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House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tambuwal has said the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance should be held responsible for the economic and infrastructural development challenges confronting the country.
The Speaker also said the two bodies were holding back progress on the benchmark figure for the 2014 budget.
Besides, he stressed that the two have always been responsible for deliberately underfunding Ministries. Departments and Agencies (MDA) by changing the required budget figures presented by the MDAs to the Budget Office.
Tambuwal spoke yesterday while receiving the Board of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), led by its Chairman, Alh. Hamman Tukur, who regretted that the National Assembly had not done enough to assist the power sector.
He said: “We are not your problems. The National Assembly cannot and is not the problem of any MDA in terms of making attempts to support MDAs for funding.
“Your main problems are, principally, the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance.
“On the oil benchmark, the problem is still with the same people. It is not our fault; we are still dragging with the Executive on the benchmark because we say we need more money to fund our infrastructure development.
“Meanwhile somebody somewhere says we should be saving money on empty stomach. How do you save money when you are hungry for health care, road infrastructure, power, sound education and somebody is insisting on saving; for what, for who?
“We have to look at those advice and what interest those people are really serving. Is it truly our own interest or somebody else. This has always been a source of misunderstanding between us and them.
“We represented the people and have their mandate to act and speak on their behalf and that is a very big difference between us and them.
“We at the National Assembly are the least of your problems.”
Saying that the National Assembly has always been supportive of adequate supply of reliable and affordable power to Nigerians, Tambuwal referred the TCN team to past efforts made by the legislators in that direction.
“Let me say this; we are very ready and amenable to complement the efforts of the government in ensuring that we have stable, affordable power supply in this country.
“That was why the legislation towards the unbundling of the PHCN was passed in 2005.
“One is to provide appropriate legal framework and if there are challenge you have in the implementation of the law so far, you are free to come forward with such observations and we are ready to attend to such amendments expeditiously.
“Secondly, our job is to make provisions for funding, which have been quite challenging. In some cases, arising from our knowledge from what we meet on the ground as a result of our oversight, there were attempts in some cases to adjust funding for some of these critical sectors of the economy and power is one of them
“But we often meet some resistance, not necessarily from the experts from the MDAs but from the Budget Office and the Ministry of Finance.
“Many at times, when you are given the envelopes, which has been the traditions, even though we have always opposed it, by the time the budget is prepared and sent to the Budget Office, what comes to the National Assembly is a completely different document from what was sent by the MDA.
“That has been an area where we have always had frictions between the two arms of government because our committees are aware of the needs of the MDAs, based on the interface they have been having as a result of the oversights they must have undertaken in the course of the year.
“By the time Mr President lays the budget, what we normally see is a completely different thing from what the MDAs sent to the Budget Office and that is the main problem.
“Our Committees don’t deal with the Budget Office in term of budget defence; we deal with the MDAs but when they come and diplomatically make their defence and tell us that this is not what they presented.
“In this case, we will be compelled to actually do the right thing, and the right thing is to listen to the people who are in charge of the sector and adjust the submission of the Budget Office to conform with what is now otherwise implementable.
“But by the time we so do, somebody somewhere, one individual will sit down in his office and say the National Assembly has tampered, tinkered with and paddled the budget, which is not so”.
The Speaker pleaded for the understanding of the TCN team and Nigerians that the National Assembly would always be alive to its responsibilities.
“Until we address the challenges of the Budget Office, which normally changes the submissions of the MDAs, whimsically, without any expertise, we will continue to have problems, not only of funding, budgets but also of implementation because MDAs are being given what otherwise were not their documents to implement, where would they start from?
Tambuwal said the National Assembly would continue to support the TCN in terms of funding “but we will also continue to follow the money through oversight”.