The Senate, yesterday, criticised the implementation of the N1.5triilion National Social Investment programme, describing it as shoddy.
The senators insisted that the clear indication of such low performance is that Nigerians do not feel the impact of the programme.
They lamented that the programme was gradually going the way of the disbanded Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, and threatened to drastically reduce the yearly allocation of N500 billion to the programme if its performance failed to improve.
Funds for the National Social Investment Programme are provided under the Service Wide Vote under the Presidency.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje, made the threat when the special adviser to the president on Social Investment, Mrs Maryam Uwais, appeared before the committee to provide clarification on proposed budget implementation.
The presidential aide, however, informed the Senate committee that the National Social Investment Office (NSIO) received N175 billion in 2016 and 2017 fiscal year, not N500 billion.
Mrs Uwais said: “You may kindly recall that the sum of N500 billion was appropriated for the NSIO budget in 2017, out of which N100 billion was allocated for the Social Housing Scheme under the Federal Ministry of Finance.
“Furthermore, out of the balance of N400 billion, only N90 billion was released to the NSIO for the year 2017,” adding that the agency received N85 billion in 2016
Goje stressed the importance of the programme, noting that by the end of three years, the NSIO would have handled an unprecedented sum of N1.5 trillion.
He said, “Many people are complaining that they have not seen the impact of the programme considering the magnitude of the fund involved.
“I am from Gombe State, I represent Gombe Central; I am yet to see one single boy who came to tell me that he has benefited from your N500 billion.
“Many other Nigerians are saying the same thing. N500 billion for 36 states is about N13 billion. If you spend N13 billion in one year in Gombe State, there is no way I would not have known, other people will also know.
“If you spend N500 billion in one year in Nigeria, Nigerians will know. Not a single All Progressives Congress (APC) person (member) in Gombe State has benefitted from your School Feeding programme. Not a single person from Gombe State has benefitted from your N-Power. We don’t know about your N-Power. As far as many of us are concerned, we are completely dissatisfied with what you are doing.”
Goje also said that there was no indication to show that N100 billion was deducted from source for Social Housing Scheme by the Ministry of Finance.
“Senate does not know about N100 billion going for Housing Scheme. The money is given to you for social investment,” he said.
But Uwais insisted that N100 billion was deducted at source for Housing Scheme by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
The budget defence almost degenerated into a shouting match between the committee members and Uwais.
A member of the committee, Senator Tayo Alasuadura noted that they foresaw the problem at the beginning of the programme.
Alasuadura said, “Those of us who approved the budget, we don’t know what is happening. We should know what is happening in our constituencies.
“You have spent N85 billion this year. You spent N90 billion in the first year, 2016, making it N175 billion. A programme that has been on for two years, and I don’t know what is happening. It is terrible.
“The governors you say are also complaining did not allocate money for this programme. We did.”
Alasuadura called for the programme to be scrapped if its implementation would continue to be a source of worry.
Goje intervened and insisted that his interest was for the programme to succeed “because I am also APC.”
“We called you because you are handling big money. N500 billion is half a trillion. The National Assembly has been approving N500 billion, unfortunately most Nigerians do not know what you are doing. Your publicity is zero. Most importantly, the people who are approving the money do not also know what you are doing.
“We have asked you to give us a detailed report of all you are doing. If we get the report, we will know whether to give you N500 billion.
“In 2017 fiscal year, we appropriated N500 billion. In 2018 we will appropriate according to performance. We are going out of our way to make this programme to succeed. We are not against the programme, we want it to succeed, Senator Goje explained.
Another senator who spoke on the matter, Francis Alimekhena, expressed concern that the programme would fail like SURE-P, and cautioned the NSIO not to use the World Bank’s template in the country as it would not work.
On his part, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji expressed doubt over whether the agency had the capacity to utilise N500 billion judiciously.
In her response, Mrs Uwais said that the NSIO had the capacity, especially as it also works in conjunction with some ministries.
On the proposed N150 billion recurrent and N350 capital expenditure, the senators wondered why a ministry with permanent secretary and directors would receive only N3billion to N5billion recurrent expenditure, while NSIO without permanent secretary and directors would receive a whopping N150 billion recurrent expenditure.
Consequently, the committee asked Mrs Uwais to submit the names of beneficiaries of its programme today for verification to ensure that the money was not going into the wrong hands.