Senate president, Bukola Saraki
Senate president, Bukola Saraki

SENATE yesterday rejected President Muhammadu Buhari’s request to borrow the sum of $29.960 billion. It also condemned what it called mismanagement of the N500 billion social intervention programme and asked the executive arm of the federal government to “present a clear framework that does not marginalise any segment of our society, no matter where they may be in the country, and present same to the National Assembly for passage into law.” In rejecting Buhari’s request for approval of $29.96 external loan, the Senate explained that it was not comfortable with absence of breakdown of the borrowing plan. At the commencement of Senate plenary session, Senate Leader Alli Ndume moved a motion that the “Senate do consider the request of the president on the 2016-2018 External Borrowing Rolling Plan.” The motion was swiftly seconded by Emmanuel Bwacha of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from Taraba State. Senate President Bukola Saraki then put the question on whether the Senate should consider the request to vote, which response was overwhelmingly in the negative. Saraki repeated the question in a second attempt but the rejection became louder, leading to his ruling in accordance with the vote of the majority of Senators. Ndume at a press conference shortly after the session said the rejection of the president’s request was also due to the failure to attach a comprehensive borrowing plan to the request as indicated in his earlier letter. In his letter to the two chambers of the National Assembly to approve the loan request last week, Buhari had stated: “I wish to refer to the above subject and to submit the attached draft of the Federal government 2016-2018 External Borrowing (Rolling) Plan for consideration and early approval by the National Assembly to ensure prompt implementation of projects.” However, the Senate said that the president merely sent a letter and failed to attach the draft borrowing plan. According to another Senator, the request had to be rejected because of its anticipatory nature. The last paragraph of the letter reads: “It has become inevitable to request for the NASS leadership approval pending the consideration and approval of the 2016-2018 borrowing plan by the National Assembly to enable us disburse these funds immediately.” Ndume also claimed to be shocked at the action of his colleagues in rejecting the president’s request, stating that he would attempt to lobby Senators with a view to reintroducing the request on the floor of the Senate President Buhari in his letter had explained that the loan would be targeted at projects cutting across all sectors, with special emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, growth and employment generation. Other sectors he mentioned included poverty reduction through social safety net programmes and governance and financial management reforms, among others. According to him, the cost of the projects and programmes under the borrowing (rolling) plan is $29.960 billion. This is made up of proposed projects and programmes loan of $11.274 billion, special national infrastructure projects – $10.686 billion, Euro bonds of $4.5 billion and federal government budget support of $3.5 billion. He explained further that the loan was very necessary in view of the serious infrastructure deficit in the country. Also yesterday, the Senate expressed dismay over the manner the N500 billion special intervention funds got implemented and urged the executive to take another look at the programme to incorporate manual registration of beneficiaries from all wards and local governments in the country. Adopting a motion sponsored by Ndume, the upper chamber also urged the presidency to ensure that the implementation of the intervention programme was framed to be robust enough to reach the poorest in the communities for whom the programme was first conceived. It also asked that “a clear channel of accountability for the implementation of the programme be created and be audited on a continuous basis and its report presented to the National Assembly.” Presenting the motion earlier, Ndume informed his colleagues that a huge amount of N80 billion had already been taken out of the N500 billion without any explanation on what the money was spent on. “The Senate is concerned that the implementation of such a huge programme is now being carried out in the same manner as the other failed social interventions funds like the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), without a proper framework which led to their failures,” he said. According to Ndume, “In the light of the recent petitions and complaints from our constituencies this money will not be well spent, nor will it achieve any major benefit to the economy despite the good intentions of government because of the way it’s been structured.” The motion believed that a proper social intervention scheme must be robust enough to capture all segment of the Nigerian population. “We are not building a nation for elite alone, but a nation for all citizens,” Ndume declared. He observed that “with the way the programme is being run, nothing of meaningful value is going to be achieved with the N500 billion, neither is it going to create the future value it could, if implemented effectively.” Ndume also noted that the directive that all beneficiaries should register online had the tendency to exclude and marginalise the very segment of the population it should target, which are the poor and their children, adding that “the new concept requiring teachers, market women and graduates, to register online, is faulty and discriminates against rural women and men who are technologically disabled.” He drew the attention of the Senate to the fact that “there is nothing on the ground to do a proper oversight on the project as it is yet unclear how each state, local government to the ward level of our country are going to benefit from this programme.” Also, Senators yesterday said they discovered overtime cargoes worth billions of naira stacked at the Ikorodu Lighter Terminal by the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA, for over 10 years. Chairman Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, Senator Hope Uzodinma, in an interview with newsmen in Abuja on Tuesday, said the containers were moved there by NPA to decongest Apapa Port. He said the committee made the discovery while on oversight visit to the terminal in Lagos, adding that several containers with valuable items like transformers, cars and electronics were discovered. He expressed disappointment over non-implementation of the Act establishing the Nigeria Customs Service with regard to disposal of overtime cargos. “To see that these number of containers with very valuable items in our various sea ports and airports, not claimed for a period of over ten years is to say the least very disappointing. “This shows to some extent a sign of irresponsibility on the side of the authority. We are going to discuss with the hierarchy of the service. “We will ensure that the Act that established the Nigeria Customs Service which has also prescribed a procedure for disposal of overtime goods and seized cargoes is respected and complied with. “The only way to dispose these items or overtime cargo is copiously captured in the Act and it is not going to be subjected to any further negotiation. Whatever that is defined in the Act is what should be done. Our responsibility as the lawmakers who made the law is to ensure that it is followed forthwith,” said. He said with the global price of crude oil fluctuating on a daily basis, it was high time the Federal Government focused more on other sources of revenue. He further said “we are talking of economic recession in the country but you can see how many hundreds of billions of value of items that are lying at the Ikorodu Terimal for the past 10years. “What we saw in Volkswagen of Nigeria, Idiroko and Seme are not pleasant at all and now we are making another shocking discovery. Government must begin to do things differently if we must get out of this recession.’’ The lawmaker expressed the willingness of the eighth Senate to ensuring that measures were put in place to take Nigeria out of recession. “Senate has woken up and this discovery is a product of our oversight activities. When we show commitment, when we show patriotism, when we understand the meaning and relevance of national interest our country will be better for it. “We cannot continue to rely on oil revenue. God has endowed this country with enormous national resources and it is left for us to manage it well and we don’t have a choice. I think with the emergence of the President Buhari administration and with the change agenda, things must be done differently,’’ he said. Meanwhile, Uzodinma also decried lack of routine promotion for personnel of the Nigeria Customs Service. He also expressed concern over the poor welfare package for the personnel in spite of their contribution to the development of the country. He told our correspondent that some of the officers were subjected to hardship having to make do with make-shift tent in the premises. “We are aware that for a long time there is no promotion in Customs. We are aware that the motivation is not seriously there. We are working with the Comptroller General to ensure that the routine promotion commences immediately and the welfare package for your people is strengthened. “We have been to the Customs barracks and we have seen what is happening there. We will sit and plan on how best to provide sufficient welfare package for men and women of the Nigeria Customs Service,” Uzodinma said. Senate divided over Buhari’s ambassadorial nominees In another development, Senators were yesterday divided over the screening of the country’s non-career ambassadors. However, Senate President Bukola Saraki used his powers to allow the report to be read a second time and forwarded it to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, even when it was obvious that majority didn’t want discussion on it to continue. Two other Senators, Hope Uzodinma and Philip Aduda raised objections to the continuation due to non-inclusion of their states – Imo and Abuja – respectively. President Buhari had last week sent a list of 46 non-career ambassadors to the Senate for screening and confirmation. Among those who made the list were Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora and Pauline Tallen. Tallen, however, turned down her nomination. When the issue was raised during plenary on Tuesday, majority of the Senators kicked against the screening and confirmation of the ambassadorial nominees. It would be recalled that governors elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress had shortly after the submission of the list last week met with Buhari to complain about the lopsidedness of the appointees. The governors on Monday submitted a written letter to the President on the issue as he requested. Meanwhile, Presidency has said it will not dispute the decision of the Senate to reject the request of President Muhammadu Buhari to borrow 29.9 billion dollars. Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Ita Enang, disclosed this while briefing newsmen in Abuja on yesterday. News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, recalls that the Senate, on Tuesday rejected the request of Buhari to borrow 29.9 billion dollars as part of its external borrowing plan for 2016 to 2018. The leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume told newsmen after plenary that the request was rejected due to the absence of certain documents that should have accompanied the letter. Sen. Ita Enang, therefore, said that the Presidency would not be disputing with the senate but would rather engage with them on the issue that had been raised. “We are not disputing with the distinguished Senate. “There are certain information and details which will enable them to consider in detail, and appropriately the request of Mr President. “So we are collating that information. The Budget Office of the Federation, the Debt Management Office, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Minister of Finance and the economic team are collating the information so that it can be submitted to the Senate to enable them take the appropriate decision. “We would be engaging the Senate. We will not be disputing with them but we will be engaging with them. “When we present a matter before the legislature it is for them to consider and as they have considered, more information is needed and that information they are entitled to it and we would provide,” he said.

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