BY MUYIWA OYINLOLA, ANDREW ESSIEN, AHURAKA ISAH, SOLOMON AYADO AND MARK ITSIBOR, Abuja
The National Assembly has commenced deliberation on a Bill seeking to provide stiff penalties, including impeachment of the president, for non-implementation of the country’s national budget.
The bill, which would be passed before the end of this legislative tenure by the lawmakers, also provides specific timeline for the preparation, consideration and enactment of national budgets.
The bill emanated from reports of the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) after series of engagements with stakeholders on the budget process revealed that the lack of sufficient and comprehensive regulatory framework for the budget process has become a serious obstacle to effective budget implementation in Nigeria.
NILS’ Director-General, Professor Ladi Hamalai, informed stakeholders at an interactive session that the bill produced from the Institute’s reports has been accepted by the two chambers of the National Assembly for enactment into law.
But in its immediate reaction, the presidency described the planned imposition of penalties as unrealistic, just as it pointed out that implementation of budget is based on availability of funds.
Senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, argued at the session that because the budget is a mere statement of expectation, it would be difficult to really sanction anybody for not implementing it.
Section 33 of the Bill states that anybody found to have breached any of the budget processes would be deemed to have committed an act of misconduct.
Sanctions provided in section 35 of the bill against any public officer, legislator, or civil servants found to have committed such acts of misconduct include impeachment, suspension from office, written warning, removal of chairmanship of committee and termination of employment.
It lists such acts of misconduct to include failure to implement a budget project where appropriated funds are available to implement such project, failure to take reasonable care or necessary steps to ensure that there is compliance with the law by one’s institution, colleagues or subordinates, non-compliance with the budget process calendar, refusal to carry out official duty and attempt to prevent another official, public servant or civil servant from discharging his function.
“A person who without lawful authority or approval given in accordance with this Bill alters or otherwise tempers with the report of a committee or subcommittee with intent to mislead or gain an advantage or benefit commits an offence”, the new legislation also states.
Under the law, “a person who unlawfully provides, offers, solicits or accepts anything of value for a direct or indirect benefit” is also deemed to have committed an offence.
“A person, who takes any action, expresses or indicates illness to take an action for the purpose of intimidating or harming socially, financially or otherwise, any person wholly or partly for the purpose of influencing a decision on the budget process or the use or expenditure of any public money commits an offence”, the Bill added.
The bill further states that the budget should be submitted to the National Assembly by the president not later than first week of September, while it should be passed into law not later than second week of December.
The president, according to the bill, should assent to the bill not later than December 30.
FG Releases N1.2trn For Capital Projects
Meanwhile, information from the Debt Management Office (DMO) has revealed that the federal government released a total sum of N1.2 trillion to finance capital projects in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
Given that the 2017 Budget was only finalised in July 2017, the disbursement of N1.2 trillion over a short period of six months to capital is seen by economic analysts as a strong and positive development in Nigeria.
The experts said the release of such a large amount for capital is a strong demonstration of the commitment of the present administration to prioritise improvement in infrastructure in order to stimulate economic growth and development.
Since the 2017 budget is still being implemented, more releases to fund capital projects are expected.
In a press release it issued yesterday, the DMO announced that it has raised a whopping N1.254 trillion through domestic borrowing.
The DMO said that in line with its statutory mandate of funding the federal budgets, it raised the N1.254 trillion from the Domestic Market through the issuance of Federal Government of Nigeria Bonds, Nigerian Treasury Bills, as well as Sukuk and Green Bonds.
This amount, the debt office said, is consistent with the provision for New Borrowing in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
The DMO also raised USD2.8 billion in the International Capital Market through a $300 million Diaspora Bond in June 2017 and a USD2.5 billion Eurobond in November 2017, which together represents about 80 per cent of the N1.0675 trillion (about $3.5 billion) provided as New External Borrowing in the 2017 Appropriation Act.
The outstanding amount of $700 million in External Borrowing is expected from multilateral sources.
Minister of finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had announced last month that the federal government was going to release N750 billion to add to the N450 billion which was earlier released for capital vote from the 2017.
Concentrate On Governance Not 2019, Saraki Urges Executive
Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari and other elected Nigerians to discharge their constitutional duties to the people rather than preoccupy themselves with early campaigns for the 2019 general election.
In an address to welcome Senators from the 2017 Christmas and end of year recess, the Senate president particularly urged Senators to let their legislative duties be uppermost in their minds.
Saraki was apparently reacting to a statement credited to the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, that the federal government might not be able to implement the N8.612 trillion 2018 budget because of 2019 political electioneering pressure.
Mustapha who spoke at the National Assembly last Thursday when he met the Senate committee on Federal Character to defend the budget proposal for his office stated that because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had directed that preparation for the 2019 general election should commence in February, politicians particularly in the executive arm of government would be politically engaged to the detriment of the implementation of budget.
But Saraki yesterday said, “This is my appeal: it is too early for 2019 politicking to override the legislative agenda and the larger work of governance. We have begun a good thing with the economic core of our agenda; let us see it to its proper conclusion.
“It would be most insensitive to the needs of the people of this country if we were to do otherwise. I am directing this appeal not only to us in the chamber but to the National Assembly as a whole, as well as to the executive and indeed all political actors”.
Saraki also condemned the recent killings in Benue State, saying “the mindless bloodletting has no place in our society”.
He continued: “Human life is sacred. We state without equivocation that Nigerian life must become sacred. When we fail in our duty to protect Nigerian lives, it is a tragedy and an indictment on us all.
“We as the 8th Senate stand ready to help find solutions to assuage the hurt to affected parts, to bring the perpetrators to justice and to enthrone peace in all four corners of this country”.
On the persistent fuel scarcity, Saraki recalled that he had to direct members of the Senate investigative panel on fuel scarcity to cut short their recess to commence hearing on the lingering problem, noting that work is ongoing.
No Alternative To PMB In 2019 – Minister
Meanwhile, Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, has reiterated his call on President Muhammadu Buhari to run for a second term in office, saying there is no alternative to the president.
Shittu, who had late last year called on Buhari to run for the presidency in the forthcoming 2019 general election, said he made the call based on the outstanding and unprecedented performance of Buhari in office.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP in an exclusive interview in Abuja, Shittu noted that the administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) under the headship of Buhari has transformed the country for the better and restored hope in the nation.
Shittu’s call for Buhari’s return for another term in 2019 had generated outrage among Nigerians who feel his tenure has brought hardship on them.
But the minister while defending his campaign for the president said, “I will justify it (the campaign) because for once we now have a government that is focused, that knows its onions, which is determined.
“You see, a basic criteria of governance is the issue of incorruptibility. If you have a government whose members or leaders are corrupt, every other thing will be frustrated in the sense that funds which is supposed to build 10 kilometers of road would be used to build just one kilometer of road and that means the country is shortchanged”.
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