The 2014 budget debate by the House of Representatives resumed on Tuesday with members kicking against the votes for some subheads planned by the Federal Government.
Such votes include the N971bn earmarked for fuel subsidy, N700m for a hospital in the Presidential Villa and the N63bn voted for amnesty programme and N7bn for National Conference.
Among the lawmakers that raised the issues were the Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa; the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Suleiman Kawu; and Rafikat Onobamiro.
Dabiri-Erewa, in her contribution, noted that the government had through this year’s budget again proved that the large amount it spent on the maintenance of the nation’s refineries in 2013 was a waste.
According to her, the N971bn voted for fuel subsidy is a clear pointer that the refineries are still not working.
She added, “The N971bn voted for fuel subsidy is way too high. Are they saying that the refineries are not working after a large amount was spent on their maintenance in 2013?
“This provision for fuel subsidy should be reviewed.
“They are also going to spend N700m on a hospital in the Villa when ordinary Nigerians have no access to health care.
“What about the national conference? They want to spend N7bn; we have to review all these proposals.”
Another lawmaker, Betty Apiafi, supported the speedy passage of the budget, but she called for the urgent passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill as well.
She said, “Oil revenue will continue to leak until we pass the PIB. The NNPC is no longer accountable and the solution lies in the PIB.”
There were other lawmakers, including Mr. Sunday Karimi, who urged the House to pass the budget without delaying it.
Karimi cited the budget of the education sector, saying that the 14 per cent provision this year was closer to the 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO for countries globally.
He also said there were 26 federal roads adequately covered by the budget.
Kawu, who queried the N912bn budget deficit, observed that while the sum total of the budget was N4.6tn, government’s revenue projection was N3.7tn.
“Mr. Speaker, it is very obvious that there is a huge deficit here. Therefore, we have to critically examine this budget and review a lot of the provisions”, Kawu added.
In her contribution to the debate, Onobamiro wondered why N63bn would be voted for amnesty programme in the Niger Delta when water provision for the whole country has a vote of N37bn.
“We are faced with a situation of insecurity in this country; look at the money they voted for the Army, Navy and the Air Force, it is too small. Budget of the whole Air Force is not enough to buy one aircraft for their operations.
“But, here we are, government is spending N63bn on youths and ex-militants in the Niger Delta alone. What about unemployment challenge facing the entire country?”, she asked.
Another member, Mr. Abubakar Momoh, said the budget came with a high borrowing cost of over N700m.
“The money budgeted for debt servicing is high; there is also the issue of highways like the Lokoja-Benin Highway, there is no adequate provision for it.
“At best, the paltry sum budgeted for that road can only complete three kilometres”, he said.
Before the debate commenced, the six-member advisory committee, which the House set up on Tuesday last week to guide it on whether members should debate the budget or not, submitted its report.
The committee confirmed that the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, breached the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
It said the minister breached the Act by failing to attach the details of the budget of the 31 government agencies listed under the law to the 2014 budget currently before the National Assembly.
The committee noted that Okonjo-Iweala failed to comply with the provision of Section 21(II) of the Act, which requires that the details of the budget of the agencies be attached to the nation’s budget for consideration by the National Assembly.
Among the agencies considered as “big earners and spenders,” are the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Central Bank of Nigeria, and the Nigerian Ports Authority.
The report observed that what the minister attached to the appropriation bill was the “summary” of the budget of the agencies and not the detailed breakdown as required by law.
“As a committee, the documents attached to the budget do not fulfil the requirement of the Act because they contain just the summary.
“Section 39 of the Act even says a breach of the Act is criminal”, the Chairman of the committee and chairman, House Committee on Rules/Business, Mr. Albert Sam-Tsokwa, told the House.
However, the committee recommended that the budget debate should go on “in the national interest” so long as Okonjo-Iweala provided the details before the budget passage.
The committee argued that in spite of the established breach of the Act, the House would not stop the budget debate because it was equally an obligation under Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution for the House to pass the budget.
Sam-Tsokwa spoke further, “The breach of the Act was by the minister; there was a clear breach and the minister has to properly provide those details in compliance with Section 21 of the Act.
“It is the conclusion of the committee that the budget debate will go on for national interest while the minister complies with the law.”
Ruling on the report, the Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, said the point of order raised by a member of the All Progressives Congress, Mr. Emmanuel Jime, was “sustained.”
It was Jime’s point of order that stalled the debate last week, as he had observed that the budget was in breach of the Act.
Tambuwal ruled that the report would guide the House as members debated the budget.
The speaker had blamed the rush with which the budget was sent to the National Assembly without the details of the agencies on the jostling for political positions ahead of 2015.
But, he assured Nigerians that the House members would not forego “patriotism” or “lose their heads” like those jostling for power.
The debate will continue on Wednesday (today).