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2012 Budget Performance: Senators Expel Ministers; threaten Okonjo-Iweala with Arrest

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A powerful delegation from the Presidency was walked out of the Senate building following the unsuppressed anger of senators over the absence of Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

The frosty relationship between the legislative and the executive arms of government over the poor implementation of the 2012 budget rolled over to the Senate yesterday, leading to a walk-out of a high powered delegation of the Presidency from the Senate building as Senators expressed displeasure over assessed tardy execution of the 2012 budget. The anger of the senators was further stoked by revelations that the real implementation level of the 2012 capital budget was 12.16% and not the 56% as earlier claimed by administration officials.

The delegation led by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim himself a former President of the Senate was shored up with Sen. Idris Umar, Transport Minister, also a former senator. In the face of the blistering anger of the lawmakers, the delegation, which also included the Minister of State, Finance, Dr. Yerima Lawan Ngama, and the Auditor-General of the Federation were not even allowed to speak. They were shown the door and what was meant to be an interactive session between the Senate and the Finance Minister and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, over the 2012 budget was cancelled in the absence of Okonjo-Iweala.

The Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu who represented Senate President, David Mark at the aborted hearing, noted that it was absolutely impossible to continue with the public hearing following the absence of Okonjo-Iweala. The absence of Okonjo-Iweala angered Ekweremadu as he ordered the Chairman of Appropriations Committee, Ahmed Maccido to summon her to appear in person before the Joint Committee on Finance and Appropriations on Thursday (tomorrow) failing which a warrant of arrest would be issued on her.

Ekweremadu described the situation as unacceptable and warned that the Senate would not hesitate to invoke the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution if steps were not taken to address the situation. He recalled that when the 2012 budget was presented to the National Assembly as a draft bill, only minimal input was made to ensure it was fully implemented. 'We in the National Assembly decided that we are going to do everything possible to send the budget back to the executive the way it came, so that there would be no argument of whether it would be implemented or not. This is because over the years, we have had this issue of non-implementation of budget and the reason they usually give surrounds the area of National Assembly input. So, we decided we are going to make minimal input if anything at all… So, on the basis of this, we returned the budget basically the way it came, '' he said.

Ekweremadu regretted that despite of their efforts, the level of implementation has remained low. 'Unfortunately, the level of implementation has been less than commendable and that is why we are worried.' He also refuted allegations credited to the Finance Minister, blaming the poor implementation of the budget on tinkering by the National Assembly.

Okonjo-Iweala had claimed that the 2012 capital budget implementation as at June 20 was 56%. But a document on budget performance submitted to the Senate Finance Committee by the office of the Accountant General of the Federation showed that a total sum of N401, 648, 460, 791 has been so far released with N324, 556, 851, 948 of that amount being cash backed. According to the document, out of this, only N184, 848, 092, 533 has been utilized as at 20th July 2012, just as capital allocation for 2012 budget stood at N1, 519, 986, 106, 691 and only 21.35% of the total allocation has been cash backed. And the percentage amount utilized from the releases so far stood at 12.16% as at July 20th.

Expressing the anger of the senators, Ekweremadu said: 'We had expected the Minister of Finance and coordinating minister for the economy to be here today because she's central to all that we are going to discuss here today… this matter was supposed to be discussed last week but the Minister was unavoidably absent. 'We learnt that she went to Asaba to declare open a SURE-P Programme. We consider our meeting with her on an issue that has to do with budget implementation to be more important than any other assignment. Today we have also been told that she's gone to London to represent the President on an investment forum for which we know there are other ministers and government officials that could as well have done that to enable her to be here with us this afternoon. So it is regrettable that she is not here.'

Yesterday's development came on the heels of the face-off between the Presidency and the House of Representatives over low-level budget implementation. Members of the House had threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president if by September the administration fails to fully execute the budget as passed.