The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, and Trade Union Congress of Nigeria, TUC, yesterday, picked holes in the Senate’s approval of President Muhammadu Buhari’s controversial N22.72 trillion Ways and Means request, describing it as shocking and suspicious.
The Senate had, yesterday, caved into pressure and approved President Buhari’s request to restructure the sum of N22.72 trillion Ways and Means advances made to ensure the government was not shut down.
Approval creates room for suspicion—TUC
Pooh-poohing the move, TUC Secretary General, Nuhu Toro, said: “It is ridiculous and creates room for suspicion. We don’t think this is necessary, especially on the eve of this administration’s departure. This leaves us with the question of whether governance is a continuous exercise or not.”
Senate’s approval is shocking—NLC
Also, a top leader of the NLC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, sad: “For the Senate to approve such extra-budgetary spending demonstrates the continuing gang-up of those in leadership, especially the Executive and Legislature, against the masses.
“We, therefore, view this not just with disgust but also with great alarm, given the parlous state of our economy and the poor condition of living of the citizenry.”
Apart from the N22.72 trillion, the Senate also approved the sum of N180.463 million being supplementary budget balance and the interest accrued on the Ways and Means Advances. It said that if there was a need to exceed the five per cent threshold of the previous year’s revenue, recourse must be made to the National Assembly for approval.
Yesterday’s approval was sequel to the presentation and consideration of the report by the Senate Special Committee on Ways and Means chaired by Senator Ibrahim Gobir, APC, Sokoto East.
Ways and Means are loans or advances given by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to the Federal Government to cater for short-term or emergency finance to fund delayed government expected cash receipts.
Beneficiaries of the N22.7trn fund
In his presentation, Gobir said some of the beneficiaries of the funds are the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (ECOWAS national unit), Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading, Azura Power West Africa, Niger Delta Power Holding Company, and Accugas Limited.
The expenditure was approved after a forced closed-door session that lasted for one hour.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, called for a closed-door session to calm the nerves of aggrieved lawmakers, who had vehemently opposed the passage earlier in January.
The Ways and Means report slated for consideration on Tuesday was dropped, and the matter was not slated in yesterday’s Order Paper before it was considered and approved by the senators.
Begin recovery of ways and means loans, Senate urge FG
Having approved the sum, the Upper Chamber urged the Federal Government to begin the process of recovering the portion of the Ways and Means given as loans to state governments because further deferment of repayment of the loans by the states would not be healthy for the economy.
It said that the Federal Government through the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning should expedite action on repayment of the loans through treasury bills and bonds.
No more unapproved ways and means
However, the Senate warned the Federal Government that the National Assembly would not condone future increases in Ways and Means without seeking the approval of the National Assembly.
Presenting his report, Gobir said after critical analysis and review of submissions made by the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning; and the CBN, the Special Committee finds as follows: “The Ways and Means balance was initially N19,326,745,239,660.20 as at 30th June 2022 but later grew to N22,719,704,774,306.90 as at 19th December 2022 as a result of financial obligations to on-going capital projects and additional expenditures which include domestic debt service gaps and interest rate; “That the Senate on Wednesday, 28th December 2022, approved the sum of N819, 536,937,813 of the one trillion naira additional request made by Mr President, leaving an outstanding balance of N180, 463,062,187 is the accrued interest on the sum;
“That the House of Representatives earlier approved the additional one trillion naira Ways and Means Advances requested by Mr President to enable the smooth implementation of the supplementary budget; that part of the Ways and Means monies were given to State Governments as loans to augment budgetary shortfall in the various states;
“That most of the requests for funds for an increase in Ways and Means were made to Mr. President on the need to finance the budget due to revenue shortfall. Such requests were either made by the Hon. Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning or the Central Bank Governor.
“That the Federal Government as a result of revenue shortfalls occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic and low oil prices, relied heavily on the Ways and Means to finance its budget deficit to keep the country working for the people; that the monies received by the Federal Government were actually used for funding of critical projects across the country.
“That due to the serious shortfall in Government Revenue, the Federal Government in order for the economy not to collapse, was compelled to borrow repeatedly from the CBN, exceeding the five per cent threshold of the prior year’s revenue as stipulated by the CBN Act, 2007; and “That the Federal Government through the Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning has concluded plans to convert the CBN loans to tradable securities such as treasury bills and bond issuance.”
Lawan faults FG’s ways and means the process
In his remarks after the approval, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, who noted that the Ways and Means Advance was a global practice, however, faulted the process adopted by the executive arm of government which failed to carry the National Assembly along while accumulating the huge amount of loans.
Lawan added that the Senate had to pass the Ways and Means Advances so that the federal parliament would be able to consider and pass the 2022 Supplementary Budget still pending before the two chambers.
His words: “I don’t see any National Assembly standing against any infrastructure development like the building of roads and bridges among others. It is therefore very important that before the executive incurred this kind of huge Ways and Means Advances, it should, as a matter of must, seek the approval of the National Assembly.
“Where for whatever reason an emergency happened, it should not take them this kind of period before a request is sent to the National Assembly for approval.
“We have to pass these Ways and Means Advances because we don’t want the government to be shut down. The Supplementary Budget 2022 is on hold at the moment because we could not pass the Ways and Means request.
“However, with the passage of the Ways and Means Advances today, the Supplementary budget 2022, which essentially is to rehabilitate damaged roads and bridges across the country, will be fixed.”