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Senators Pick Holes in 2016 Budget Estimates, Describe It as Bogus

Ayodele Afolabi, Abuja

Senators across party lines on  Wednesday picked holes in many of the projections made in the N6.08trillion 2016 budget estimates laid before a joint session of the National Assembly in December last year by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The senators made the critique  when contributing to debate on general principles of the budget which began yesterday.

First to pick holes in the budget projections after a lead debate on it for passage for second reading by the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, was Senator Eyinaya Abaribe ( PDP Abia South), who described it as budget of change in the wrong direction.

He said it was wrong for the budget planners to have increased the budget spending up to 30% solely on projection of borrowing, rather than looking inward for internal revenue drive and coming up with a realistic budget profile and not a bogus one of over N6trillion.

According to him, the budget is dead on arrival based on series of its unrealistic projections and questionable expenditure profile like the N3.9billion earmarked for renovation of the presidential villa and outrageous increase in domestic spending in the villa from N580million to N1.7billion aside the $38 oil price benchmark that has even gone down to $27 per barrel now.

He said: “I am going to quote copiously from the Senate  Leader; in page four he said: this budget is unique and titled `Budget of Change’.

“Mr President, My colleagues, this budget is indeed unique, the first budget that has ever been sent out to the public of Nigeria and after the budget presentation, the finance minister has never come to explain the details of the budget as it is normally done.

“It is a budget of change I agree but it is a change in the wrong direction; I say it is a change in the wrong direction because it says  that it is based on zero budgeting requiring all expenses to be fully justified.

“Mr President, a budget that increases spending up to 30 per cent based solely on borrowing, in what way is it justified? That is the question we want to ask the people who brought this budget as change. We ask a question: this budget has moved the 2015 budget from 4.45 trillion to N6 trillion and we felt that moving it on zero based budgeting should actually show how it is done.

Of course we get nothing, all we get is that we are going to borrow.

“Mr President, a budget that moves domestic spending within Aso Villa from N580 million to N1.7 billion cannot be a budget of change.. We were told that in the revised Budget there was an adjustment due to error, we agree but what has happened is that the money up to N7 billion were moved from buying vehicles to being spread in offices.

“It also increases the spending that is due to renovations within the Villa: they are going to renovate the Villa with N3.9 billion: what else do you want to renovate there that Nigerians will see in the year 2016.

“We know what is going on in the global economy: this budget is predicated on an oil benchmark of $38 per barrel and I can now say that with oil being $28 today, this Budget is dead on arrival.

“The job of the opposition is to help the government to get its priorities right so I want to please urge this government to withdraw this budget and go back to the drawing board”

Toeing the same line of argument was the Deputy Senate President, Ike EKweremadu who said the N6.08 trillion budget profile is sending a wrong signal to Nigerians and the international community at a time of global recession.

He gave an analogy of the unrealistic projection of the budget by saying, “I am not an economist but I know that if my income is N100,000 and suddenly I start earning N30,000 and I tell my children that we will now be spending N120,000, they will start wondering where I will get the money.”

Therefore, according to him, to make the  budget a bit realistic, it has to be reduced by about 30%.

He said: “We have always increased the budget of this country from between 10 and 20 per cent, I just want to appeal that for the first time we should be able to reduce that budget by the same 20 to 30 per cent.That is in order for us to be realistic otherwise it will not be implementable.

“I am aware that during the great recession in America they had to inflate the economy by doing more projects. We are in recession whether we like it or not.They did not go to borrow money, people had to make sacrifices so I appeal that instead of financing in deficit through borrowing and mortgaging the future, we need to look inwards and raise the money.

“I believe that as we look at the spending side, we have to look at the revenue side: we have not been creative enough to raise money to run this country”.

Senator Gbenga Ashafa ( APC Lagos East) in his own submission, though urged the senate to pass the budget for second reading, but said the senate must ask the executive how it wants to carry out the 500,000 teachers recruitment, asking, where is the money going to come from?.

Other Senators who picked holes in the budget projections are  Rose Okoh ( PDP Cross River North), Peter Nwaboshi ( PDP Delta North), Suleiman Adokwe ( PDP Nasarawa South), Philip Aduda( PDP FCT)etc.

However some APC senators like Ahmad Lawan (Yobe North), Babajide Omoworare ( Osun East) , Shehu Sani ( Kaduna Central ), Rafiu Ibrahim ( Kwara South) and Aliyu Wakili ( Bauchi South), lauded projections made in the budget.

Ahmad Lawan in his contribution justified the intention of the executive to fund the budget by borrowing, saying the huge chunk of our resources have been stolen.

He said the budget should be given expeditious consideration by the senate on account of its laudable and very realistic projections like 30% voted for capital expenditure which is the first time in the last 16 years and the N500 billion allocated for school feeding and other safety nets.

Omoworare on his part said Nigerians should be happy that for the first time, a budget not concentrating on sharing of the national cake but baking it , is made available for them.

He however called for increase in luxury tax collection and the 5% VAT tax net, just as he urged the various senate committees to take more seriously, their oversight functions for effective implementation of the budget.

Senators John Enoh ( PDP Cross River Central) Barbabas Gemade ( APC Benue North East) and Ben Murray Bruce ( PDP Bayelsa East), were very dispassionate in their contributions devoid of partisanship.

Ben Bruce in his contribution, said the budget should deal with the future and not the past by raising  the issues of population explosion , alternative energy etc, which were not in anyway, addressed by the budget projections.

Meanwhile, the budget debate continues today as announced by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki after which he said he would make his own remarks.


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