Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, on Wednesday said Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, of the Federal Government would begin the defense of their estimates Thursday, following the second reading of the 2016 Appropriation Bill in the Senate Wednesday.
Saraki who disclosed this in his remarks to conclude debate on the Appropriation Bill by the Senate, also urged the various Committees to ensure that their reports get to the Appropriation Committee not later than February 18 for onward presentation to the Senate on February 21.
Saraki also urged the Committee on Senate Services to make the budget of the Senate open by ensuring that the different subheads are properly itemized for clarity purposes.
Saraki said: “On our part, we will commence hearing from tomorrow. All sub-committees will start to meet with MDAs and the budget defence will commence immediately. This will take the next two weeks. I enjoin my colleagues to kindly comply with this schedule.The submission of the reports from sub-committees to the Appropriation Committee will take place from February 12 to February 18.
“I hope that we abide by our agreement to remain committed to the timely passage of this 2016 appropriation bill in record time. I will direct that the Appropriation Committee should target February 24, 2016 to be able to submit their report,” he said.
The Senate President also said there would be no room for “money for budget” during defense of estimates by MDAs before the relevant committees of the Senate. He said this was necessary to continually sustain the integrity of the Senate.
According to him, any committee found to have engaged in unethical conduct during the process of budget defense would be investigated and appropriate sanctions meted.
He also said that the Senate would ensure that any MDA found wanting would be reported to the executive for it to take appropriate corrective measures.
Saraki said: “Now, let me categorically make it clear, as we have all agreed before now, there is no room for money for budget in this process of passing the 2016 Appropriation Law.
“Any allegation of bribery, corrupt practices or ethical infraction, will be thoroughly investigated by the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. We will also ensure that where an agency of the executive violates this ethical rule, we will report it to the executive for them to take appropriate action. We must ensure that the integrity of this institution is continually sustained,” he said.
He also urged the relevant committees to ensure that the budget of the Senate is made open, saying: “as we scrutinize the budget of different ministries, we need to lead by example. Therefore, the budget of the Senate must also be made open, at least for the first time.
“We have made commitment about it to all Nigerians that we will be open and transparent about what is going to the Senate, House of Representatives, the National Assembly management and the different units and bodies affiliated to the National Assembly. Senate Committee on General Services should bear this in mind.
“It is important also that we recognize the fact that we must be diligent in carrying out over sight functions for this budget to be effective. So, when we are preparing the National Assembly budget, we must take this into consideration. Therefore, we must make sufficient provision that will empower our Committees and enable them to do proper oversight. So, Senate Committee on Services should take note of this.
“It is clear that a lot of the laws in our statute books need comprehensive review in order to put them in line with the new direction and make them comply with policy direction of government. Again, that requires a lot of work by our committees and the need to engage the services of consultants that will provide expert advise. So, our committee on Senate Services should address these needs in the budget,” he said.
He added: “Mr. President has played his own constitutional role by laying the budget estimates before us. It is now the time for us to play our own role. The Committee on Appropriation, I hope, has taken note of all the observations that have been made and the points highlighted.
“The key area here is revenue projections, particularly the non-oil and independent revenue sectors. The Committees on Finance, Petroleum Upstream, Downstream and Gas should take note of this area. It is important that we get revenue projections right. Otherwise, from day one, the implementation of the budget will not be achieved.
“So, I will like the relevant sub-committees to properly scrutinize the revenue estimates as they relate to the respective committees. It is important that we get this right because if we don’t, there is a likelihood of creating a law that will not work.
“Some of the projects contained in the budget need to be critically assessed to be sure that they justify being there. Also, the issue of equitable distribution of projects across geo-political zones,” he said.