N’Assembly yet to receive details of 2020 Appropriation Bill



* Senate to amend 2007 Public Procurement Act

Almost one week after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2020 Appropriation Bill to a joint session of the National Assembly, the legislature is yet to receive the full details of the budget proposal from the executive as promised by the president, THISDAY has learnt.

The president while presenting the N10.33 trillion budget estimate at the chambers of the House of Representatives last Tuesday, had hinted that he would only present the budget highlights while the Minister of Finance and Budget Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed,  would subsequently provide the details.

THISDAY gathered at the weekend that the comprehensive details of the budget proposal were yet to be sent to both the Senate and the House of Representatives for their attention and necessary consideration.

It was gathered that the budget details containing the breakdown of all the highlighted proposals by the president expected to be delivered to the National Assembly by Ahmed was yet to be received as at close of work last Friday.

Some of the legislators who spoke to THISDAY yesterday expressed concern at the non-availability of the document to assist the legislature in doing a thorough scrutiny of the budget estimate.

Some senators and House members across party lines who spoke on condition of anonymity wondered when the  minister would forward the details.

According to them, the House had last Thursday concluded its debate on the general principle of the budget  while the Senate will conclude its own tomorrow for the relevant committees to start to sit over the budget proposal from Wednesday.

A ranking senator from the South-east expressed the hope that details of the budget would be ready before Wednesday “because by then the committees will commence work proper on the estimate and there is no way to work on the Appropriation Bill without the breakdown of the sectoral allocations.”

Also, a House member from the South-west, said the details of the budget would come in handy as the green chamber commences committee work on the proposals tomorrow.

When contacted on the issue, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, while confirming that the breakdown of the budget was yet to get to the National Assembly, however, assured his colleagues that the document will be available as soon as committee work commences.

The Senate spokesman told THISDAY on the  phone that the committees would not be able to engage the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on the budget proposal without the budget breakdown.

He said: “I am sure that as the MDAs begin to appear before the relevant committees of the National Assembly to defend their allocations in the budget, we will have the details to work with.

“I know that as the ministries and agencies come before the committees, the ministers and heads of the departments will come with the details of the budget estimate as it affects the MDAs.”

Meanwhile, the Senate has indicated its readiness to amend the 2007 Public Procurement Act to address the reported cumbersomeness in adhering strictly to its provisions.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, said this at the weekend while playing host to the executive of the Society of Public Health Professionals of Nigeria (SPHPN), in his office.

Utazi, therefore, assured the health workers of the readiness of his committee and that of the tertiary health, to find solutions to the problems associated with the Act.

According to him, the required amendments on the Public Procurement Act , would be carried out to give the health sector exemption from some of its provisions delaying procurement and project execution in the country .

“Procurement cycle of eight to nine months is injurious to a sector as highly sensitive as the health sector,” he added.

According to him, since there is no room for pre- financing in the Act, it will have to be amended to pave the way for hospitals to procure drugs from the beginning of the year for usage by patients.

“This trend of returning almost half of the monies released back to the treasury on yearly basis with empty pharmaceutical units at the various hospitals is injurious to the populace and will be stopped by amending the Act in favour of the health sector,” Utazi added.

SPHPN had earlier informed Utazi that the alleged cumbersomeness of adhering to the provisions of the Act in contracts awards and executions was  crippling the health sector.

Its President, Prof. M.C. Azuru, represented by Dr. Tolu Fakeye, while lamenting the adverse effects of provisions of the Act, mentioned the yearly non-availability of drugs at the various primary healthcare centres for patients and also the annual return of substantial parts of capital budgetary allocations released for the sector into the national treasury.

Fakeye, said the problem had been there for over  10 years since the Act came into force.

“For instance in 2012, out of the N45 billion released as capital allocations to the sector, only N33.68 billion was spent while N11.32 billion had to be returned to the treasury. From 2009 to 2018 , the story has not changed because the country’s budget cycle did not allow for proper utilisation of budgetary allocations to the health sector and even compounded with the cumbersomeness of the procurement processes, provided for by provisions of the 2007 Public Procurement Act.

“In 2018, out of the N21.62 billion released for procurement of drugs and other capital projects, only N13.35 billion was utilised while the balance of N8.27billion was returned to the treasury due to expiration of time line for utilisation of such funds,” he stated.

Fakeye also complained of gross underfunding of the health sector by successive governments  as clearly shown with yearly money appropriated and releases made.

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