Nigeria Finance Minister, Okonjo-Iweala: We’ve tampered with budget – Puts execution at 13.7%

August 5th, 2012

The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday admitted at a Senate session that in the course of executing the 2012 budget, monies were moved from one area to the other without recourse to the National Assembly.

Answering questions before the Senate Joint Committee on Appropriation, Finance, National Planning and Public Account,  the minister also did a volte face regarding the level of the implementation of the budget, saying if performance is measured over the entire year, 13.7% implementation has so far been achieved and not 56% as she earlier said.

Reacting to allegations that the budget had been tampered with, the minister said: “For certain projects and programmes of some MDAs, there were resources that were moved from some areas to others, making it a little bit difficult to implement with that movement.”

She however said this has nothing to do with constituency projects, which will be implemented as being designed.”

At this point, a member of the panel, Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi, cut in to challenge the minister, pointing out that any movement of funds from one area to another without recourse to the National Assembly constitutes a breach of the law.

He said: “Budget is not only about statistics and figures, any tinkering or tampering with the budget, whether there is a design or not, whether there is a reason for it or not, ought to be brought to the National Assembly. For anybody to say he will do this or that is a breach of the law.”

The minister did not respond to Senator Ningi’s observation, but she blamed a section of the media for misrepresenting the executive on budget implementation, hinting that the movement of resources, not constituency projects, was delaying the implementation of the budget.

Her latest admission concerning the level of implementation of the budget came after she had consistently maintained that government had implemented 56 per cent of the budget, a position which set her against the against the National Assembly in recent weeks.

She failed twice to appear before the joint committee, but did so yesterday after the Senate threatened to order her arrest.

Explaining the performance of the budget to the joint committees yesterday the minister noted that though N446 billion out of the capital allocation of N1.3 trillion ought to have been released from April to July, only N404billion had been released, N324billion cash-backed, N184billion utilised.

According to her, the N184billion utilised represents a budget execution of 41.3 percent from April to July 2012.

She said: “Out of the total capital budget of N1.3 trillion, we’ve so far released N404 billion, cash-backed N324billio out of which 56 percent has been used meaning that there is still 44 percent of resources not used. We’re working to see that even the 44 percent left, is used.

“We’ve released all the monies available. If we look at the pro-rata for those four months, N446billion should have been released for capital expenditure, but we’ve released N404billion, and you look at the cash-backing, the utilisation as a percentage of that, that will be a proper way of looking at the budget.

“If you look at that ratio, you’d see that we should have released N446bn from April to July, we cash-backed N324bn, N184bn has been utilised and this gives you, if you want to look at the execution part of the budget, 41.3 percent. I have not talked about budget implementation before, I only spoke about the utilisation of the resources, but now, in terms of the budget, this is the way we will present it.”

Speaking further, she said: ‘’N1.3trillion was appropriated for capital projects outside of SURE-Programme (SURE-P), but if you if you add SURE-P to it, you get N1.5 trillion. If you pro-rate that amount months by months, because budget execution is supposed to take place month by month, you get a figure of N113billion each month. If you want to measure it (budget execution) over the entire year, that means measuring it over 12 months, you get a figure of 13.7 percent. But we have been implementing for four months and we have been releasing like that because our money comes in every month, not in bulk,’’ she said.

Commenting on constituency projects, one of the contentious issues between the executive and the lawmakers, the minister said: “We absolutely have no problem with constituency projects, the projects are there, and neither the president nor any one has said that (there is a problem with the constituency projects).”

She assured that the 2013 budget would be submitted by September, pointing out that it would be premature to adjudge the performance of the 2012 budget at the moment.

Earlier, Senate President David Mark, who was represented by Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba said the executive should take responsibility for any lapses in budget execution.

According to him, “budget performance is a major concern to Nigerians because it is through that we can deliver the dividends of democracy to them. This is certainly not going to be a family meeting, it will be a Nigerian meeting and we are making it as open so that every Nigerian will get to know what truly is happening.

“During the military era, Nigerians got used to living without the National Assembly. Now, that there is the National Assembly, everything that goes wrong is blamed on the National Assembly.  We would like to take responsibility for where we go wrong, but what we certainly will not take responsibility for is the failure of others.