an over-sight by the Transport and Budget Ministries? Why is it difficult for self-acclaimed change agents to accept mistakes, make amends and move forward, rather than invent new lies to correct initial lies?
My Agony is that the Executive arm gave Nigerians the impression that the Senate saw and deliberately removed the Calabar-Lagos Rail project from the budget as presented to it by the President. Not knowing that it was President Amaechi that forwarded and defended his own version.
But there can only be one President, that’s how the Senate and Nigerians view it.
Methinks, the Federal Government should forward a supplementary budget to cover its obvious slip, as demanded by the Senate and not waste time bickering over when and how the rail project was and was not injected into the 2016 appropriation bill, now passed.
But first, President Buhari should sign the budget into law.
Soye Wilson Jamabo
90% Of Money Laundered Via Real Estate, EFCC Reveals
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says about 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.
The commission’s Chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, stated this while featuring on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily, yesterday,
According to him, although the sector is monitored via the special control unit, more needed to be done.
According to Bawa, “One of the problems we have now is the real estate. 90 to 100 per cent of the resources are being laundered through the real estate.”
He said there are so many issues involved, but that they were working with the National Assembly to stop what he called “the gate keepers” as there would be reduction in looting if there is no one to launder the money.
Bawa, the EFCC boss, gave an example of a minister who expressed interest in a $37.5million property a bank manager put up for sale.
He said, “The bank sent a vehicle to her house and in the first instance $20million was evacuated from her house.
“They paid a developer and a lawyer set up a special purpose vehicle, where the title documents were transferred into.
“And he (the lawyer) is posing as the owner of the property. You see the problem. This is just one of many; it is happening daily.”
The EFCC chairman also revealed that he receives death threats often.
Asked to respond to President Muhammadu Buhari’s frequent “Corruption is fighting back” expression, Bawa said he was in New York, USA, last week, when someone called to threaten him.
“Last week, I was in New York when a senior citizen received a phone call from somebody that is not even under investigation.
“The young man said, ‘I am going to kill him (Bawa), I am going to kill him’.
“I get death threats. So, it is real. Corruption can fight back,” he said.
On corruption in the civil service, he said there were a lot of gaps, especially in contracts processing, naming “emergency contracts” as one.
Bawa said, “A particular agency is notorious for that. They have turned all their contracts to emergency contracts.”
However, he said, EFCC has strategies in place to check corruptions, one of which is “corruption risk assessments of MDAs”.
According to him, “I have written to the minister and would soon commence the process of corruption risk assessments of all the parastatals and agencies under the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to look at their vulnerability to fraud and advise them accordingly.”
Asked if the scope of corruption in the country overwhelms him, Bawa, the EFCC boss said, “Yes, and no.”
We’ve Spent N9bn To Upgrade RSUTH, Wike Confirms
The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, says his administration has spent N9billion in upgrading structures and installation of new equipment at the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH).
He said the fact that 40 per cent of the 2021 budget of the state is dedicated to provision of quality healthcare delivery was a further demonstration of the priority placed on the sector.
Wike made the explanation at the foundation laying ceremony for the construction of a Renal Centre at RSUTH, last Friday.
The governor said he made promise to Rivers people that the best would be provided to them in all sectors of the society within his capability because of the mandate they gave to him.
“As we came on here, I just looked around and I see the changes in this teaching hospital. I can say that we have put not less than N9billion in this teaching hospital.
“If you look at the budget, the health sector alone, what it’s taking from the Rivers State Government is not less than 40 percent of the 2021 budget.”
Speaking further, Wike said the state government cannot afford to implement free medical service programme in the present economic circumstance.
While dismissing the request for a subvention for RSUTH, Wike, however, commended the chief medical director and his team for their commitment to turnaround the fortunes of RSUTH.
“I have never seen anywhere that health services can be totally free. They’re telling me that people who come here can’t pay. I have never declared that this state is going to take over the health fees of anybody.”
Also speaking, the former Minister of Transport, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, who performed the flag-off, noted that Wike’s achievements in the health sector in particular, surpass what former governors of the state had done.
Sekibo said that the governor has given equal attention to every section of the health sector by providing complete health infrastructure that was positioning the state as a medical tourism destination in Nigeria.
Earlier, the Rivers State Commissioner for Health, Prof Princewill Chike, lauded Governor Nyesom Wike for his interest in the health of Rivers people.
He noted that the renal centre, when completed, would become another landmark development project in the health sector that would handle and manage all kidney-related ailments.
In his remarks, the Chief Medical Director of the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital, Dr. Friday Aaron, commended Wike for approving the renal centre.
Aaron explained that chronic kidney disease was a major burden globally with estimated 14 million cases in Nigeria.
According to him, over 240,000 of these cases require renal replacement therapy in the form of dialysis and renal transplant.
The CMD said the building that would house the centre was expected to be completed in six months and consists of two floors.
The ground floor, according to him, would house the haemodialysis unit with eight haemodialysis machines.
He further explained that the first floor of the centre would house the surgical component where most of the sophisticated equipment for kidney transplant would be installed.
Aaron said Wike has released the funds required to build, equip the centre as well as for the training of personnel locally and internationally.
Power Generation Falls 23% To 3,172MW
Power supply in Nigeria has failed to improve on last week’s performance, as it fell by 22.9 per cent from peak generation of 4,115Megawatts on Saturday to 3,172.20MW as at 5pm, yesterday, latest data from the System Operator has shown.
According to the data, most power plants were operating far below capacity due to gas shortage with Olorunsogo Power Plant 335MW capacity; and Sapele Power Plant, 450MW capacity; completely out.
Egbin was generating at 746MW; Omoku 37.20; Omotosho (NIPP) at 105MW; while Afam was generating at 80MW.
The data showed that on the average power generation in the past seven days were 4,120.9MW on Sunday, June 6; 4,249.4 on Monday, June 7; 4,000.9MW on Tuesday, June 8; 3,720.7 on Wednesday, June 9; 3,517 on Thursday, June 10; 3,765MW on Friday, June 11; and 4,115MW on Saturday, June 12.
The International Oil Companies (IOCs), had last warned that despite Nigeria’s huge gas reserves a lot needs to be done to attract investment to the sector to develop gas reserves to boost power generation in the country.
Speaking at the just concluded Nigeria International Petroleum Summit, the Chair, Shell Companies in Nigeria/MD SPDC, Osagie Okunbor, said with 203trillion Cubic Feet of gas reserves, what was needed in the country is to deliver projects that would produce the gas.
“The challenge is not just growing the reserves but in producing these reserves for the benefits of our country. Essentially growing the reserves and delivering on the production is a function of two or three elements.
“I like to see infrastructure that is required for the development of these resources at two levels. Soft infrastructure is often the one that is more important than and that is the one that is actually drives most of what you see at site.”
“Soft infrastructure refers to the enabling environment and nothing pleases me as much seeing both the Senate President and the speaker of the house give very firm commitments about trying to pass the PIB this month.
“That is probably the big one of the enabling environment to provide the kind of stability we also need all sorts of other issues we need to that we have discussed severally in terms of sanctity of contract, stable policies and collaboration and I think we are well on our way there”, he added.
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