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Debate: Senators split over implementation of 2016 budget

National Assembly

Some members of the Senate who contributed to the debate on the 2016 budget in the red chamber on Wednesday expressed doubt over the ability of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to implement the fiscal document based on the current economic realities.

National Assembly

National Assembly

Some of the senators in their contributions maintained that unless there was a drastic downward review of the entire budget size, the oil benchmark and the exchange rate, the Federal Government might end up embarking on an exercise in futility.

Though some senators cautioned the Buhari-led administration against borrowing to fund the budget because the fiscal document did not specify any pragmatic means of servicing the loans, others noted that it was obvious that the Federal Government would have to increase its request for foreign loans.

This, they said, was because of the decline in oil revenue which they put at $28 per barrel against the $38 upon which the budget benchmark was predicated.

The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, asked the executive to consider the downward review of the budget by about 30 per cent in order to make it realistic and implementable.

Ekweremadu explained that instead of resorting to borrowing during the great recession in America, the US government had to inflate the economy by embarking on more projects.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, in his contribution, noted that the 2016 budget was incapable of addressing the socio-economic challenges confronting the nation.

He explained that a budget meant to cushion the effects of the hard times being experienced by Nigerians would not vote billions of naira to execute “frivolous projects” in the Presidential Villa as currently contained in the fiscal document.

Obviously uncomfortable with the hard knocks on the budget by his colleagues, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence, Senator Ahmad Lawan, blamed the opposition Peoples Democratic Party for the economic crisis being experienced in the nation.

He argued that the situation would not appear hopeless if the managers of the nation’s economy in the last 16 years had judiciously spent the volume of funds which accrued to it on the critical sectors that could bring succour to Nigerians.

Lawan cited the allocation of N500bn to the school feeding scheme and the vulnerable group as some of the laudable welfare programmes in the budget.

He said, “Today, Mr. President, distinguished colleagues we have a budget that provides 30 per cent in the first instance and so many other social safety nets that will to the advantage of Nigerians, This is again the first budget presented to the assembly in the last 17 years in which revenue from oil is not predominant and is not overwhelming with only N820bn”

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance John Enoh, noted that the budget sought to stimulate the economy through economic diversification, import substitution, export expansion and promotion.

He, however, emphasised the need to ensure micro-economic stability by attempting to make sure that the real GDP growth rate for 2016 is about 4.37 per cent.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, noted that the budget contained some missing gaps especially how the N500bn social security intervention would be executed.

He also faulted the allocation of N35bn to oil exploration in the Chad basin when allocation to the Amnesty Programme was reduced from N40bn in 2015 to N20bn in the 2016 fiscal document.

Also, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transportation, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, asked the executive to consider properly, how it would fund the proposed recruitment of 500, 000 teachers.

He said, “Where is the money for the recruitment and training of 500, 000 teachers going to come from? Is it going to come from the states that cannot pay salary at the moment? “

Leading the debate earlier, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, described the budget as laudable and tailored to meet the critical needs of Nigeria and the citizenry.

He urged his colleagues to support the second reading so that the Appropriation Bill would be committed on time to the various committees for detailed consideration.

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