The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, has cleared the air over the N424bn that was said to have been padded by the minister into the 2023 Appropriation Bill.
Ahmed has been accused by the Humanitarian, Health, Power and Education to have inserted, N206bn, N8.6bn, N195.468bn, and N2.250bn respectively.
The Finance Minister, however, got a clean slate before the senate when she appeared to defend herself over cases of puddings in the proposed N20.51 trillion 2023 budget from the Senate Committee on Appropriation when she made clarifications on them.
She explained to the committee that the various sums were sent to the ministries for perusal before approval by the Federal Executive Council, before the budget presentation itself by the President, Major General, Muhammadu Buhari, ( Retd.) on Friday, October 7, 2022.
She stated, “This project in question under the Humanitarian Affairs ministry is a project that was called National Social Safety Net project.
“This is a total sum of $473.5m which translates to N296bn. This project was correctly described by the IR departments that collated the report but in the –process of collating the at the budget office, the wrong code was selected. This code that was selected resulted in the description showing as purchase and security weapons.
“The same project was correctly captured in the MTEF because it was also presented in the MTEF.
“She noted that the amount was correct and “it is correctly provided for in the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs disaster management, and social development because they are the agency implementing this national social safety net scale-up the programme.”
She added, “This project is also described as refurbishment and procurement of Harris RF 578 100 military communications equipment in the sum of N8.6 billion.
“The Honourable Minister of Defence wrote to his Excellency Mr President, requesting the immediate release of $1.36 3m, and N158.92 8m for the implementation of phase one of this project.
“The Honourable Minister of Defence also requested the sum of $2.27 8m and N11.9 4 billion to implement phases two and three of the project, all of which Mr President graciously approved and was conveyed to us.”
Ahmed added, “All the proposed budgetary sums like the N206 billion in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, the N8.6billion in the Ministry of Defence, N195.468 billion in the estimates for the Ministry of Power, etc, were all captured before the presentation by Mr President.
“Most of these sums are bilateral or multilateral loans captured in the budget of agencies selected for project execution for the sole purpose of transparency.
“The totality of such loans captured in the proposed budget of the relevant agencies is N1.771 trillion.
“Had heads of the affected MDAs carried out thorough scrutinisation of their approved budgetary proposals, the issue of insertion or budget padding wouldn’t have arisen at all, a realisation of which made the Minister of Defence, Bashir Magashi apologise after feigning ignorance of N8.6 billion in his Ministry’s budget during an interface with Senate Committee on Defence,” she said.
Ahmed noted that it was evident that there were internal coordination issues between the project of implementation units in some ministries, departments and agencies, with their CEOs and their accounting officers of the implementing ministry.
She stressed, “And also there’s also a gap of coordination even with the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning. We will be taking necessary measures to make sure that going forward these gaps are addressed on our site and also work with the ministers to make sure that the gaps that they have between the Project Implementation units on the CEOs are also bridged.
“Specifically for multilateral bilateral funded projects, the PIUs are domiciled in the designated implementing MDS and the lenders will not deal with any other agency but that beneficiary agency including the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning on procurements and as well as on several other aspects of the project implementation.”
Satisfied by her submission, the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Jibrin Barau (APC Kano North), said the clarifications made by the Minister were well understood by all the committee members and commended her for ensuring transparency with capturing of such loans or grants in the budget.
Earlier at an interface with the Senate Ad-hoc committee on uneven disbursement of a N500 billion Development fund by the Development Bank of Nigeria, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, failed to supply the committee with verifiable evidence of beneficiaries.
She said about 9.8 million pupils nationwide are already benefiting from the school feeding programme at the rate of N100 per meal, aside from beneficiaries of other clusters of the programme.
But the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Sani Musa and other members like Ayo Akinyekure, Uche Ekwunife, Mathew Urhoghide, etc, told the Minister that her presentation and that of the Coordinator of the program, Dr Umar Bindir, were beautiful on paper but lacked substance.
The implementation of the program according to them is a nullity.
Consequently, the Committee directed her to furnish it with the names of beneficiaries of different clusters of the program, their contact address, and telephone numbers on the basis of states, local governments and wards within the week.