In this interview with Azimazi Momoh Jimoh of the Guardian newspapers, , Senator Iyiola Omisore, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, and a leading members of the Peoples Democratic Party affirms that the votes that gave victory to the Peoples Democratic Party in Odo Osi Local Government are genuine and credible.
What challenges has budgets faced in the past two years?
Firstly, our major setback is the lateness of proposal being brought by the executive. They brought in their proposal late in November or October each year. After they submitted it late, they still correspond with us to make changes, amending the proposals up till January or February. Those are the major challenges. Despite these constraints, we try to still give Nigerians budget early enough like in January.
If it has taken the executive one-year to bring budget to us, we are going to spend more time to work on it. So, it is just for the executive to sit up and ensure that we get the budget early enough so that we can have the budget at the appropriate time.
Again they make mistakes here and there and we will begin to make corrections, changing revenue profile, first line charges up to one or two days before the budget is passed. And we are trying to discourage the issue of budget amendment or budget review. That is why we are painstaking.
Last year, we had a lot of challenges, but luckily we were able to unearth so much money last year and that was what made it easier for us to get it better in the 2008 budget. There was so much money that was hidden up to about five billion that were unearthed by the National Assembly particularly in the areas of non-oil revenue. That is Customs and Federal Inland Revenue Services.
You can see what is happening in the Customs probe in the House of Representatives now. We believe that more than 30 per cent of our budget can be financed by the Customs if they are properly corrected and properly channeled. But there are lots of lapses, loopholes and leakages either directly or indirectly from the executives through the Customs. So that is why we had these problems.
We actually addressed some of these issues last year. And the issue of returning money to the treasury was quite good for us. All unspent money must go back to the treasury and they opened balance for the New Year expenses.
The National Assembly planned to establish a budget office to take care of all these problems. What is happening to that?
Well, we are supposed to have what they called the National Budgetary Office of the National Assembly and the lower chamber has passed it and we are trying to concur with them at the upper chamber here.
We are forming many committees to look at the workability of that because it is going to involve the Senate, the House of Representatives and the management. We have met once, and by God’s grace it should be able to take-off for use for this year’s budget.
This means that every budget will take off from that office and all facts and figures will be directed to the Budget Office and this will enable us to have we are going to have a data base which could also be used to assist the executive in their own lapses.
In preparing the budget, a lot of interests come into play as people try to influence certain projects or ensure that monies are provided to fund projects in their areas. What are your experiences in this regard?
It is a normal thing. The difference between democracy and military regimes is budgeting by the National Assembly, which together with the ministers, President and even the civil servants who work on the budgets are representatives of the people.
During military regimes, civil servants only handle the budget because the ministers were handpicked and the governors too were handpicked. But now every budget that comes to the National Assembly, represent constituencies.
It is a presumption that a budget that passes before you must take care of your own constituency. The basis of bringing it to the National Assembly is that it is assumed that every member of the National Assembly is satisfied that his own constituency is taken care of in the budget. So, to produce a National Budget, it is presumed that before you pass a budget, every member of the National Assembly must have been satisfied
. So, these pressures must definitely come or else the budget will not be passed. It is however not a problem because there must be a consensus and that is why we have the constituency project to take care of the interests of constituents in line with the federal government’s own policies.
Most of the projects they did in the ministries were formulated by sitting in one office and that is why there are mistakes because projects were being repeated two or three times by the civil servants who don’t know the nooks and crannies of the country. But there is no document in this budget that is strange to members of the National Assembly because everybody has inputs in it.
It is always a major problem-passing budget everywhere in the World because various interests must come into play, constituencies must be taken care of and the national interest must prevail at the end of the day. So we take all these into considerations.
But how do you handle the pressures and interests?
The only way to handle the pressure is by being plain, objective and spread the decisions. For example if the ministry of health comes for budgeting and they want to spend N400 billion in a year, the minister can put N200 billion in one zone, zero in another zone. When it gets to us we now look at it and say since there are four zones in the country, priority projects must be spread to the zones.
You were very involved in Ekiti rerun election. The outcome was not tidy or was it?
Ekiti is a PDP State in the South West. Like in all other States like Kogi, Cross River, Sokoto and Adamawa where they ordered rerun, a national committee was put forward in all these cases and leaders of the party in the zone were invited to work in this committee. I was part of the Presidential Campaign committee of the re-run in Ekiti. And I went there to see things for myself. I found out that PDP was fully on ground.
AC used all kinds of machineries to create all sorts of problems but they still lost. They arrested four serving local government chairmen of Lagos State but no newspaper carried it. Professors of Lagos State University (LASU) were used as thugs and they were beaten. It was in the newspapers all over the place. How can you say a governor will not win in his domain?
Fayemi won 19% in his domain. Oni won only 13% in his domain and you say he cannot win. Can you imagine that? You know it is difficult for them to triumph because falsehood cannot triumph. In election procedure, the first point of call is the polling booth.
They give you a form EC8A. It is what you add up at this EC8A that forms EC8B. By the time the AC now added the figures they got in the wards and they discovered that they have lost, then they went and burnt the INEC office in Ido- Osi collation center.
The next thing is for us to go and look for police station to do the collation. Before they wanted to burn the ballot papers to ensure there was no collation. But the police were fast enough to have disallowed them.
And even if they had burnt the ballot papers, it does not make any sense because we have the EC8B with us. But when they now got to the collation center and they were making noise we were surprised because all of us knew the results and they too knew the additions.
They are just desperate and it is unfortunate they owned the media. They went so desperate as to the point of giving women money to go naked on the streets. Their wives were not part of these women. It is unfortunate. It is very bad. That is degrading human beings.
How will you react to the arguments that the issue of constituency projects was a way of usurping the powers of the executive by the National Assembly?
This Budget is constituency project. I mean everything in the budget. They don’t understand democracy. The whole of this budget is constituency project. How can the executive know what is happening? How will they know? Did they campaign? They are still of that military regime. They needed to be de-briefed properly and be washed off of the mentality.
That is it. The whole budget is constituency project. Ours is just highlighting where it should go. That is all. We don’t touch their money. We have nothing to do with their money. We don’t award contracts; we know the procedure. They control everything. The budget is for us and that is why we are here.
And if we are not satisfied, we won’t pass any budget. The whole issue about budget is about constituency project and if they don’t know, then they should be educated. Where is a permanent secretary or a minister representing in the country?
Don’t you think that the 2009 budget is failing in view of the many variables that have worked against its implementation after the passage?
You know the meaning of budget? Budget is not actuality now. It is proposition. It is just planning, an expenditure plan. When you now get to the year, you start executing. So far, despite all these unfavorable variables, which we are all aware of, I think the budget is doing well. Our bench- mark that we chose at that point in time has been off and on.
Our non-oil export has not failed at all. So, as far as I am concerned, the budget is performing reasonably well even though we have not gone up to half of the year. It is the area of funding our deficit that we are looking at now. But basically, the budget has not done badly in the last few months.
What do you think of the high rate of inflation caused by such factors as Naira depreciation and fuel crisis, which have made nonsense of the budget such that people no longer feel the impact of the budget that you passed?
Those are the effects of budgeting and not budget itself. We did not budget market price in the budget itself. There is a global crisis now. But thank God that Nigeria’s economy is a cash economy because we would have been worse hit. Nigeria is less hit than all other countries in this global crisis.
I agree with you that there is a collapse along the line. But these are just effects of budgeting. So far the budget has performed even more than 60 to 70 per cent. So, we are trying to cushion these effects and adjust as time goes on.
Comment on the allegation of scandal in the Rural Electrification Project Contracts most especially as some people say it is an appropriation fraud?
Those people are just ignorant. I am not worried at all. What has budgeting got to do with contracts in rural electrification? Electrification is just one out of many issues we dealt with. If there is something wrong with rural electrification contracts, what concerns us?
Am I the General Manager of the Rural Electrification Agency? They have due process, they have Director and Permanent Secretary, what is our business with that one? Our job is to give Nigeria the budget and if you like, do your job.