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Senators Pick Holes On 2016 Budget

* Warn Against Borrowing
* Doubt Budget Implementation
* It’s A Budget Of Fraud

Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja

Debates on the 2016 Budget of Change commenced on Wednesday on the floor of the Senate, with senators picking holes on President Muhammadu Buhari proposed Budget, as well as urging Buhari to withdraw the Budget and return to the drawing board.

While the senators expressed doubts on the successful implementation of the N6.08 trillion Budget, they further warned the Federal Government against huge borrowing to fund the 2016 Budget.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who was the first to speak, described the Budget as “a change in the wrong direction”.

Abaribe, who pointed out that the 2016 Budget is based on zero budgeting, added that Nigeria would go about borrowing.

“I am going to quote copiously from the Senate Leader (Senator Ali Ndume). In page four, he said: ‘this budget is unique, and titled ‘Budget of Change’.

“Mr. President, my colleagues, this Budget is, indeed, unique; the first Budget that has ever been sent out to the public of Nigeria, and after the Budget presentation, the Finance Minister (Kemi Adeosun) has never come to explain the details of the Budget as it is normally done.

“It is a ‘Budget of Change’, I agree; but it is a change in the wrong direction. I say it is a change in the wrong direction because it says that it is based on zero budgeting, requiring all expenses to be fully justified.

“Mr. President, a budget that increases spending up to 30 percent based solely on borrowing. In what way is it justified? That is the question we want to ask the people, who brought this budget as change.

“We ask a question: this budget has moved the 2015 Budget from N4.45 trillion to (over) N6 trillion, and we felt that moving it on zero based budgeting should actually show how it is done.
Of course we get nothing; all we get is that we are going to borrow,” Abaribe argued.

He particularly disagreed with Buhari that the 2016 Budget is ‘a budget of change’, if the domestic spending within Aso Villa has been moved from N580 million to N1.7 billion.

Abaribe, who maintained that the Budget was dead on arrival, therefore, urged Buhari to withdraw the Budget, and go back to the drawing board.

“Mr. President, a budget that moves domestic spending within Aso Villa from N580 million to N1.7 billion cannot be a ‘budget of change’. We were told that, in the revised Budget, there was an adjustment due to error. We agree, but what has happened is that the money, up to N7 billion, were moved from buying vehicles to being spread in offices.

“It also increases the spending that is due to renovations within the Villa: they are going to renovate the Villa with N3.9 billion. What else do you want to renovate there that Nigerians will see in the Year 2016?
We know what is going on in the global economy: this budget is predicated on an oil benchmark of $38 per barrel, and I can now say that with oil being $28 today, this Budget is dead on arrival.

“The job of the opposition is to help the government to get its priorities right. So, I want to please urge this government to withdraw this budget and go back to the drawing board,” he submitted.

Also speaking in the same manner, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, noted that the nation’s Budget has always seen an increase over the years, from between 10 and 20 percent.

Ekweremadu, who appealed that Nigeria should be realistic, warned that the 2016 Budget would not be implementable, if it is not reduced by 20 to 30 percent.

“I am not an economist, but I know that, if my income is N100,000, and suddenly, I start earning N30,000, and I tell my children that we will now be spending N120,000, they will start wondering where I will get the money. The problem we have is that, over the years, we have seen prosperity, and we have adjusted to it, and now, we are seeing a downward trend in our revenue, we don’t seem to be addressing this issue.

“We have always increased the budget of this country from between 10 and 20 percent. I just want to appeal that, for the first time, we should be able to reduce that Budget by the same 20 to 30 percent. That is in order for us to be realistic; otherwise, it will not be implementable,” he warned.

Likening Nigeria’s present situation to the great recession in America, Ekweremadu, who frowned at the idea of borrowing, regretted that the Federal Government has not been creative enough to raise money to run the country.

“They (America) did not go to borrow money. People had to make sacrifices. So, I appeal that, instead of financing in deficit, through borrowing and mortgaging the future, we need to look inwards and raise the money.

“I believe that as we look at the spending side, we have to look at the revenue side: we have not been creative enough to raise money to run this country. In many countries, they have the communication tax law, which ensures that everybody that makes a call or sends a message pays tax to government.

“But in Nigerian, from bus stops to schools to hospitals to the markets, Nigerians are on the phone every minute of the day, and nobody is paying tax on it.
If we pay tax on it, we do not need to go and get any loan from anywhere. We will have enough money to finance this Budget.

“In the banks, we have transactions like withdrawal and payment of money in excess of the threshold, you pay some money. I discovered that that money belongs to the bank; it should be for the government.

“I do not believe we should ban any good from coming into this country. We should, rather, increase the tariff by 300 percent so that government can make money,” he suggested.

While urging the government to reduce the cost of running government, he called for more concentration on ongoing projects, rather than starting new projects.

“If you look at some sectors, they have about N5 billion for designs alone; these designs mean new projects. We need to concentrate on the important existing projects.

“My consolation is that this parliament has the final say on this Budget. So, I will like to appeal to my colleagues to look at this Budget critically, I will be really worried, if we are able to pass the Budget the way it is.

“I am also worried about the spread, the equity in some of the figures: I hope our colleagues will do the right thing. Look at the Kano-Maiduguri Expressway to have is N10 billion, the Enugu-Port Harcourt N10 billion, Enugu-Onitsha N3 billion; but Lagos-Ibadan has N55 billion.

“I think that our committee needs to look at it. I do not have any problem with that road; but I think there should be equity in the distribution of the figures.
It may never be enough, but we need know that a man, who is not justly treated, can never be interested in peace.

“So, I think, if we want peace in this country, we have to be fair to all concerned. This country belongs to all of us. We have to look at the key sectors that can create jobs in this country. We have to focus on diversifying our economy,” Ekweremadu.

In his submission, Senator Suleiman Adokwe submitted that borrowing will affect the Budget implementation.

“IMF has advised Nigerians to desist from borrowing. If 50 percent of our Budget ‎will be financed by borrowing, then, it will not be good for us as a country.

“If you begin by borrowing heavily, it will affect the implementation, if we do not know what we are borrowing for. People will just eat and sleep‎, if we borrow for welfare. We should rather borrow for developmental projects,” Adokwe advised.

Senator Gbenga Ashafa, in his submission, observed that Buhari did not make any provision for the 500,000 teachers he intends to employ.

“This will help alleviate poverty, but the question is: how are we going to get these funds to ensure that this programme is successfully executed? Supplementary Budget has to come in. When that time comes, I beg my colleagues to please remain proactive and support,” he said.

Senator John Enoh, pointed out that no matter how much Nigeria wants to spends, it would come to nothing, if the projected revenues are realised.

He also pointed out what the 2016 Budget contains for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

“No matter how much we want to spend on capital expenditures, if you do realise the revenues that are being projected here, it comes to nothing, and I think that we also need to look at the appropriate capacity of the MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies). How much of this monies are we going to be able to spend? Unless we spend that money, what we think is going to add to the value in our country cannot be attained.

“The Budget contains some kind of challenge to NNPC to come up with new funding models for joint venture cash (JVC) calls. Joint ventures cash calls for 2016 Budget is about 1.09 trillion, and if such funding models are discovered, which means is that going forward as much money is going to be available for more expenditure.

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, who endorse the sentiment Ekweremadu, pointed out some fraudulent intentions in the Budget document.

“The Lead Debate today by the Leader of the Senate wasn’t fair when he said that N500 million was made for intervention. I want to refer you to Page 7 of the document, which has to do with the estimates.

“First, in that document, so many portions are missing. Look at it, you cannot find (pages) 191, 195, 197, 198, 200 and 201 in this Budget, and it’s a suspect. What do they want that they tactically avoided to fill into these sections.

“They are clearly missing in this Budget. Also, go to the special intervention, the recurrent, there is no provision provision for N500 million. What you have here is the conditional cash transfer, school feeding programme, post NYSC intervention programme, micro credit loans and all of them lump together at N300 billion,” he explained.

Nwaoboshi, who also expressed disappointed with the budget allocation for the Amnesty Programme, wondered why only the sum on N29 billion was budgeted for the programme this year, as against the sum of N35 billion Budget for oil exploration in the North.

“In the Amnesty Programme, last year, what was budgeted in the Amnesty Programme was N47.39 billion, and now, what is budgeted here is N20 billion.
They have not given us the justification, and because I am pointing the issues, you are very restive now. You have reduced the amnesty to N40 billion, what is the justification for that?

“We are now talking of oil revenue. I want to juxtapose it with what is happening now. We are talking of the fall of the price in oil revenue, the only way we can get the N820 billion that you are projecting in this Budget is by having peace in the Niger Delta. What is the justification of budgeting N35 billion for oil exploration when you are budgeting N20 billion to the people, who are producing the oil?

“We should pacify these people. We should make sure that they are happy. We should make sure that even that source from which we are getting our revenue are happy. You are spending N35 billion to explore oil, where are we heading to in this country?” he queried.

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