The Senate Committee on Niger Delta Monday rejected the 2020 Budget of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, for omitting major ongoing projects in its Capital Appropriation.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, however asked the committee to appear before the panel next Monday to show how far they have reflected the Ministry’s budget.
Senator Nwaoboshi gave the directive during a budget defence session of the ministry in Abuja.
The Senator representing Delta North insisted that with the oversight function carried out in the ministry, it was realised that the bane of the ministry was abandoned projects littered all over the nine states.
He said: “There is no state; I dare to say that there is no local government where there are no abandoned projects in the Niger Delta.
“We cannot continue like that. With all the abandoned projects in the Niger Delta and we are talking about new projects; these new projects are designed to fail.
“Honourable Minister, we need to look at this budget again and we expect you to do your cleanup because the document we needed were not supplied to us.”
He warned that the habit were “we have proliferation of abandoned projects cannot continue.”
According to him, President Muhammadu Buhari has not commissioned any completed project executed by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in the last four years.
In his contribution, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe noted that the Ministry’s budget is an “uncommon budget.”
“When a budget is designed to fail it is uncommon,” Abaribe said.
“I know that you are aware that during appropriation you cannot remove an item in the next appropriation and I have been looking at the 2020 budget and have seen that many projects have been removed that is why the chairman said there are about 10 projects in the 2019 budget which have disappeared.
“If some work has been done on the budget as part of 2019 and some stretched from 2017 to 2018 and this one stretches from that what happened?
“Chairman, I will suggest that the budget should be taken back for reworking taking into cognisance all the projects that were pointed out and we give them another day to come and defend the budget.”
On his part, Senator Rochas Okorocha, noted that the 2020 budget of the Ministry is not different from its budget of two or three years ago.
“This type of budget doesn’t produce anything feasible,” Okorocha said. “You have to do your projects and complete them so you don’t sound like NDDC because one of the worst establishments is NDDC known for funny activities because of the way it is set up.
“This budget looks like NDDC’s budget. So you as a person that want to leave a legacy why don’t you take a major road and complete and give Niger Deltans something that can give the people job but you have left that and gone to the university to build a hall, the same university that Ministry of education, NDDC and so on would also come to build more borehole or another hall.
“When Federal Government is doing a particular renovation, NDDC is doing it, education is doing it. So I think someone like you is bigger than this,” Okorocha said.
Also in his remarks, Senator Sandy Onor Ojang representing Cross River Central, lamented a situation where capital components of yearly budgets would not be released to Ministries.
He wondered what would be the need for budget defence is capital allocations would not be made available to the Ministries.
Senator Ojang said: “We just look at your presentation and we are faced again with the vanity of having a budget and almost through the budget year, there are no capital releases.
“We cannot begin to see as if it is all beautiful. We can’t even be accused of cynicism speaking as Nigerians who have been elected to the Senate.
“It calls for concern and deep worry. In a budget situation where the capital outlay is even lower than personnel and other cost is an issue. But to speak of a situation where nothing is released for capital is tragedy.
“We are worried. We just came from another committee on Navy and even for them as strategic as they are, we had the same concerns there.
“So I am very worried and I think that it defies party affiliations, emotions and so on. It is something for which we should stand up as a Legislature on this side and even as the executive.
“We must work together. A budget is not just a piece of paper or something theoretical. It must have a practical basis. So I think that this year, we should work together – all of us, all of us – in the interest of our country to make sure that this budget is truly a budget.
“If not it becomes a ritual to have us come and sit here. When there are no capital releases, what are we really talking about?
“So I am worried and I do hope that if we make excuses that last year we were distracted by elections, which is not even a proper excuse to make, I do hope that this year there would be funding, so that our country can indeed move forward.
“We seem to be running around in gyrations that are the reality. That is truth and it is not meant to be an indictment on anybody, it is just the state of affairs as it is and we must speak to it so that we move forward. We are all challenged in this country to do so.”
However, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, denied that the ministry’s budget was rejected.
Akpabio said that instead of rejecting the budget, the lawmakers should join him to appeal to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to increase the capital component of the ministry’s budget.
He insisted that the 2020 capital budget of the ministry cannot even complete a 10kilometre road in the region.
He lamented that out of the capital appropriation of N35.2billion for 2019, no single kobo has been released to the ministry.
The Minister noted that the 2020 budget proposal was prepared using the approved Zero-Based Budgeting Approach and also in line with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework/Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
Akpabio who spoke to reporters in an interview said: “The budget was not rejected the Senators feel that there ought to be completion of major projects that are already in the Niger Delta.
“I agree with them but unfortunately, we are working under a very tight envelope and the ministry was allocated the sum of about N23 billion and 60 per cent of it will go to already existing projects in the region and 40 per cent will go to probably new projects in the region.
“So if you look at it very well, it is not possible for you to capture all projects with that amount and it is not even going to be possible to complete even 10 kilometers of road in the region.
“So I think instead of saying that the budget was rejected, I think that the distinguished Senators should collectively make an appeal to the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning to improve upon the envelope to expand it a little, so it can capture at least substantially most of the yearnings and aspirations of the good people of the Niger Delta.
“And taking cognizance of already outstanding projects that were conceptualised since 2016, 2015, 2018 which yet to be paid for.
“Again, there is nothing we could have done about the budget based on the fact that we are yet to receive even one naira for the capital project for 2019 that is still being processed in the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.
“We have explained to them (Senate) that yes, indeed, once the capital release is made, it will fund part of the budget head-on, until then we have no option than to roll them over in the 2020 budget.
“They have given us to Monday we will go and work with the Ministry of Finance to see whether it is possible to have capital released for this year.
On his part, the Minister of State for Niger Delta, Senator Tayo Alasoadura said: “I think we should also note that if we are to capture all the projects that our colleagues have asked us to capture we will be allocating very paltry amount of money to all the projects and at the end of the day, it will not make sense and it will not favour anybody and it will be a budget designed to fail like one of the Senators said.
“If we have 300 projects and you have money that can capture only 150 why put everything there and allocate small amount of money that will not make any difference at the end of the day?
“So we had chosen very carefully based on need, based on good spread etc.”
Earlier in his presentation, Akpabio said that the 2020 budgetary capital allocation for the Ministry which is N23, 890,350,399.00 is considered meagre and significantly inadequate in the face of the mandate and goals of the Ministry to meet the aspirations of the people of the Niger Delta Region.
He said: “An analysis of the 2020 budget estimates reveal that an average sum of N2, 626,705,599.00 is allocated to each of the nine states of the region based of the capital ceiling.
“This amount which is expected to cater for roads, environment, health, social inclusion and provision of water, which are priority needs of the people of the region, in accordance with the ERGP, cannot conveniently pay for a quality 10km road in any part of the States in the region, thus underscoring the inadequacy of the ceiling given to the Ministry.
“This gross inadequate funding has led over the years to the following: Plethora of abandoned/uncompleted projects. Protracted delay in project delivery, negative perception of the Ministry and loss-of-faith in the Federal Government by the people of the region, and difficulty in the realization of Mr. President’s vision for the region,” he said.