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N1TRN FAKE PROJECTS SMUGGLED INTO 2012 BUDGET -SENATE

By NBF News
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The Senate yesterday raised the alarm that it has uncovered N1trillion fake projects allegedlly smuggled into the 2012 budget submitted last December by the Presidency. This is even as President Goodluck Jonathan is considering further cuts in the N4.79 trillion budget. Coordinating Minister on the Economy and Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had three weeks ago, in company with the Director-General, Budget Office, Mr. Bright Okongwu, told the Senate Appropriation Committee that the estimates may be further slashed by at least, N347 billion.

But yesterday, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Maccido, who raised the alarm in Abuja, noted that over 40 per cent of the projects in the new budget are not in the original version presented to to the lawmakers in December.

Senator Maccido said it is no longer business as usual as the National Assembly will weed off any allocation not contained in the original version submitted to it.

His words: 'The problem is that we are seeing projects that are not in the original version of the budget presented to us by President Goodluck Jonathan and substantial part of these projects are being smuggled into the budget by the MDAs and ministers.

'Over 40 per cent of the projects in the budget are not in the original budget. And we are saying no to this practice,

'The items so smuggled into the budget are worth over N1trillion. So, right now, we are comparing the budget as originally presented by the President and the version presented by the MDAs. Unless these projects are there in the original budget, we are going to scrap them.

'It's no longer going to be business as usual. These people are just smuggling in projects that are not in the budgets and we're going to remove them,' he said.

Meanwhile, Senate President David Mark has given all the 56 sub-committees of the Appropriation Committee till tomorrow conclude budget defence of their respective MDAs before the Appropriation Committee.

Speaking at yesterday's plenary, Mark warned the sub-committees that 'if after Thursday, you fail to defend your budgets before the Appropriation Committee, Senate will use the figures submitted by the Executive.'

On the proposed slash in the budget, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said they would affect only the statutory transfers, the judiciary and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) among others. To forestall the slash, INEC, while defending its budget two weeks ago, reduced it by N5 billion.

Okonjo-Iweala however, noted that capital expenditure for the fiscal year would not be touched with drastic cuts in overheads and recurrent expenditure.

The minister also pleaded with the National Assembly to consider a further reduction in its new budget.

Daily Sun, however, gathered that the Presidency is considering further cuts which would affect not only the statutory transfers, but 'would be across board. All the MDAs and statutory transfers are now affected.'

Sources on the Senate Appropriation Committee told Daily Sun that the budget defence conducted by the National Assembly two weeks ago 'may just be an exercise in futility. We have been told that they would still cut the budget and this time around, no one is spared.

'Last month, we were told that the cuts would affect only the statutory transfers but it seems government still needs more money and so, all the MDAs would be affected.

'In fact, the National Assembly is constrained by this culture of government restricting the MDAs to envelopes. No MDA can go beyond the amount approved for it in the envelope and some of them come to us, begging us to help them increase their budgets.

'But that is no longer possible because we have been told that after the first round of cuts, there will still be another cut and this time, no institution is spared. This new action renders the budget defence in the National Assembly useless.'

It would be recalled that the Presidency late last month threatened to sanction any agency that lobbied the federal legislature over statutory allocations while defending their budgets.