The National Assembly yesterday raised concern about the implementation of the N500 billion special intervention fund, a cardinal programme of the Buhari administration. The lawmakers were categorical that though the plan by the Federal Government to spend N500 billion on vulnerable Nigerians is laudable, its implementation will pose problems.
According to The Nation, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje, who raised the issue suggested the suspension the plan in this year’s budget.
Goje spoke at a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation meeting with Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun and top officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Goje noted that the meeting became necessary because members of the National Assembly had given March 17th deadline to pass the budget.
He said Udo-Udoma, Adeosun and others were invited to get their final input before the budget is passed.
He also the lawmakers want to pass an implementable budget.
He said the N500 billion special intervention fund’s implementation is not clearly stated in the budget.
Goje, an APC senator from Gombe and a former governor of the state on Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) platform, said how would the beneficiaries of the programme be selected.
He added that there was no doubt that it would turn into a political jamboree for political office holders.
Goje who noted that market women were listed as part of those who would benefit from the fund wondered how market women would be selected.
He said that in his home state of Gombe, there are no market women but market men.
The lawmaker also declared the school feeding initiative planned by the government as un-implementable.
Insisting that school feeding programme is largely unsustainable, he wondered how billions of naira would be spent on feeding pupils when most of them study under trees due to lack of class rooms.
The government, he said, should take a second look at the programmes, fine tune them and leave the implementation for the 2017 fiscal year.
But Udo- Udoma said the programmes were political promises that should be implemented in the interest of the people.
The minister added that he would take back the concerns raised by the lawmakers to the government.
He said the programmes were commitments that must be done.
On recovered funds, Udoma said only established recovered funds could be put in the budget.
He denied knowledge of a circular directing MDAs to implement only the budget as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari saying “I don’t think that the National Assembly will give us back the budget the way it came.”
Udo-Udoma also insisted that the template of the 2016 budget is zero budgeting.
He added however that “zero budgeting does not mean that we don’t have a limit.”
The minister admitted that the implementation of the budget would be difficult especially with falling oil price in the international market.
He noted that though the price of oil is dwindling, the cost of production remained the same, describing the development as a major challenge.
Udoma told the lawmakers not to increase the size of the budget in order not to make its implementation more difficult.
On the sources of funding the budget, he said the government planned to borrow N1.8 trillion half of which would be foreign loan.
He said the government was now being forced to look inward to raise funds to implement the budget.
The minister said the government is expecting more revenue from non oil sector of the economy including broadening the tax base.
On oil benchmark of $38 pb, he said that benchmark will still be retained despite falling oil price.
The benchmark, he said, was arrived at after wide consultation.
He said that the personnel cost component of the budget is another major challenge for the government.
He noted that though government does not plan to retrench workers, “Government is trying to use technology to ensure that salaries actually go to people who are working.
Mrs Adeosun spoke on how to fund the budget.
The minister told the lawmakers that independently-generated revenue would largely be used to fund the budget.
She noted that cost-saving would be another means to fund the budget.
The lawmakers also drew Udo-Udoma’s attention to the concern of some Civil Society Organisations of about N668 billion frivolous provisions in the budget.