By Henry Umoru
British trained minister of finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun was particularly outstanding in her accent, diction, and articulation when the administration’s finance team interacted with the Joint Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee last Tuesday.
It is not as if she outperformed her other colleagues. The minister of National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, himself, an Oxford graduate and respected former chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, was himself held in awe by his former colleagues as he related with them this time from the witness box.
Also in the administration’s team was Mr. Ben Akabueze whose reputation as a finance guru in Lagos State preceded his appointment as Director-General of Budget.
On resumption from its annual recess, the Senate, following what it described as poor implementation of the N7.4trillion 2017 budget, summoned the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Adeosun and her Budget and National Planning counterpart, Udoma to appear before its joint committee on Finance and Appropriations.
On Tuesday, when the duo came, they came along with Akabueze.
Setting the tone for the day’s interactive session, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Goje Danjuma Goje told the two Ministers that they were at the National Assembly to brief the Joint Committee as well as Nigerians on the implementation of the 2017 budget.
Goje said, “it is very important bearing in mind that the budget was passed by the National Assembly in May and was signed into law by the then Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo on June 6, 2017.
“We are now four months into the implementation of the budget. Nigerians need to know how far we have gone and what we are going to achieve.”
We have heard from the minister of budget and national planning that they intend to submit the 2018 budget this month. By implication, if they bring it this month, they will expect the budget to be approved before the end of the year.”
Senator Udoma opened the floor, but when the time for questions came, Mrs. Adeosun’s responses in fast English accent inevitably made the Senators to ask her again to come and come again.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly matters, Senate, Senator Ita Enang had to ask her to draw the microphone as if that would make her tone more clear to her audience.
For well over two hours, the ministers briefed the lawmakers how far the government had gone with the implementation of the 2017 budget, how much the government had so far released to fund the 2017 budget, just as they disclosed that the government had so far released the sum of N340bn for capital projects from the 2017 Appropriation Act in addition to the N1.2tn released between January and June this year from the 2016 capital budget.
The Senators were also told that Federal government had asked the Ministries, Departments and Agencies to roll over between 50 and 60 per cent of their capital projects to the next fiscal year, even as the lawmakers were also informed that revenue amounting to N2.305tn was generated in the first half of this year from the projected N2.542tn revenue for the period, indicating a shortfall of nine per cent and that Government had projected N5.084tn revenue in the 2017 budget.
The Senators were also told that the N100bn from the recent Sukuk bond subscription would be used to fund capital projects, while it planned to increase releases for capital projects in the budget to N440bn by next week.
Consequently, the Ministers said about 60 per cent of the 2017 capital budget would be rolled over to the 2018 budget, just as that of 2016 was similarly rolled over till May 2017.
N340.9 billion released for capital projects, even as they pleaded with the National Assembly to fast-track the process and approval of requests for external borrowings, which would be used to fund the capital budget.
In his presentation, the Budget and Planning Minister, Senator Udoma told the Senators that “In order to go back to January to December as the fiscal year, this particular year will be very short.
You will not expect us to disburse N2.1tn in such a short time; the procurement processes will not even allow it. So, we have told the MDAs to roll over 50 to 60 per cent of their projects; the projects will not be lost.”
The legislators asked the ministers to explain why the Nigerian economy, which suffered recession for five consecutive quarters would come out with 16.5 per cent inflation rate and over 50 per cent misery rate, which they described as disappointing.
But responding, Adeosun told the Senators that the difference was in the better infrastructure that’s obtainable in Brazil, arguing that the South American country enjoyed 24-hour electricity supply.
The Minister who attributed the wide gap in the inflation rates between the two countries to the nature of the two economies, said that Brazil operates a diversified economy, with emphasis on massive agricultural production, just as she blamed Nigeria’s slow growth on poor infrastructure and dependence on oil revenues as major source of foreign exchange earnings.
On his part, the Director-General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze, told the Senators that out of the N2.05 trillion earmarked to fund the 2016 budget, only N1.2 trillion has been realized so far.
In spite of her accent, it was not an easy day for the Finance Minister as almost all the Senators threw questions at her and they, however, frowned at the poor implementation of the budget and warned that if not corrected and improved on, it could hurt the All Progressive Congress, APC, in the next election.
Senators at the meeting sharply disagreed with the Federal Government over plans to release what they described as an insignificant fraction of the N2.177 trillion capital vote in the 2017 budget.
Senator Danujma Goje, Chairman of the committee, said: “If the trend of poor releases continues like this, Nigerians will die off. It’s not good to raise people’s hopes and dash them. In implementing the January-December fiscal system, we should be careful not to sacrifice half of the 2017 budget.
“To roll over 60% of 2017 capital projects to 2018” Adeosun revealed that federal government intended to roll over, at least, 60 per cent of 2017 capital projects to 2018 budget, adding that there is no stoppage in terms of capital releases and projects simply continue.
There were also commendations for the ministers from Senators Mao Ohuabunwa, Tayo Alasoadura.