The Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on senate matters, Senator Ita Enang in a telephone interview on an Uyo-based radio station spoke glowingly on Governor Udom Emmanuel, the late signing of the 2017 budget among other things, below are excerpts from the interview:
The acting president has just signed the 2017 budget into law and many Nigerians seem quite to feel that 6 months into the year is rather too late for a budget to be assented?
I think those who say the budget was signed late (six months into the year) are not current with the position of the law. The current position of the law is that the 2016 budget, which was presented around 6th of May, 2016, and section 11 of that act provided that the budget was to run a course of 12 months from the date it was assented to. So the 2016 budget run and got spent on 6th May 2017. So there was a budget in operation whereas the 2017 budget was passed on or before 13th May, 2017 after the 2016 budget became spent, and was transmitted to the executive on 19th May, 2017.
Under the law, the president or a governor, when a budget is transmitted to him, will not pass it immediately. He will go through consultation within the period of 30 days. The 30 days is a period of consultation, coordination, examination, reading, scrutinizing, seeing the implementability or otherwise of the budget, looking at the total, looking at the extent to which the budget concurs with the view of the government, and looking at the extent to which there may have been any untold implementation inside the budget.
So the budget was signed within time because the 2016 appropriation did not expire or get spent on 31st December. Let’s get to know about the increase from the proposal of the executive, the president within the N7.29 trillion, the senators and the House of Representatives decided to increase it. Some also said that they are doing this for their own pockets, some said they are doing it to appease the executive. What would you say about this?
When a budget is dropped on the floor of the legislature, National Assembly or the state House of Assembly, it is treated as a proposal. It is what comes out of when passed that becomes the budget. But in a case of the federal government handling budget, almost everything that was done were done consultatively between the chairmen of the different committees and the ministers. Most of them like the Minister of Budget and Planning were in constant consultation with themselves. So it was not unnecessary increase. When we presented the budget, we presented the budget on a benchmark price of oil as proposed at $42.5 per barrel and 22.2 million per day, but when the National Assembly was asked to contribute and pass through the medium, they raised the parameter of the benchmark from $42 per barrel to $44.5 per barrel. That made more money available because we still had 22.3 million barrel per day. If you take 42 to 44.5 dollars, which means there is extra money budgeted. It is that extra money that reached the amount they approved from 7.17 to 7.4. And again, they did not even apply all the money alone. We discussed with them to apply part of the money, one for debt servicing and the other one to apply on some projects. Don’t forget that there were some projects awarded by the federal executive council after the budget was presented by Mr. President on 14th December. So, upon those projects being awarded, they may not have been sufficiently provided for in the budget or may not have been known whether they were going to be awarded or whether the process was completed within time, and so they did not provide sufficiently for them. Like the Calabar-Itu Road, it was awarded around 15th May which was the last project to be awarded before the 2016 appropriation lapsed.
It is things like this that make the National Assembly to increase the budget. It is not that the budget was increased, but the provision for most serious and sensitive projects like the Calabar – Lagos Rail, provision for Lagos – Ibadan and a few other projects were reduced. Reducing it that way may not allow for implementation, and most of these provisions were provisions at counterpart funding, and if you reduce it and not give confidence to China team or other foreign funding partners who were to loan us money to provide because on your own part, you have not even provided the counterpart funding. If they don’t see it in the budget provision, they not be able to bring their money because we are not ready for the counterpart funding.
You have been an advocate of unity and you spoke extensively when you were in the Senate about the unity of Akwa Ibom State, but you are said to be sponsoring programmes on radio for the constant abuse of the Governor of your state?
The people of Akwa Ibom State deserve to hear the truth about what the federal government is doing as well as the state government. I sponsored that programme on Planet radio because it is independent. There is another one on Atlantic FM and it is for the people of the state to hear about the alternative because the state medium is not giving the people the truth. His Excellency, Deacon Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, the Governor, is my friend. I respect him as much as I know he knows God. I personally went to his office during one of the occasions I represented the president and the presidency, and told him that if it had not been God, he wouldn’t be the Governor because we did whatever we could to remove him. I respect him because God chose him to be the Governor. I accord him that respect, but to the extent that there could be an abuse on people. I work very closely with Governor Udom Emmanuel, Senator Godswill Akpabio and Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma, because here is the Nigerian project and after which it is the Akwa Ibom project.