Uche Usim, Abuja
Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs Maryam Uwais on Wednesday lamented the low budgetary releases for Social Investment Programmes (SIPs) in the country, appealing that the ugly trend be changed.
She also denied spending outside the budgetary benchmark of her office, but assured that the National Social Investment Office (NSIO), would continue to strive towards performing its responsibilities in line with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of the Federal Government Of Nigeria.
Uwais made the disclosures when she led the management team of the National Social Investment Programme N-SIP to brief the new Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Mrs Sadiya Umar Farouq to intimate her on the programmes and projects handled by her office, especially as President Muhammadu Buhari has directed that SIPs be relocated to her Ministry, from the Office of the Vice President.
Uwais, who briefed the Minister on the structure, financial standing, level of implementation of the various components and challenges of the Social Intervention Programme of the Buhari Administration, said the NSIO expenditure has strictly remained consistent with the financial work plan as approved by the National Assembly.
She said: “The NSIO reported consistently to a Steering Committee chaired by the Vice President, which Committee comprised of nine Ministers. The Ministry of Budget and National Planning was the custodian of all our budgetary releases. It served as the accounting and procurement arm of NSIO. No funds were hosted by us and all of our expenditure had to be budgeted for because the Ministry kept an eye to ensure that the right thing was done. To this end, Our expenses were totally in line with the work plan that we defended before the National Assembly”
The Presidential aide further informed the Minister that insufficient budgetary releases remained a major challenge in the execution of the Social Investment Programme in the last three years.
“Budgetary releases have remained insufficient for NSIO activities because the beneficiaries are growing at a much faster rate than the funding available. With the Support of the Budget and National Planning Ministry, we have made huge strides and intend to continue to explore how the monthly releases we get cover essential needs, because there are many things we are unable to do”
Uwais, however, said in spite of the shortfalls in budgetary releases to the NSIO, the National Social Investment Programme has made a significant difference in the lives of millions of poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
She noted with delight that some of the beneficiaries are beginning to take ownership of their lives.
“We have six million, six hundred and twenty thousand cash transfer beneficiaries being paid across 29 States currently. We have also verified that beneficiaries in 20 States have formed savings groups, out of which in 17 States, the beneficiaries have saved over N567 million from the monthly payments of five thousand naira. 18,210 of them have taken loans from the money saved and less than one thousand of them have defaulted. So, these women are working very hard to set up their own businesses, growing productive day by day. This has become possible because of the support they get from the trained community facilitators, who visit them every week to advise, mentor and coach them on savings group formation, financial skills, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation.”
In her remarks, the Minister thanked the NSIO delegation for the visit, saying she looks forward to a very good and fruitful working relationship between her Ministry and all the agencies it supervises.