Federal Government has promised that it would sustain its over N6trillion national budget in the 2017 appropriation bill, expected to be submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari, after the consideration and subsequent approval of the pending 2017—2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper, FSP, by the National Assembly.
Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, told the Senate Committee on Finance, led by its Chairman, Senator John Owan Enoh, (PDP Cross River Central), who were on oversight visit to her ministry that government would maintain its over N6trillion annual budget because it spends over N3 trillion out of the budget sum for salaries, pension and debt services, leaving a paltry amount for capital projects.
Adeosun insisted that the country would be gambling with the figure for now as it can’t go below it anymore in the face of high expectations from its citizens.
Senator Enoh had told the minister that the committee’s visit was “actually driven by the collective decision of the Senate a few weeks ago that all its standing committees embarked on oversight visits to all ministries, departments and agencies of government.'”
“So, for us as a committee, in addition to having to respond to that requirement, it also became imperative that we embark on this maiden visit.
“Our hope is that on this visit, the minister, quite apart from giving us some highlights of the implementation of the Ministry of Finance budget in the year 2016, would also throw some highlights on few of some of the things that she feels the committee should know, especially the performance of our economy, no matter how briefly, and some things that we could take advantage of because we oversight her ministry, so that we don’t just hear as secondhand but hear as firsthand.
“This is October, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework is already sent to the National Assembly for approval so that the 2017 budget can come. We have a few revenue challenges; most of all is the performance of the independent revenue of government. So we think that the minister would take advantage of this meeting and be able to bring us to speed with a few of these things, “he added.
The Committee berated the minister for what it described as her poor handling of agencies under her watch, resulting in monumental leakage and loopholes.
“There are a lot of drained pipes and leakages in the customs; I don’t think that the ministry under your watch has given sufficient attention to the customs in particular, “Senator Hope Uzodinma, a member of the committee and Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs told her.
Responding, Mrs. Adeosun disclosed that government’s efforts at realising money from revenue generating agencies to meet the expectations of Nigerians were being hampered by high-level corruption still existing in the agencies, especially the Nigerian Customs Service, which she described its men as “cohesive crooks hard to break.”
To this end, she solicited an urgent intervention of the National Assembly in curbing the loopholes and excessive leakage not only in the revenue sourcing agencies but also all other Federal Government’s agencies, saying they were stinking of corruption.
The minister particular disclosed that about two trillion from the budget was going out for salaries of workers and pension alone the sum of N1.4 trillion was also going out for debt servicing, saying the situation considerably slashes down the budget sum, a development she noted, made it impossible to downsize the budget.
According to her, doing so would mean forgetting capital projects and only concentrating on payment of salaries, pension and servicing of debt alone.
She was responding to the plea of a member of the Senate Committee, Joshua Dariye, APC, Plateau Central, who asked that the budget be trimmed down, so that government can focus on key areas of development.
Dariye said with the budget figure, Nigerians were expecting so many things and if they don’t see most of the things at the end of the year, they would believe that the money was misapplied or stolen.
“The Senate is worried over the issue of recurrent expenditures in all MDAs, especially on the issue of recurrent purchase of stationery and computers. I appeal to government to stop this so that economy can work. We should not be afraid to spend money because I believe that if we do a few things right, it’s going to give us results, “Dariye said.
The minister said: “About the size of the budget, the point I would add is this: salaries on their own are about N1.8 trillion to N1.9 trillion and by the time you add the judiciary, the National Assembly, pension and so on and so forth, you are at two trillion. Add debt service which is about N1.4 trillion. So, if you want to bring down the size of the budget, you won’t be able to do very many capital projects.
“That’s the problem and that has been the vicious circle that has been affecting Nigeria for so long. By the time we pay salaries, pay debt, nothing is left.
“So, I think for this next few years, I think we have to take a gamble as a nation. We must take a gamble that look, if we fix our roads, fix our power, can we generate more than that additional cost. I think we can, from what I see of a country, I think we can”, she stressed.