…As Saraki tasks FG on policy consistency
Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The National Assembly, yesterday, said it has extended the life of the 2017 budget to May 31, 2018, as it is obvious that the 2018 Appropriation Bill cannot be passed by March 31, when the life of the budget is expected to elapse.
This is coming as the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki tasked the executive arm of government on the need to ensure clarity and consistency in its policies, to see how it would add up to its financial projections for 2018.
Saraki stated this while speaking at a joint public hearing on the 2018 Appropriation Bill organised by the Senate and House Committees on Appropriation.
Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Dawaki Mustapha, who made the disclosure at a public hearing, said the parliament has already notified the Accountant General of the Federation on the development.
According to him, “we are told that the office of the Accountant General is expected to close the account as at March ending. So, we have written a letter, yesterday, drawing his attention to the fact that the budget should be extended to May 31.”
Saraki said in the interrogation of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly chose to place more emphasis on getting the revenue projections right. He said it was important to set realistic revenue projections to achieve, especially as past projections have fallen below targets.
According to him, “we are concerned about government-owned enterprises whose operating surpluses have always been significantly lower than projections. Invariably, over the years, the performance of independent revenues has fallen short by at least 50 per cent.
“While we work towards setting new performance standards for government corporations as well as developing stronger oversight frameworks to improve performance in independent revenues, we do expect more realistic projections of corporations’ operating surpluses.”
Saraki added that “it is also observable that non-oil revenue performances have been impacted by policy inconsistencies and leakages. Thus, in addition to our call for improved systems and processes to plug revenue leakages, we had required that the 2018 budget proposal be accompanied by a 2018 Finance Bill (which has so far not been received by the National Assembly).
Let me, therefore, use this opportunity to, once again, emphasise the need for the Finance Bill. We want government to show clarity and consistency in its policies and to see how these will square up to its financial projections for 2018.”
He said the federal legislature has resolved to prioritise expenditure on critical health and education facilities as well as soft infrastructure in the 2018 budget.
Specifically, the Senate President noted that “we must ensure adherence to the 1 per cent resolution to health. This requires the Basic Health Fund to be funded by 1 per cent of the Consolidated National Fund. This funding, which amounts to N86 billion, has yet to be committed. It is something we should take very seriously indeed, especially as the 1 per cent resolution would go a long way in boosting basic maternal and child health immunisation services as well as local and rural community health in this country.”
Speaking at the public hearing, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said the National Assembly would not be intimidated to abandon zonal intervention projects, popularly known as constituency projects.
Dogara stated that this is because the zonal intervention project is a tool for ensuring equitable distribution of developmental projects nationwide.
According to him, although the zonal intervention projects have often been criticised, they have made different constituencies across the country feel government presence.
He said, “over the years, the efforts of legislators, especially at the National Assembly, to inject equity in budget patronage nationwide through the instrumentality of zonal intervention projects, have been grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned mostly by those who are deliberately ignorant and have concocted their own concept of constituency projects, which they apply as their yardstick for measuring performance.
“I make bold to state that but for zonal intervention projects, many communities in Nigeria would never have enjoyed any form of Federal Government patronage. Put differently, zonal intervention projects represent the only evidence of Federal Government presence in most rural communities of Nigeria.
“Consequently, as representatives of the people, no amount of blackmail from any quarter will force us to abandon our resolve to ensure even development across all federal constituencies.”