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Budget Implementation: Okonjo-Iweala's Claims Are Untenable 'Excuses'- House

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ABUJA, July 29, (THEWILL) - The Federal House of Representatives on Sunday took a swipe at coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, dismissing her recent blame of the slow pace of the 2012 Budget implementation on National Assembly’s constituency projects.

Spokesman for the House, Hon. Zakari Mohammed stated this in Abuja, wondering how constituency projects that constitute only 10 per cent of the entire budget could become an obstacle for budget implementation.

“For the avoidance of doubt, constituency projects represent less than 10 per cent of the 2012 capital budget. How can this be the reason for the slow implementation of the budget?” Zakari queried.

“This excuse for the non-implementation falls flat on its face when a review of the performance of the Executive or even its own preferred projects is made. More evidential is the fact that releases so far made to the MDAs are not enough to pay for ongoing projects or projects chosen by the Executive.”

He noted that out of a total appropriation of N145bn for the Ministry of Works in the budget, only N47bn has so far been released. Meanwhile, N38bn was released in the first quarter while only N9 billion was released in the second quarter, meaning a shortfall of about N30bn for the second quarter.

“The projects that need these appropriations are core road projects scattered all over the country. Or are these inter-state highways and other strategic road projects also constituency projects? Playing to the gallery by the executive arm will not change the facts of the situation.

“It is also important to restate that these constituency projects are managed by the Executive. Members of the National Assembly are not involved in the advertising of these projects neither are they involved in the shortlisting of contractors for the projects; they are not part of the process of the actual award of the contracts. It has been their exclusive preserve.”

Zakari alleged that the minister was breaching the budget law by using her discretion to decide which aspects of the budget were implementable.

“The House of Representatives will like to restate its concern over the poor and selective implementation of the 2012 budget by the Executive and the attitude of officials of government saddled with the responsibility of implementing the Appropriation Acts.

“For the avoidance of doubt, Sections 6 and 7 of the 2012 Appropriation Act clearly state what officials of government, and in this case the Honourable Minister of Finance, are permitted to do.”

Zakari recalled that Section 6 of the Appropriation Act 2012, states ‘The minister of finance shall ensure that funds appropriated under this Act are released to the appropriate agencies and/or organs of government as and when due, provided that no funds for any quarter of the fiscal year shall be deferred without prior waiver from the National Assembly.’

He argued that the choice of the word ‘shall’ is mandatory under the circumstance, not discretionary. He explained that the minister is expected to comply, as it is not within her powers to choose projects and programmes to fund as has been the case with the Appropriation Act 2012,” he said.

“Her piecemeal and discretionary release of funds for projects, contrary to the schedule approved in the Appropriation Act, is unlawful. She is, in fact, apparently breaking the law.“

He added that the law requires the minister to ensure that all funds appropriated for projects within a particular quarter are released to all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, when due without preference. If the revenue target is not achieved in any particular period, he argued, it is the responsibility of the Honourable Minister to seek waiver from the National Assembly.