Despite All Progressive Congress’ Claims Of Subsidy As Fraud, Senate Approves Payments From October 2015 Till December With Vow To Investigate Spending
Senate yesterday approved a supplementary budget of N574,532,726,857 for the current fiscal year ending December 31, 2015. The amount is higher than the N465,636,926,857 billion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari in his request to the National Assembly penultimate week.
The breakdown of the above sum reveals that the sum of N559,217,800,017 is meant for the Service Wide Vote (SWV) under which the sum of N522,258,934,505 is meant for payment of fuel subsidy, covering the last quarter of 2014 (October to December) and the entire 2015.
Out of the amount, the sum N108,895,800,000 was approved for additional funding for fuel subsidy for the months of October, November and December of 2015.
According to the senate, the amount makes up for shortfall in the N413 billion earlier approved for the President to fund subsidy claims.
Of the total budget also, the sum of N29,958,865,512 was approved for Operation Lafiya Dole, the code name for military operations against terrorist sect, Boko Haram, operating from the North-East part of the country. The sum of N5,000,000,000 is budgeted to provide for the Victim Support Fund (VSF).
The National Assembly was not left out, as it got the sum of N10,618,837,435 meant for the outstanding payment of the severance gratuity and allowances of out-gone and incoming legislators and legislative aides. The Nigerian Army got an allocation of N3,196,089,405; while the National Sports Commission (NSC) got an allocation of N1.5 billion for the purpose of executing the All Africa Games’ Qualification for Rio 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Presenting report of the Committee on Appropriations on the 2015 Supplementary Appropriation Bill, its Chairman, Senator Mohammed Dan- juma Goje, observed that the budget would be funded through borrowing.
“The Committee observed that: the provision for subsidy payment only covers year 2014 arrears of N120.5 billion and the claims of January to September 2015 of N292.8 billion. There is need to provide additional funding in the sum of N108,895,800,000 only for fuel subsidy for the months of October, November and December 2015 to ensure that the 2016 Budget takes off on a clean slate; this issue came up in the course of clarification of the total subsidy need for the year ending 2015 by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum Resources.
“The provision for Victim Support Fund in capital supplementary should have been made in the Service Wide Vote since it is a Federal Government contribution to a fund managed by a committee, which is not an MDA (ministry, department and agency) of government,” Goje said.
While approving the 2015 Supplementary Appropriation Bill of N574,532,726,857 yesterday, the Senate claimed that it was being blackmailed by oil marketers into approving the fuel subsidy payment in the 2015 Supplementary Budget.
However, the Red Chamber was far from being convinced to believe in itself. Commenting earlier on the report of the Committee on Appropriations, the Senate Majority Leader,
Senator Ali Ndume, harped on the invocation of Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The Section empowers the National Assembly to conduct investigations. Ndume said that the Senate was being blackmailed by the oil marketers to approve the subsidy payments due to the excruciating pains faced by Nigerians at fuel stations.
“We will be left with no option, but to invoke the powers given to us by this Constitution in Section 88. And that is the power to conduct investigation.
“It is very important for the appropriate committee, particularly Appropriation, to not only oversight the disbursement to determine the authenticity of these payments. It is very important for the Committee to look into each of the payment and make sure it is genuine and authentic,” Ndume stated.
On his part, Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, however, pointed out that this is not the ‘change’ the APC-led (All Progressives Congress) government promised Nigerians.
Akpabio wondered why the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has not removed the subsidy since it alleged that the scheme was marred with corruption during the immediate past government of (President) Goodluck Jonathan.
“What I would have seen as true change would have been no subsidy at all so that you allow the market to determine the demand. And at the end of the day, Nigerians will be spared the possibility of whether there is fraud or not.
“Because these things happened even in the 6th and 7th Senate. In other words, it happened in the former administration. Continuous demands for payments of huge sums of monies as subsidies and when the 7th Senate exposed the fraud that was going on, all Nigerians were shocked.
“But right now, we are in a culdesac. Therefore, the request before us has to do with stopping the continuous queues and the sufferings that Nigerians are made to go through.
“So, I will support the passage of this supplementary appropriation and at the same time support what the Leader said that the Committee on Appropriation should also jointly sit with the relevant agencies of government to scrutinize the payments to ensure that they are genuine,” Akpabio said.
In his remarks, the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, charged the committees on Petroleum Upstream and Downstream, as well as Anti-Corruption to oversight the use of the fuel subsidy payments, and make appropriate recommendations to the Senate.
The investigation, Saraki said, is to cover the last quarter of 2014 and the entire 2015. Saraki, who expressed dismay that oil marketers are holding the nation to ransom, described the development as “economic sabotage”.
“I want to warn the ministries and agencies in charge of this expenditure to ensure that these funds are judiciously used. And the oversight committees, particularly Appropriation, Downstream Petroleum must ensure that we must expose any of these companies or agencies that take the opportunity because of the suffering of Nigerians to take this amount of money.
“And I even believe that the so- called economic sabotage agencies, this is where their work is because this is truly economic sabotage, where billions like these are being spent and are not judiciously used. As we said, we have made provisions till December.
“So, we must ensure that these monies are used properly. And we must say ‘no’ to this blackmail by marketers. A lot of us in the past have spoken on this matter, and we are doing this for the interest of Nigerians. Let us end this hardship, and we must consider this in 2016,” Saraki said.
– Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja