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Buhari lobbies National Assembly on passage of 2016 Budget

By on March 16, 2016

President Muhammadu Buhari has intensified efforts to get the 2016 budget passed into law without further hitches and delay by the National Assembly.

THISDAY checks monday revealed that Buhari, in a bid to ensure that all impediments surrounding the passage of the budget were laid to rest, met last Wednesday with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, and his House of Representatives counterpart, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin, seeking their cooperation on the smooth passage of the Appropriation Bill.

Both chairmen last week assured Nigerians that the National Assembly would pass the budget into law on Thursday. But dissatisfaction with the budget, particularly among legislators, and curiously also among some senior officials of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of the federal government, whose budget estimates had suffered cuts by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, continued to impede the passage of the budget presented to the National Assembly since last December.

The president, according to sources in the presidency, appealed to the appropriation committee chairmen of both chambers to help him smoothen all the rough edges of the budget and lobby their colleagues to pass it into law without further delay.

When Buhari was reminded that the budget proposal had several procedural defects, including many errors as well as glaring inconsistencies in item pricing, making its passage a herculean task, Buhari reportedly pleaded for the two committee chairmen’s understanding, asking them to do all within their powers to secure its passage this week as promised.

“I recognise the difficulties posed by the mistakes and the indiscretion of our officials. But having made an open admission of this, I think it is only fair that you get your colleagues to show some understanding,” the president was quoted to have said.

Buhari, according to sources, also made concessions to Goje and Abdulmumin to use their discretion to bring the estimates in line with “the National Assembly’s estimates of what is workable and implementable”, cautioning however that fundamental changes to the budget should be brought to his attention.

“The president was so conciliatory. He asked the committee chairmen to feel free to come to him at any time they felt his attention was required,” a presidency source familiar with the meeting said.

Goje and Abdulmumin had at a joint press briefing last month stated that the budget was fraught with too many errors, making its passage very difficult.

According to Goje, “We want to remove all ambiguities and paddings with a view to producing a budget that is in line with constitutional provisions.

“During the budget defence, a lot of issues based on the padding of the budget, arising from over-bloated overheads and in some instances, cases of over-bloated personnel cost were exposed.”

His House counterpart, Abdulmumin, agreed that the two committees would have to do a proper cleanup of the budget, adding that the task before the lawmakers was to pass a budget “that is implementable and acceptable to Nigerians”.
According to National Assembly sources, some of the discrepancies in the budget include huge differences in the prices quoted for the same items by different MDAs.

“On one particular brand of vehicle alone, we discovered a gap of almost N15 million between the lowest and highest prices quoted by different agencies and you find that on almost every item. There were also issues of arithmetical errors in which figures just do not add up,” explained a legislator.

The source added that some of the ministers, including those who publicly disowned the estimates from their ministries, came back to the committees with proposals that were also at variance with the ones submitted by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning thus creating more problems for the National Assembly.

A member of the Senate Committee however praised both Buhari and the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, for providing leadership and maturity on the issue.
He said Saraki specifically told the committees to work closely with the budget ministry so as to resolve whatever differences that might have arisen during the reconciliation of the estimates.

Meanwhile, a new audit report released by the federal government to the National Assembly monday revealed the misappropriation of funds to the tune of N3.3 trillion perpetrated by various MDAs and foreign missions in 2014.
This revelation was contained in the 2014 annual audit report presented to the National Assembly by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation.
The document revealed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) failed to remit N3,234,577,666,791.35 to the Federation Account Allocation Committee in 2014.

The report, which was presented by the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF), Mr. Samuel Ukura, to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Salisu Maikasuwa, also revealed that $235,685,861 from proceeds of gas sales accruable to the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Company, was not remitted to the Federation Account but transferred to some undisclosed escrow accounts.

Ukura said the documents were not made available to his office for verification.

Furthermore, the report said another N36,432,423,968.73 was released to the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) for rehabilitation and construction of dams instead of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, adding that N2,894,531250.00 was spent for the procurement of hand sanitisers for schools and critical public places to tackle the Ebola virus.

“The sum of N31,324,952,239.87 was for the payment of subsidy on fertiliser and youth employment in agricultural programmes, while N2,395,851,978.00 was for the payment for the group life assurance premium for the Nigerian Armed Forces in 2013, but not backed by appropriation.

“The sum of N500,000,000 was made as payment for agricultural programmes. These were variances with the purpose of the fund. No evidence of these lines of expenditure in the 2014 Appropriation Act,” the report stated.

It also said the management of the National Assembly, headed by the clerk, made payments of N9,514,568,222.62, without raising payment vouchers, explaining that by this action, it had violated the nation’s financial regulations.
The report also disclosed how N1,162,009,305 was given to 112 members of staff of the National Assembly from its recurrent votes and 50 other staff from the general service vote between July and December 2014 for various purposes.
The AuGF’s report also revealed how the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, United States, realised $3,705,428 as internally generally revenue (IGR) between 2012 and March 2015, but failed to remit it.

He recalled that a 22-storey building housing the Nigerian Consulate-General in the US, the National Boundary Commission of Nigeria and the National Intelligence Agency, was not only in a state of deterioration but also under-utilised despite the huge sums spent for its maintenance. The report recommended its immediate renovation while the building is let out for revenue generation.

Also contained in the report was the indictment of the leadership of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) which it said, deducted N2,036,758,176.75 as pay as you earn (PAYE) tax, but failed to remit the money to Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

According to the report, there was no proof of remittance neither was any document produced for audit confirmation.
The report also showed that a vessel was purchased in Singapore on behalf of the Ministry of Petroleum Resources for training programmes of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) in Delta State. It said part of the payment was not stated while the vessel had been abandoned in the last five years and already deteriorating in value.

“The cost of the purchase and how much was paid before the vessel was abandoned could not be ascertained due to the fact that the contract was awarded without the involvement of the Nigerian mission in Singapore,” it added.

The report also said about $1.6 million out of the contract sum of $2.3 million meant for the construction of a school by Nigeria in Haiti in an area that was not affected by the earthquake in 2010 had been paid but there was no project to show for it.

“As of the time of inspection, there was no evidence of a memorandum between the Nigerian and Haitian Government for the construction of the school. More so, the location of the school was not affected by earthquake in 2010. Therefore, the purpose for which the money was given cannot be achieved,” it added.

The report also revealed N3.8 billion in the ecological fund account that was not remitted to Lagos, Ogun, Kebbi and Sokoto States as grants for undisclosed reasons. It said the sum was changed to the capital vote in 2010.
“Despite repeated demands for payment vouchers they were not provided. We could not verify the nature of grants,” the report added.

Ukura also warned that except the management of the Integrated Personel Payroll Information Systems (IPPIS) was quickly checked by the appropriate authorities, hopes of eradicating ghost workers would remain an illusion.

While answering questions from journalists, Ukura said the password control access to IPPIS was not adequate because the database could be accessed from a remote location through the Internet, noting that the password for the access of the IPPIS database is usually valid for over 90 days, a situation he said made it possible for retired government officers to still use their password after leaving office.

He also disclosed that some user names and passwords had been shared by several users most of whom he said used words like “consultant” or “technical” with no restriction on the number of sign-in attempts.

Ukura further noted that his office had discovered about N330 million paid to 300,000 people without following the approved salary scale, while double payments of another N30 million was paid within three months.

He said the imperfections in the IPPIS policy had led to the payment of N12 million each to 40 persons whom he said were not included in the payroll of the relevant MDAs, adding that 152 officers on IPPIS scheme did not have personnel files in their MDAs while N193 million was paid to unidentified persons.

He also explained that N1.163 million was paid to 596 employees with income tax deductions from April 2012 to September 2013, while 2,000 employees had no pension deductions.