Senate, Reps stop SGF’s office, Aviation’s budget defence

Hadi Sirika

Budget defence began yesterday on a sour note for some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir David Lawal’s representative was turned back by senators.

The House of Representatives committee asked the Ministry of Transportation (Aviation) to properly explain how the 2016 budget was used. The ministry was prevented from defending its 2017 estimates.

However the Ministry of Transportation was lucky. The senate committee okayed its 2017 estimates.

The bickering between the Senate and the SGF over alleged abuse of office leveled against Lawal, was resuscitated during a budget defence session yesterday.

The SGF sent a permanent secretary to appear before the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter Governmental Affairs to defend the 2017 estimates of his office.

Lawal’s absence did not go down well with members of the Senator Tijjani Kaura-led committee, who refused to honour the Permanent Secretary, General Services Office of the SGF, Mohammed Bukar.

The Permanent Secretary informed the committee of the absence of the SGF minutes before commencement of the meeting.

The SGF, it was learnt, was attending a meeting, hence he could not appear before the senate.

But members of the committee insisted that “the permanent secretary will not be allowed to represent the SGF.

They frowned at “the failure of the SGF to inform the committee in writing about his inability to be available for the budget defence.”

The lawmakers put off the budget defence and proceeded to brief Senate President Bukola Saraki on why it became necessary for the meeting to be postponed. It was learnt last night that the SGF had indicated that he would be willing to appear before the committee at the next date.

A member of the committee told reporters: “Much as we try to protect the SGF as a brother, there are limits to what he should do. What he ought to do was to seek the understanding of the committee to reschedule the meeting, which is a normal thing.

“As far as the committee is concerned, courtesy demands that he should call the chairman. He did not appear and he did not show concern. Since he is not here and not ready, he should make contact with the committee to reschedule.

“Why he is not here is not cogent enough. He said he went to condole with a family over the loss of a loved one, but here we have a colleague, a senator for that matter, who is also supposed to attend the funeral of a loved one staying back to attend the budget defence.

“As far as we are concerned, the excuse he gave of going for the burial of a loved one is not a good one at all.”

The relationship between the Senate and SGF became sour following the resolution of the Senate that President Muhammadu Buhari should sack the SGF over alleged abuse of office. But the President urged the senate to side step the resolution.

Ministry of Aviation officials were prevented from defending the ministry’s budget yesterday unless a comprehensive presentation was made to the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation within 48 hours.

This is because officials of the Ministry failed to satisfactorily defend some expenditures of the Ministry in the 2016 budget document.

The Ministry’s Director of Finance, Akin Ijiwole, failed to convince the Nkeiruka Onyejeocha-led Aviation Committee on how N407million was committed to a N700m project  but had zero performance recorded in the budget document.

In addition, while the Committee expressed concern over budget releases, budget performance and physical development, it questioned the rationale behind the completion of 22 capital projects out of 98 while 28 projects out of 32 were completed for Overhead.

The Committee also sought explanation for the release of N25million out of N320milion for Enugu Airport control tower with the fiscal year running out.

The Committee wondered if the project would not end up as another abandoned project.

Mrs Onyejeocha said: “There is an urgent need to discuss procedures for making the aviation sector self- sustaining in line with the stance on diversification.

“The aviation sector is of enormous importance to our nation and matters concerning expenditure and revenue projections require careful consideration to reap the benefits the sector has to offer”.

Minister of State (Aviation) Hadi Sirika, said the decision of the government was to complete all abandoned  projects, which was the reason behind the mobilisation of contractors that had abandoned projects across the country. He cited the example of Enugu and Port Harcourt Airports

On the closure of Abuja Airport, he said, “We have done all we can, the process for closure of the airport is complete.

When asked to break down the figure in the budget document the Director of Finance failed to convince the Committee members with his explanation.

This led the Committee to warn that the consideration of the Ministry’s 2017 budget would be affected unless full information on the real percentage of project completion and a comprehensive budget estimates presentation was made within 48 hours.

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