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Reps Detect Errors in Budget, Order Ministries to Reconcile Figures Today

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The House of Representatives, during the second reading   of the 2019 Appropriation Bill on Wednesday, detected some miscalculations in the budget.

The House therefore directed ministries of finance and budget to reconcile the figures latest by Thursday (today).

At the opening of the plenary, the Majority Leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, led the debate on the appropriation bill, urging the lawmakers to consider the benefits of the budget.

…We don’t form a quorum, PDP lawmaker protests

However, a Peoples Democratic Party lawmaker, Rita Orji, raised a point of order to notify the House that the lawmakers had not formed a quorum and should not legislate over an important subject like the appropriation bill.

As of the time Orji raised the issue, our correspondent observed that only 42 lawmakers were present, including the Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara.  The one-third requirement is 120.

Doraga however shot down the protest, saying, Orji was not in charge of the legislature’s register and could therefore not determine the quorum of the House.

The Speaker, then, ruled that the debate should continue, asking the Deputy Speaker, Mr Yusuf Lasun, to speak next.

Lasun faulted those who criticised the 2019 budget, noting that about 80 per cent of projects in the 2018 budget were rolled over into 2019.

The Deputy Speaker said, “In contributing to this debate on this 2019 budget, the question is whether we have a budget that can sustain the size of the population we have. The answer is, no.”

Lasun added, “We are not what we think we are as a nation. We can deduct it from the figures the executive arm of government has always sent to us. We think we are a rich country but from the figures, we are very poor.

“The 2019 budget says the proposal is N8.7tn, of which if we do a direct conversion, that is just merely $28.5bn. What does that mean? It means the totality of the Nigerian budget for 2019 is just $29bn. Apple alone declare a profit of almost $100bn after tax. So, if for 160 million people, it shows that for 2019, the total money that is due for one head is just $178.52 in a year. And so we all have the duty as Nigerians to begin to think outside the box of how we can develop our country.”

Members identify errors in budget, raise the alarm

However, the debate was suspended briefly when a member, Mr Abubakar  Adamu, identified some errors in the budget.

Adamu identified errors in the figures of the ministries of finance, education; budget and national planning; as well as the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.

He said, “I want to, before my contribution, raise some issues, particularly some errors I noticed in the national budget. As everybody knows, the schedule in the budget consists of part ‘A’ which is the statutory transfers, and part ‘B’ which is the Debt Servicing, part ‘C’ which is the recurrent expenditure and part ‘D’ which is the capital expenditure.”

The lawmaker noted that in the Ministry of Education, the recurrent expenditure which consisted of both the personnel and overhead cost, was N462.2bn.

He stated that under the summary of the budget by the MDAs, (line item Number 410518), the figure had changed to N539bn. “I don’t know what figure was added at that level,” he stated.

He also cited the example of the ministry of finance where the recurrent expenditure was N10.8bn, under which personnel was N7.4bn. He, however, said the overhead had changed to N2.26bn, with the total (of personnel and overhead) put at N2.27bn, which he faulted.

Adamu further said, “In the ministry of budget and planning, in the part ‘C’ is N9.3bn, but when you go to the summary by MDAs, which is number 280238, personnel has now become N66.21bn. Then, overhead also changed there; it has now become N832.2bn. Then the total, which is personnel and overheard, in that aspect has now become N1.49bn.

“The capital also has changed to about N655.9bn, indicating that a total allocation of the Ministry of Budget and Planning, instead of N9.3bn, has now become N2.15tn.”

Dogara, who was surprised by the discovery, asked another lawmaker, Mr Aliyu Ahman-Pategi, if the issues raised by Adamu were valid, which he confirmed.

Ahman-Pategi said, “If you look at the budget; in the budget of the Ministry of Finance, the detail of overhead, salary and all that,  is correct. But in the summary detail on the right side column, that is where the mistake was made.”

After Dogara sought further clarification, Ahman-Pategi said, “Anytime we discover it (error), they (executive) can attend to it. We know that what we are discussing are the general principles. It (budget) will still get to the committee level and all those can be done. As for the ministry, we can get the leadership – the Minister of Finance – and the Chairman of Finance and Chairman of Appropriations to liaise with these three bodies: the Budget Office (of the Federation), the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the Ministry of Finance.”

As the lawmaker was speaking, Adamu walked up to the Speaker with a copy of the bill to show him the errors. He was followed by Gbajabiamila; the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Edward Pwajok; and the Clerk to the House. They held an emergency meeting that lasted for about 10 minutes.

After the meeting, Dogara admitted that there were irregularities in the figures but the lawmakers would continue with the debate, focusing only on the general principles of the budget.

…direct ministries to reconcile conflicting figures today

The Speaker said, “After consultations by the leadership, even though it is apparent on the surface of the budget that there are so many irreconcilable differences in the figures allotted, basically we are discussing the general principles of the budget by virtues of the provisions of our rules at this time. So, we will talk about general principles at this time.

“I am sure we are not concluding the debate today (Wednesday). I will direct relevant committee chairmen to liaise with the ministries of finance and the budget and national planning, to ensure that by tomorrow, before we conclude the debate on the budget, we have the reconciled figures.

“So, for today, I want to admonish and plead with us to make sure that we confine ourselves to the general principles of the budget. I am by this announcement drawing the attention of the Ministries of Budget and National Planning; and Finance to the irreconcilable differences in the figures allotted in the budget. And, unfailingly, by tomorrow, if we must continue the debate on the budget, they must give us reconciled figures.”

Continuing with the debate, Adamu, among other issues, pointed out that while 2019 budget predicated on oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day, at $60 per barrel, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries had cut Nigeria’s oil output to 1.68mbpd.

Errors are normal things –Gbajabiamila

But speaking with journalists later, Gbajabiamila said the erroneous parts of the budget would be taken back to the executive for corrections.

He said, “Mathematical errors are things that are normal. At worst, they may reflect some kind of tardiness but they don’t take away the substance and the merit of what we are debating. And if you know the rules of the House very well, we are not here to debate the intricate details of the figures and numbers of the budget, we debate the general principles. That is what the debate is about.

“It is a good observation and I believe it has been noted. Like the Speaker said, it will be sent back; the communication will be done. They will correct the figures just here and there, that may have the potential of distorting the numbers. That will be cleaned up.”

Gbajabiamila also dismissed Nigeria’s oil output cut by OPEC as having no effect on the 2019 budget.

“In terms of what OPEC has done or has not done, you know we have joint ventures and all sort of things that culminate into the 2.3mbpd. Whatever the case, I believe that these are projections and assumptions. An assumption today, even if they say it is 1.6mbpd, something may happen tomorrow after we have passed the budget.

“They are assumptions, they are not cast in stones, they are not concrete, and we will adjust accordingly. That is why we have the rules that allow amendments, supplementary, virement and all those things. Those mechanisms have already been worked into the budget to allow this kind of potential distortions,” he said.

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Inflation Rate Drops to 11.37 Per Cent in January, Says NBS

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The National Bureau of Statistics on Friday released the Consumer Price Index which measures inflation. The index dropped to 11.37 per cent in January 2019.

The bureau in the report said the 11.37 per cent inflation rate for January is 0.07 percentage points lower than the 11.44 per cent which the country recorded in December.

The report reads in part, “The consumer price index, which measures inflation increased by 11.37 per cent year-on-year in January 2019.

“This is 0.07 per cent points lower than the rate recorded in December 2018 (11.44 per cent).”

The report stated that on a month-on-month basis, the index increased by 0.74 per cent in January 2019, the same rate as was recorded in December 2018.

The report stated that urban inflation rate increased by 11.66 per cent year-on-year in January 2019 from 11.73 per cent recorded in December 2018.

It added that the rural inflation rate increased by 11.11 per cent in January 2019 from 11.18 per cent in December 2018.

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Buhari Hails Osinbajo For Role In Economic Recovery

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President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday commended the qualities and competence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

Buhari, specifically praise him for the role played on the ‘CHANGE AGENDA’ and his capacity as the head of the National Economic Council (NEC) in the past three and half years.

He gave the commendation during a meeting with Ogun State traditional rulers, led by Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo.

The President was responding to the Vice President’s presentation at the meeting on the economic outlook in the country in the last three and half years and how the APC-led administration has done more with fewer resources.

The President said: “Him (Osinbajo) being the Chairman of NEC is in a very strong position to know what we are earning and what we are doing with the earnings.

‘‘I am very pleased with his vast experience and intellect. He has captured effectively what the administration has done and I commend him for playing a very great part in that. Thank you, Mr Vice President.’’

The President told the traditional rulers that in all the States he had visited so far for his re-election bid, he had taken time to explain to Nigerians the achievements, programmes and future plans of his government in the three key areas of economy, security and anti-corruption.

‘‘On the promises on security, I have mentioned repeatedly that the people of the North East appreciate our undertakings because you cannot manage a country unless it is secure. We have succeeded in that and we thank God,’’ he said.

The President noted that Nigeria has attained food security under his watch, adding that many farmers have testified that fertilisers are now available and affordable.

‘‘Fighting corruption is the most difficult under our system but still, we have not given up. We are steadfast in our determination to ensure that those who abuse trust are brought before the law and punished,’’ he said.

President Buhari appealed to the traditional rulers to prevail on their subjects to be law abiding and show respect to constituted authority during and after the elections.

‘‘I am happy for what you have done on voter education so that your people can choose whoever they like from whatever party,’’ he said.

In his remarks, Oba Gbadebo assured the President that Ogun people will give him more than 60 percent of the votes in the State to guarantee his re-election and that of their son, the Vice President, on February 16.

He hinged Ogun people’s support for President Buhari on his commitment to the welfare of the masses, reflected in the array of well-conceived, executed and various ongoing projects that abound all over the country.

The Oba announced that Ogun State has been a major beneficiary of Federal Government projects, listing the Lagos-Ibadan expressway that passes through 80 percent of the State, Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge fast train, the latest technology in train movement the world over, among others.

‘‘It was my privilege to have been part of the passengers on the trial run on the Lagos-Abeokuta stretch of the rail on Friday, February 8, 2019. Generations unborn will continue to thank your Administration for taking the bull by the horns,’’ Oba Gbadebo said.

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SERAP Asks Court to Compel Fashola to Name Contractors Who Disappeared With Project Money

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sued the Minister of Power, Works and Housing Mr Babatunde Fashola SAN over “failure to disclose specific names and details of contractors and companies that allegedly collected money for electricity projects but failed to execute any projects, starting from the return of democracy in 1999 to 2018.”

In the suit number FHC/L/CS/105/19 filed last week at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, SERAP is seeking “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling Mr Fashola to provide specific details on the names and whereabouts of the contractors who collected public funds meant for electricity projects but disappeared with the money without executing any projects.”

The suit followed SERAP’s Freedom of Information request dated 4 January, 2019 giving Mr Fashola 14 days to publish “the names of all contractors and companies that have been engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, details of specific projects and the amounts that have been paid to the contractors and companies, details on the level of implementation of electricity projects and their specific locations across the country.”

The organization said: “publishing the names will make it hard for contractors and companies to get away with complicity in grand corruption. The citizens have the right to see that the Freedom of Information Act is enforced where there is an infraction of the right to information or a threat of its being violated, in matters of public interests.”

The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its counsel, Adelanke Aremo read in part:“by compelling Mr Fashola to name the contractors and their registration details, if any, Nigerians will be better able to hold them to account for allegedly absconding with public funds meant for electricity projects, thereby throwing the country into perpetual darkness and socio-economic stagnation as well as denying people their human rights.”

“Granting the order as prayed would ensure that allegations of complicity in grand corruption by contractors and companies in the power sector do not go unpunished. Unless the names of the contractors and companies are disclosed and widely published, alleged corrupt contractors and companies executing electricity projects will not be deterred and the victims of corruption that they committed will continue to be denied justice and effective remedies.”

“To date no contractors or companies who allegedly collected money for electricity projects not executed or poorly executed have been investigated for corruption let alone prosecuted and fined. Senior public officials who apparently served as intermediaries for these contractors and companies continue to escape justice.”

“The allegations of corruption involving many contractors and companies in the power sector have continued to impair, obstruct and undermine the ability of successive governments to provide Nigerians with access to regular and uninterrupted electricity supply. Contractors and companies that allegedly disappeared with public funds meant for electricity projects may also be liable for aiding and abetting the commission of acts of grand corruption.”

The suit is seeking the following reliefs:

  1. AN ORDER directing and/or compelling the Respondent to compile and make available to the Applicant documents containing the specific names and details of contractors and companies that have been engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, details, of specific projects and the amounts that have been paid to the contracts and companies, details on the level of implementation of electricity projects and their specific locations across the country and to publish widely including on a dedicated website, any such information
  2. AN ORDER directing and/or compelling the Respondent to compile and make available to the Applicant documents and information containing the specific names and details of contractors and companies that allegedly collected money for electricity projects but failed to execute any projects, starting from the return of democracy in 1999 to 2018 and to publish widely including on a dedicated website, any such information
  3. AN ORDER directing and/or compelling the Respondent to disclose if there is any ongoing investigation or prosecution of allegedly corrupt contractors and companies in the electricity sector
  4. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to provide the Applicant with information containing the specific names and details of contractors and companies that have been engaged in the power sector since the return of democracy in 1999 to date, details, of specific projects and the amounts that have been paid to the contractors and companies, details on the level of implementation of electricity projects and their specific locations across the country, and failure to widely publish it on a dedicated website, any such information amounts to a fundamental breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2011
  5. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to provide the Applicant with specific documents and information containing the names and details of contractors and companies that allegedly collected money for electricity projects but failed to execute any of such projects, starting from the return of democracy in 1999 to 2018 and failure to widely publish it on a dedicated website, any of such information amounts to a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2011
  6. A DECLARATION that the failure of the Respondent to disclose if there is any ongoing investigation or prosecution of allegedly corrupts contractors and companies in the electricity sector amounts to a breach of the Freedom of Information Act 2011
  7. AND for such further order or orders as the Honourable Court may deem fit to make in the circumstance.

“Publishing the names of contractors will contribute to ending a pattern of corruption in the power sector and improve access of Nigerians to regular and uninterrupted electricity supply. It will also allow citizens to track the level of execution of electricity projects by contractors and companies and reduce impunity for corrupt acts in the sector.”

“Granting the reliefs sought will ensure that punitive and dissuasive measures are taken against corrupt contractors and companies, shareholders and others that might have any ownership interests in companies responsible for failed execution of power projects in the country.”

“Former Nigeria’s Vice President and Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar blew the whistle on Channels TV when he said, “We collected money from local, state and federal governments and others. Contractors were given some contracts and were paid hundred percent upfront. Up till now, we are not holding the contractors responsible. People have collected money upfront one hundred percent and have disappeared; and have not even done any work.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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