NASS Query INEC Over N13B Profit Margin On Voter Registration Machine

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ABUJA, August 09, (THEWILL) – Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega’s request for N74 billion naira voter registration budget today jammed a brick wall at the National Assembly and may ignite an open confrontation on the floors of both chambers; Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Jega seems to be shopping in trouble waters as the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriation, and Electoral Matters at a meeting today preceding the budget debate described as arbitrary the N13.727 billion naira padded in the budget for the Direct Capture Machine (DCM).

A rattled Jega who faced the Committee comprising of Committee Members of the Senate and the House of Representative strained for convincing defence, saying the figures were not arbitrary since the amount represented 30 percent of the N45.755 billion naira total cost of the machine, if it were to be purchased from vendors as contained in a circular issued by former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma during the military regimes.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Iyiola Omisore, pointedly told Prof. Jega that the profit margin and some other computations in the supplementary appropriation, particularly the profit margin was arbitrary, an abnormally and an embarrassment to the National Assembly.

"It is arbitrary, it is an abnormally, it is an embarrassment to the National Assembly and you expect us to pass the budget with 30 percent profit margin for N45.755billion. This is arbitrary, we can’t accept it", he said

But Jega rose to the defence, saying that there was nothing to suggest any arbitrariness in the budget.

"I want to assure you that there is no arbitrariness in our calculations we are humans we can make mistakes but we did not do anything arbitrarily. We try to do everything possible to ensure that what we have presented is something that we can defend. We also know that you have the responsibility to save taxpayers money; we will do our best to defend it.

"I can assure you sir, whatever money you appropriate, if it is not used for the purpose, it will go back to the government.

"We are working under serious tight frame but we are doing our best as humanly possible to ensure that we minimize the errors that are likely to happen when people are working under these circumstances", he said.

According to him, "The question of voter registration, this figure emanated from the presentation we made to the President and a meeting of stakeholders including the leadership of the National Assembly. At that presentation sir, we made it very clear that we are looking at two scenarios in the procurement of direct capture machine. The preferable option for us is the one we can procure directly from the manufacturers and we have a manufacturer’s price.

"Then there is the other one, which if we cannot get directly from the manufacturers, we have to procure through the vendors because direct capture machines are put together by vendors. It is very expensive, so we have to put 30 percent profit margin. That was how the idea of separating the profit from the cost element came.

"Maybe it was a mistake while presenting this former proposal that it was not collapsed together and we still presented it with the profit margin, I think I should explain this. We separated the profit margin to make it clear about the advantage of procuring directly from the manufacturer, it means we can save N13 billion if we are able to do that. But for purposes of planning we have to ask for N74.69 billion and that was the total and it took the N45 billion and the N13 billion and the other cost elements which give you the N74.69 billion.

"I recognize the point if it poses a problem regarding the normal way you do your budget, we can just take the profit element and merge it with the actual cost of the manufacturers price and that will give you the cost of the machine element which will just be about N59 billion. But it has not changed the total computation sir", he added.

On the issue of N5.2billion for voter registration, Jega said; "It is part of the problem sir, there are two separate reports which have now been merged, very understandably so because they all have to do with INEC, but sir there is a request which has been made much earlier even before our inauguration as a commission, a supplementary appropriation of N15 billion to fill in the gap of the financial requirement of the 2011 election. I think it is important I make this point because we are moving from one figure to another, they have been collapsed, and I think it is important we separate this form what we presented for the purpose of voter registration which is a separate figure.

"The issue of N5.4 billion, this is money that has been computed and put into that supplementary budget. All we did is to say that since all this money has been requested, if it is provided, then we do not have to ask for money again to do the cleanup of the voter register. Because it is the same amount we will require to do that.

"On the issue of logistics, it will appear as if there are too many logistics, again as I explained it is because two different document have been merged into one, after the 2010 appropriation, it became clear the amount required for logistics was not the amount given and the amount given was inadequate to ensure that there is adequate logistics preparation for the elections.

"Therefore that request for logistics for elections is independent for logistics for voter registration, so that is why you see two different requests. One is to meet the gap for preparation for 2011 elections," he stated.

The meeting continued at press time last night. However, the Senate which reconvened for an emergency session today over the INEC budget would seat for two days to consider and pass the budget on time for INEC to fast track preparation for the 2011 general elections.

Nonetheless, Senator Omisore told the INEC boss that it does not mean that whatever he requested would be approved ‘hook line and sinker.’