Senate holds closed door budget defence

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Ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) on Thursday began the defence of their budget estimates in camera before the Senate.

It was, however, done openly in the House of Representatives.

Most of the Senate hearings were held behind-closed-doors as against the usual practice of allowing the media access.

Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Adedayo Adeyeye, said it was to avoid distractions and to enable the committees to do “serious work”.

The senator said the committee chairmen would brief the media, if necessary, after liaising with the MDAs.

Adeyeye said: “We shall liaise with relevant committees of the Senate to ensure they allow proper coverage of their activities.

“I just finished a meeting with another committee on budget defence. The venue couldn’t accommodate all of us. Even a lot of the workers had nowhere to sit.

“It is not that they wanted to conduct the budget defence in secrecy but serious issues of budget defence, looking at figures, ratifying them, adjusting them don’t necessarily have to be open to the media.

“What I am saying is that there is no secrecy, but they need to do serious work.

“If I want to write a paper now, I want to do serious intellectual work; will I be doing it in the full glare of the camera? No!

“I want us to believe that it is a serious matter. We want to discuss the issues seriously, genuinely, factually.

“The press can be called in, but sometimes the committees need their privacy to do their jobs.

“They can, at the end of the day, call the press to say, ‘This is what we have done.’ If they can do their job without the searchlight of the cameras, they can get the job done.

“This is what they have done; it is not secrecy. Do you want the committees to do everything in your presence? I don’t think it is proper.

“Were you there when the Executive was preparing the budget? But, the President came here to present it.

“The budget defence can be done behind-closed-door, but then, whatever has been done, the best thing is to release it to the public. I think that’s fair enough.”

He added: “When we meet with the MDAs, we queried them on some of the items. Do you want us to ask such questions in the presence of the press?

“It is like you are marking somebody’s script in an examination and you are announcing it! There is no need for that because, at the end of the day, the results will be released.”

In the House of Representatives where the defence was in the open, the Committee on Power queried the N127 billion in 2020 budget allocation to the Ministry of Power.

The committee, chaired by Aliyu Dau (APC-Kano), queried the Minister of Power, Mr Saleh Mamman, and the Permanent Secretary, Mr Louis Edozien, during the ministry’s budget defence.

The lawmakers raised concerns about the Mambilla Hydropower Project plant.

The permanent secretary reiterated that Presidents Buhari and Xi Jinping agreed, in 2018, that the Chinese Export-Import Bank would fund 85 per cent of the estimated cost and that the Nigerian Government would finance 15 per cent.

He added said that the President established the Nigerian Infrastructure Development Fund, under the auspices of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority.

He said $200million had been raised, with a commitment to raise the balance.

“But, their concern is that before they start releasing funds, they must receive assurance that China Exim Bank will loan the principal sum on terms favourable to the country,” he added.

The Chairman of the committee alleged that compensations had been paid to unknown entities in the 2019 budget under the Mambilla Project.

He, however, did not mention the amount.

A member of the committee, Sada Soli (Katsina-APC), suggested that the project be taken out of the ministry and given a “special purpose vehicle”, if it were to be realised.

He said: “The Ministry of Power, go and tell yourselves the bitter truth if at all you are interested in the progress of this country.

“What I want you to do, and we are going to push it, is to get the project out of that ministry. Otherwise, it will not see the light of day.

“Go back and present a memo to the President; get it out of that ministry, provide a special purpose vehicle for it and you drive it.”

The chairman, however, approved the ministry’s budget.

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