By Tony Akowe, Abuja
There was a shouting match among members of the House of Representatives Committee supervising the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) during the resumed hearing of the budget defence of the agency, forcing the session to an abrupt end.
It was gathered while some members of the Committee were favourably disposed to approving the 2020 budget performance report of the agency and the 2021 estimates, others were against it, insisting on proper scrutiny of the document.
The Managing Director of FERMA, Nurudeen Rafindadi, had appeared before the committee when it was alleged that the agency’s budget had been mysteriously increased by N11bn.
A member of the committee, Yusuf Gagdi (APC, Plateau) had asked the FERMA boss why the agency’s budget was suddenly increased by over N11bn after passing through the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing and the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.
While disowning the increase, Rafindadi had said what was proposed by FERMA for 2021 was different from what is presently before the National Assembly.
The Committee was silent on the N11bn but it was observed while the committee invited the House Press Corps to cover the last Thursday’s session when the alleged budget padding was raised, journalists were not notified of the session on Tuesday.
However, during Tuesday sitting, a member of the Committee, Hon. Bamidele Salam (PDP, Osun) was said to have protested hurried adoption of the 2020 performance report of the agency and approval of its 2021 budget proposal, a development that did not go down well with Gagdi, who allegedly insisted the panel should go ahead with the approval.
A member of the committee, who was part of the sitting, told journalists that Salam was particularly miffed by the fact FERMA did not propose any project for Osun in the proposal for 2021.
When contacted, the Osun lawmaker confirmed protesting at the hearing over exclusion of his state from FERMA projects list, while faulting being prevented from expressing his grievances at the meeting.
Salam said: “The first thing that I noticed was that there was an attempt to rush the passage of the budget and prevent those of us who had observations from doing so.
“Immediately the FERMA MD presented the budget, a colleague was raising a motion for the adoption of the budget and I raised a point of order.
“By parliamentary procedure, a point of order should take precedence over every other matter. In the attempt to make my point of order, I saw that the person who moved the motion was behaving like the spokesperson for FERMA.
“The observation that I made was very simple: first is the fact that in the 2021 budget proposal analysis that I have before me, out of the 420 projects proposed, the South-West zone which I am from has the least allocation which is 48, and least allocation which is about N3bn. That is just a part of it.
“The larger part of it is that the constituency that I represent, Ede-North/Ede-South/Egbedore/Ejigbo Federal Constituency, does not have a single allocation of a project out of the 420 projects.
“Even the whole of the state where I come from, Osun State, which is represented by nine members in the House, does not have a single projected allocated to it, out of a budget of N38.2bn proposed by FERMA.
“I felt I should at least have a right of audience but the person who was preventing that from happening is from Plateau State and I can see in this same budget, Plateau is getting about 18 projects.
“Why should he not want someone who does not have anything in his own state to raise a point of order and make this observation? This is unfair, unjust and against the spirit of the Nigerian Constitution.
“That was the point I was trying to make before he came up and the whole session came into a rowdy conclusion.”
When asked if FERMA’s proposal was eventually passed by the committee, Salam said: “No. Certainly not, because if the budget would be passed, we would have to vote on the motion that was purportedly moved by him. But like I said, it ended up a rowdy session.
“The National Assembly should be tired of being called a rubberstamp Assembly. We are not; we are it supposed to be.
“If a ministry, department or agency brings in a document, we should subject that document to a thorough scrutiny. We should scrutinise it with the eye of the law, and equity, fairness and justice.
Also contacted, Gagdi denied the allegation, explaining the N11 billion allegedly inserted into the FERMA budget proposal was addressed.
According to him: “The Committee will stop at nothing to ensure the projects spread across all the six geopolitical zones if at all it would be adopted into the 2021 Appropriation Act. As far as I am a member of this committee, the N11 billion will not survive it. I’m still on my feet on that issue.”
He said the committee has not passed the budget of the agency, saying “we agreed and we have not passed the budget. There was an envelope that was given to FERMA by Ministry of Finance through Ministry of Works, which is the supervising ministry of FERMA and I came to discover that the project was increased not by the National Assembly.
“Normally Ministry of Finance has enveloped budget because we operate envelope budget so I was aware of the fact that the envelope that was given to FERMA was not up to 30 billion, it was 20 something billion and all of a sudden, I just discovered that they have submitted from the Ministry of Finance, to the National Assembly over 30 something billion with an increment of about 11 billion.
“I raised that issue and I still stand on my feet that no how did you increase it? It is even the right of the budget office to submit whatever they want to submit to the National Assembly I won’t even call it padding because they have increased the money beyond the envelope of their ministry.
“But my argument is this, where will you increase about N11 billion to one state? It is not possible.
“Then the committee on FERMA agreed that the purpose of elective representative is to ensure equity and fairness to all the geopolitical entities.
“We now say you have brought this budget, that it is once sided. If you look at my comment very well, I tackle the fact that the budget is not balanced.
“So we must balance the budget as the people that have the right to do it in such away that it resembles the interest of Nigerians. So my position on the N11 billion still stands that from somewhere between the Ministry of Works and Ministry of Finance, 11 billion was increased at inter-ministerial level in the budget of FERMA. And I still stand by it.”
He added: “I will give you the document, you will see it clearly. The predominant state that got that 11 billion that was increased it is Imo State without any fear of political contradictions but I don’t know who increased it.”
While responding to allegations bothering on the lopsidedness of the projects, Gagdi argued about 300 projects were proposed for Osun in the 2021 proposed budget while the South West region has the highest number of projects more than any other regions, in the 2020 budget submitted for legislative scrutiny.
He maintained: “The point of order raised by Hon. Salam was apt, nobody said no. When we moved the adjournment for that motion, it wasn’t a motion that the budget was passed, no it was a motion to enable members study the submission of MD of FERMA and re-invite him when necessary before the budget is passed.
“Now at the point of moving for the adjournment, Hon. Bamidele now raised a point of order and the chairman said no. You can allow the motion to go, let us have a seconder as a parliamentary procedure, point of order does not supersede a motion.
“If there is an existing motion that was passed in a committee meeting or on the floor, you allow for seconder of that motion thereafter you now move for a counter motion, you disagree with that to state your reason for not agreeing with the motion.
“Even at that when a motion was passed like that the chairman still gave Bamidele the opportunity to raise his point of order. Hon. Bamidele said he’s elected by the people of Osun that in the whole of Osun they don’t have a single project in the 2021 FERMA’s budget.
“So if he was overruled and later allowed to state his opinion, and was responded to that no, he didn’t read the documents very well, Osun has a lot of projects in the 2021 budget of FERMA and the South West has more than any other geopolitical zone, that was the response of the chairman I wasn’t the person that said so.”
When contacted on the development at the committee, the chairman, Hon. Femi Bamishile (APC, Ekiti) said: “We needed to study the budget before we pass it. I have told them this.
“This is the same thing that we said last year. You cannot bring us the budget the same day of passage. These documents are voluminous. Sometimes, they go as high as 70 or 80 pages.
“Do you expect a member to be reading 80 pages as they pass it? They will take time to do that and that was why we asked them to come back today and when they came, everybody has had time to study the document and questions were asked.
“There was an issue there when one of our members was raising a point of order that his state did not have enough projects. I made it clear to him that if you have read the budget you will see your state represented. I can tell you what each state has. I told the member the number of projects in his state.
“Unfortunately, he didn’t see it there. Even after I have made my ruling, I still allowed him to move his motion and I made it clear to him that every state was carried along.
“On Thursday, there was this notion that N11 billion was thrown into the budget. But after studying it for 72 hours, everybody, including those who moved the motion were convinced that all was well with the budget”.
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