ANALYSIS: Discrepancies, queries, startling revelations during 2021 budget defence sessions – Premium Times

National Assembly
For about four weeks, lawmakers of both the Senate and House of Representatives have engaged representatives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in separate (or joint) committee meetings – as required.
The MDAs, as expected, appeared before respective panels to give a performance of their 2020 budget as well as defend their 2021 proposed appropriation.
While many MDAs showed up for their budget defence sessions, there were few cases of some heads of agencies avoiding the scheduled meetings.
The budget defence is one of, and arguably, the most important stages of budget passage. This is a sequel to the second reading and passage of the budget (or Appropriation Bill) by both chambers of the National Assembly.
President Muhammadu Buhari had, in October, presented a budget of N13.08 trillion to a joint session of the National Assembly.
The budget proposes recurrent expenditure of N5.65 trillion, personnel cost of N3.76 trillion and debt service of N3.12 trillion.
President Buhari presents the 2021 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly. [PHOTO CREDIT: @profosinbajo]President Buhari presents the 2021 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly. [PHOTO CREDIT: @profosinbajo]
After legislative scrutiny and deliberations, the budget was referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriation which spread it across other committees for further legislative work, hence the budget defence sessions.
The sessions of previous years and even previous assemblies were filled with queries, discrepancies in budgets of some MDAs and many other startling revelations.
This year was no different as new discoveries were made from almost every meeting.
The lawmakers also did not hesitate to issue queries to defaulting agencies over disparity in their budget or misconduct of representatives.
* One of such cases is the defence session of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) with the Senate Committee on Power.
The panel had discovered discrepancies in the agency’s proposed budget – filled with uneven distribution of mini-grid power projects for rural communities, alleging that many of them were concentrated in the local government area of the Minister of Power, Mamman Saleh.
* Another case was the discovery of a N110.4 million scam payment to ghost workers during the tenure of the former Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
This was contained in the report that the Auditor General of the Federation, Anthony Ayinde, submitted to the Senate Committee on Public Accounts for investigation.
* Similarly, the same panel demanded answers on a set of audit queries to the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET).
Among the queries is an unremitted N1.5 billion accrued as accumulated interests from investments in treasury bills.

These are few of the many discrepancies discovered in the budgets of various MDAs and lawmakers have either raised concerns about nonexistent projects in the budgets or recurring projects due to slow pace of work on the said project.
1. ‘Unrepentant’ Boko Haram member
The revelation that a ‘repentant’ Boko Haram member was responsible for the death of an army Colonel, D.C Bako, could no doubt pass as the most startling.
The chairperson of the Senate Committee on Army, Ali Ndume, disclosed this shortly after the army’s budget defence.
A seemingly emotional Mr Ndume said the Boko Haram member, believed to have repented, gave out information to the terrorists regarding movement of the colonel.
This is even as he condemned the federal government’s plan to rehabilitate and reintegrate repentant terrorists.
2. Plans to sell national assets
Even if some lawmakers knew about this agreement, Nigerians were certainly shocked by the revelation.
The news surfaced during the budget defence session of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) with the Senate Committee on Privatisation where the Director General, Alex Okoh, said the federal government has plans to sell some national assets to fund the 2021 budget.
Some of the assets put up for sale are the Integrated Power Plants in Geregu, Omotosho, and Calabar at N434 billion in 2021.
There are also plans to concession the National Arts Theatre, Tafawa Balewa Square, and all the River Basin Development Authorities at N836 million while the National Stadium in Lagos, the Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abuja, and two others were pegged for concessioning at N100 million.

The panel has however, feigned ignorance of the deal as it decried lack of cooperation from the BPE.
3. No means to monitor TSA revenues
Although it appeared that not much has been done about it, it was shocking to know that the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation has no means of monitoring in real-time the revenues accruing to the country through the Treasury Single Account (TSA) despite advancement in technology.
The Accountant General, Ahmed Idris, revealed this during his office’ budget defence session with the Senate Committee on Finance.
The TSA, a centralised bank account used by government agencies to receive revenues, has helped reduce fraud and instances of officials stealing public funds, the government has said.
Mr Idris had also disclosed that his office, instead, directly deducts revenue from accounts of about 60 agencies — an act the Senate committee described as illegal.
4. Contractors owed N70 billion
Although this is no news to some, many were, however,  hoping for a different tale when the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, disclosed that contractors are currently being owed up to N70 billion.
This was during his ministry’s budget defense session with the Senate Committee on Housing.
The minister also said the ministry is owing contractors majorly because their budget was reduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. Over 700 soldiers amputated
While injury to soldiers is expected in a country battling insecurity and its security personnel on the frontlines, they were not expecting the said figures.
The Executive Secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, James Lalu, disclosed this at the agency’s defense session with the Senate Committee on Special Duties.
He said over 700 soldiers of the Nigerian Army have been amputated as a result of war against terrorists in the North east. He said this while explaining the commssion’s approach to inclusiveness that will protect the rights of every person and reduce discrimination against them.
In all, the Senate Committee on Public Accounts gave the most queries during the 2021 defense sessions. A huge percentage of MDAs that appeared before the panel defaulted in one way or the other.
Some agencies were queried  majorly for failing to submit their audit report. The failure of MDAs to submit their audit reports has become a norm which dates back to previous assemblies. And despite tough talks by relevant committees, the act still continues.
There are, however, outcomes of some meetings that Nigerians have asked the National Assembly and the federal government to take note of.
Some of them are amendments to the Electoral Act and introduction of diaspora voting as demanded by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Many have also asked the government to properly fund the State House Clinic to make it functional and reduce the president’s frequent medical trips abroad.
One common complaint from the MDAs has been late release of funds and the need for an increase in their budgetary allocations.
The lawmakers are expected to resume plenary Tuesday.
The various committees will submit their reports to the appropriation committee which will then present a final report to the Senate for consideration and final passage of the budget.
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QueenEsther Iroanusi covers the National Assembly for PREMIUM TIMES. She is a 2018 Female Reporters Leadership Programme fellow of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism. She has a degree in French. She can be reached on Twitter @QueenExtha

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