The Senate on Tuesday began debate on the 2014 Appropriation Bill with the Senate President, David Mark, urging senators to view the budget from a “national periscope’’.
“Let us see the budget from a national periscope and not a political party’s periscope. Let us use a national magnifying glass to view it and not reduce it to partisan politics,’’ Mark said.
Some senators had asked that the budget be sent back to the executive since some fundamental developmental projects were missing from it.
However, others were of the view that the budget should be sent to the relevant committees for further legislative work.
Leading the debate on the budget, Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba(PDP-Cross River) said the bill sought to authorise the issue from the consolidated revenue fund a sum of N4.6 trillion.
According to Ndoma-Egba, this is against the 2013 budget which has the total sum of N4.9 trillion.
“The breakdown is as follows: statutory transfers will amount to N399.6 billion, debt service is N712 billion, recurrent expenditure is N2.4 trillion while contribution to the development fund for capital expenditure is N1.1 trillion.’’
Ndoma-Egba said that the budget was predicated on assumptions that bench mark oil price would be 77.5 dollar per barrel and projected oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day.
Other assumptions, according to him, are that the average exchange rate of N160 per U.S dollar which was the same as in 2013 and a projected GDP growth rate of 6.75 per cent.
He said that the capital expenditure outlay of the Appropriation Bill 2014 was structured to improve and effectively address critical areas of the economy.
“Some of the sectoral allocations that are meant to galvanize and reduce the infrastructure deficit in the country as well as enhance inclusive economic growth are stated below.
“Sure-P, N268.3 billion; power, N99 billion; works, N128.6 billion; Defence, N34.3 billion; police,N6.7 billion; education, N725.9 billion; agriculture/rural development, N66.6billion; health, N262.7billion; INEC, N45 billion.
“The 2014 budget focuses on job creation through several projects like power by completion of privatisation of NIPP projects, accelerates works on gas pipeline infrastructure and continued investment in hydroelectric power.’’
He added that the 2014 budget was designed to build on the successes of the 2013 budget with emphasis on fiscal consolidation, inclusive growth and job creation.
In his contribution, Sen. Ahmed Lawan (APC-Yobe), faulted the budget, saying that it was tilted to favour only one side of the country.
Lawan called on the Senate to work toward creating a balance in the allocations made in the budget to all parts of the country.
“I have nothing against the South-South or the Niger Delta. In fact I have been a supporter of the Niger Delta from the House of Representatives days to this day.
“What I said is that the funds proposed for the Defence, that is the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and the Ministry of Defence Headquarters is far low compared to what has been earmarked for 30,000 militants and amnesty programme.
“The amnesty programme and the 30,000 militants would have N52 billion, while Defence would have much less, just about N43 billion.
“And what we are saying is that you have a state of emergency in our states,’’ he said.
According to him, fund the security agencies better. I believe that while fighting insurgency, we need to make special provisions, special package, and some kind of Marshal Plan for the North-East.
Lawan said that “not every youth, not every person in the North-East is involved in insurgency.’’
He said there was an urgent need for the North-East region to be properly funded to recuperate, recover and rehabilitate those affected in the insurgency.
Lawan said the amount budgeted for the region was paltry and would amount to nothing.
“We reject the two billion naira proposed for us as North-East development initiative by the Federal Government compared to what is going to the Niger Delta,’’ he said.
According to Lawan, N163 billion is going to the Niger Delta, but only two billion naira for the North-East.
“Are we serious about tackling the problems in the North-East. Is the North-East not a part of Nigeria or what?
“So, what we are saying is that the Senate, and indeed, National Assembly should rework the budget.
“We can leave whatever it is provided or proposed to the Niger Delta. I have nothing against them.
“They should have what they have already proposed, but we must have to improve on what is provided in the proposed budget for the North-East.
Lawan also wondered why a large per cent of the budget was going to recurrent expenditure which would only cater for less than five million Nigerians.
“I want you to compare this with capital expenditure which would cater for more Nigerians.
“According to Okonjo-Iweala, recurrent in 2014 budget proposal was 74 per cent, it was the same 74 per cent in 2011 when this administration came in.
“Subsequently, recurrent went down to 71 per cent, now we are back to 74 per cent. How many people are going to enjoy this recurrent expenditure? They are less than five million Nigerians.
According to him, 74 per cent of the annual budget is going to less than five million Nigerians. 26 per cent is earmarked for the capital for over 165 million Nigerians.
“How do you create jobs? How do you alleviate poverty? Where are the social safety nets,’’ he asked.
“The people must be at the centre of the concept, application and implementation of the budget not some civil servants.
“We cannot have peace so long as we spend much of our funds on ourselves,’’ Lawan said.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, appealed to senators to take debate on the budget seriously since it was the last one before the elections.
Ekweremadu said that the budget was important as it would be used to complete ongoing projects.
The deputy senate president said that some critical projects were omitted from the budget and appealed that they should be captured.
Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP-Abia), Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs in his contribution, urged the Senate to emulate the example of the Rivers APC-led government and pass the budget in record time.
“APC has done something good and we must copy from them. About two weeks ago, the APC government in Rivers passed their budget within one hour, so I suggest that we copy from them and pass this budget.’’
Abaribe, who briefed newsmen after plenary, commended all the senators, saying they had truly shown that the Senate was not a place for partisan politics but a place for nationalists.
According to him, in that spirit every member of the Senate, notwithstanding their political persuasion, contributes meaningfully today on the budget.
The Senate adjourned debate on the budget to continue on Wednesday. Three days have been allocated for debates on the budget to enable every senator contribute.