12 January 2018
There were further indications that expectation for the early passage of the 2018 budget by the National Assembly would not come to pass, having missed the December date which President Muhammadu Buhari had appealed for its approval.
This was reinforced when the committees of the House of Representatives separately declined audience with the federal government agencies they oversight, either on the grounds that the latter had deliberately withheld useful information required to vet the performances of the 2017 budget or that they deliberately submitted information a few hours to their budget defence sessions with lawmakers, thereby denying them ample time to properly scrutinise the proposals.
Last Tuesday, the Presidential Amnesty Office was reportedly turned down from defending its budget because of insufficient information submitted to the lawmakers.
Also, at a recent budget defence session of the Federal Ministry of Health, a sub-committee had to be set up as things got knotty- to properly scrutinise the ministry’s budget performance in 2017 as well as how it had spent funds generated during the period.
Nevertheless, the lawmakers saw such delay tactics by agencies to withhold information as a deliberate ambush against them, and had repeatedly restated their resolve not to be stampeded by the executive.
Only yesterday, the Chairman, House Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Hon. Ayi Essien Ekpenyong, declined audience with the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Usani Usani, and his management team who had come to defend the ministry’s 2018 budget proposal before the committee.
Among other things, the ministry was being accused of failing to provide necessary documents and answers which would be handy in guiding the committee to properly interrogate the proposals.
Ekpenyong said the committee is particularly interested in the completion of all capital projects and programmes already in existence.
He added that the ministry had not been co-operating with the committee and by extension, the National Assembly.
The chairman said the ministry even tried to frustrate its efforts and evaded answers during a recent oversight visit to Niger Delta.
The committee said the ministry appeared not ready for budget defence.
Ekpenyong, however, ruled, following a motion by a member of the committee, to discharge the agency, giving it till next Monday to furnish it with all relevant details- as well as apprear on Thursday for the defence.
Members who expressed displeasure that the budget was filled with new projects when a plethora of old and existing ones had not been completed.
They further chided the minister for dishonouring many invitations extended to him to interface with them on sensitive issues of the ministry.
The chairman noted that the committee in the course of its oversight functions to the ministry discovered abandoned projects, saying it was the priority of the committee to ensure that ongoing projects were completed before new ones would be introduced, and criticised the ministry for not releasing funds to pay contractors handling various projects.