BY John Ameh and Sunday Aborisade
The debate on the 2014 Appropriation bill entered the second day in the Senate on Wednesday with some Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress senators describing the document as anti-people.
They chided the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for the way the bill was packaged and therefore called for its review.
But others like Senators Odion Ugbesia and Ayogu Eze argued that the bill was merely only a working document, which could be subjected to alterations in the interest of the masses.
Among the senators that picked holes in the Appropriation bill were Smart Adeyemi, Abdul Ningi, Olusola Adeyeye, Ganiyu Solomon, Kabiru Gaya and Gbenga Ashafa.
Adeyemi and Ningi,who lamented the high recurrent expenditure as contained in the budget and the continued depletion of the foreign reserves, accused Okonjo-Iweala of imposing economic policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank on Nigeria.
Adeyemi said, “Okonjo-Iweala should be told in clear terms that the economic policies of the IMF and the World Bank cannot work in Nigeria.
“The policy must be reviewed. The IMF and World Bank policies cannot work 100 per cent in Nigeria. We don’t need IMF recommendations.
“What we need is what will impact on the lives of Nigerians. We need to work on budget management and concentrate on key areas such as power and other sectors of the economy.”
When he took the floor, Ningi also cautioned against Nigeria depending on the policies of the IMF, the World Bank and other advanced economies of the world.
He suggested that Nigeria should evolve an indigenous economic policy that would impact positively on the economy and the citizenry.
The senator said there was the need for the nation’s economic manager to note that while western economies were collapsing, the ‘homegrown economies of India and China were waxing stronger.
In his contribution, Adeyeye accused the Finance minister of confusing Nigerians with ‘foreign economic jargon’, which he called ‘Okonjonomics’.
He said that ‘Okonjonomics’ had no positive impact on “our domestic economy and lives of Nigerians.”
Solomon also advised the Executive arm of government to change any of its policies that had not been yielding results.
He said, “We should increase the ratio of capital expenditure to recurrent”.
Gaya and Ashafa lamented that the 76 per cent recurrent expenditure and 24 per cent capital components of the budget were lopsided, and therefore far from meeting the needs and aspirations of the people.
Gaya noted that the distribution of the allocations in the budget was worrisome and unacceptable.
He said, “The Federal Government budget is the reverse of the Rivers State budget. I wish the budget will be 74 per cent capital and 26 per cent recurrent.”
Ashafa pointed out that capital expenditure in the last three years had witnessed downward swing.
While presenting a statistical analysis of capital votes in the last three years, Ashafa said, “the capital allocation for 2012 was 31per cent; in 2013, it came down to 23.7 per cent while in 2014, it is 23.4 per cent.”
He observed that the 2014 budget estimates negated the requirements of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
The lawmaker described the document as an illegality and called for its return to the Executive.
Section 18(2) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, he argued, stipulated that sectoral distribution of the budget should be attached to the Medium Term Expenditure Framework document.
He accused Okonjo – Iweala of deliberately making it so.
The senator further argued that since there was not enough money for capital projects , it was impossible for the economy to witness the kind of growth that would engender employment creation.
Senator Bukola Saraki, while expressing his views on the budget, lamented that the 2013 Appropriation Act was abysmally implemented.
He insisted that the Executive should be made to account for last year’s budget before the Senate could go into the 2014 estimates.
But in his contribution, Ugbesia said, “This budget proposal may not be the best and cannot satisfy everybody but it can be seen as a working paper that will guide towards a budget that will satisfy everybody.
“It could be used to find some solutions to our problems. My worry is the concept of envelope that comes with it annually. To me, it is an impediment.
“We should use the opportunity of this budget process to redefine the role of Executive and Legislature as it relates to designs and implementation of budgets.”
Eze also did not see anything wrong with the document. Noting that the budget was well designed to generate employment, he pointed out that the problem with budget in Nigeria was never its content but its implementation.
But Senator Ita Enang shifted the blame for budget failures from the Executive to the National Assembly.
Before the commencement of the debate, the President of the Senate, David Mark, appealed to his colleagues to make their contributions from a nationalistic standpoint, and not from party leanings.
“Let us look at this budget from a national perspective, rather than a political party perspective,” he said.
Meanwhile, the caucus of the APC in the House of Representatives has restated its readiness to comply with the party’s directive to its members to block the passage of the 2014 budget.
It said that it would not support a budget of N4.6tn that would merely promote the “corruption” in governance encouraged by the ruling PDP.
The caucus, which addressed newsmen at the National Assembly in Abuja on Wednesday, explained that it would achieve its plan by working with “the progressive” members of the PDP.
The Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, who spoke for the caucus, added that there was no point passing a budget that would not improve the welfare of Nigerians.
He dismissed the speculation that the APC could fail because its numerical strength (172) was not enough to defeat the current working alliance between the PDP, Labour Party, Acord Party and the All Progressives Grand Alliance members in the House.
Gbajabiamila recalled that before now, many Exedutive bills presented to the House by the Majority Leader, Mrs. Mulikat Adeola-Akande, had not succeeded because the APC and progressive PDP members opposed them.
He said, “The kick against such bills came from mostly APC members and progressive members within the rank and file of the PDP.
“So, the directive (of the APC leadership) was really nothing new. What it did was to put a government determined to bring our democracy down on notice that it was no longer going to be business as usual.”
On the budget specifically, he said, “We will not support a budget that does nothing for the people we represent; we will not rubber-stamp a budget that seeks to borrow more money at ridiculous rates and further impoverish the country and its people.”
However, to address the fears of Nigerians that salaries of workers are tied to the budget, Gbajabiamila said the caucus was considering the possibility of discussing with progressive PDP lawmakers to isolate the recurrent component of the budget and pass it.
“We will hope that our progressive colleagues will agree to an ingenious and creative idea like we did through the doctrine of necessity to isolate the recurrent expenditure and perhaps for the first time pass a recurrent budget only”, he added.
The APC caucus described as “bemusing”, the alliance between PDP, APGA, AP and LP, calling on them to merge with the PDP.
He said doing so would enable Nigerians to choose between two political parties during the 2015 polls.
However, APGA reacted to the APC’s stance on Wednesday, saying that it would not oppose the passage of the budget.