Hon Hassan Omale is a member representing Ankpa- Omala-Olamaboro Federal Constituency of Kogi State in the House of Representatives. In this interview, the lawmaker who is a member of the Appropriation Committee of the House bares his mind on the innovation introduced to the nation’s budgetary process, the efforts of the House to minimize wastage and sundry issues. Henry Tyohemba presents the excerpts.
As a member of the appropriation committee, what caused the delay in the passage of the budget?
I am very proud of the present set of the appropriation committee of the National Assembly. The changes we wanted to introduce to the budgeting system and the new innovation we introduced made the budget delay possible. I can assure you that as we make progress in years to come, we shall become conversant with the new process. Change is a mantra that takes time and I assure you the new system is for the good of all.
What shall be the effect of the new innovations introduced into the budgetary system?
The members of the House Appropriation Committee realized that development planning involves processes which ensure that national policies and strategies are realized and development concerns at all levels are fully integrated into the overall national development. It is designed to effect some permanent structural changes in the social, economic and infrastructural architecture of the nation on a planned manner, with an eye on the dynamic global challenges.
The government by this budgetary system sets out objective ways it wants the economy to develop in the future and periodically intervenes to try to achieve these objectives. We tried to eliminate the weak communication and coordination around the budget proposal, which created certain assumptions on the execution of the fiscal action plans. Major public resource allocation processes, reflecting a mirror image of the state in terms of social values and priorities that will translate rhetoric into reality. With a glance at the budget from the surface, the essence of the budget by the government is that it could make a conscious choice regarding the rate and direction of growth. The most logical interpretation of this is that the relative rates at which heavy and light industry, agricultural improvements, transport and commerce, housing etc are to be pursued becomes a matter of conscious policy.
Why is our budgetary process always problematic?
Budgeting in Nigeria is indeed intensely a political matter as both expenditures and revenues are about allocation of resources among competing constituencies within a political environment which is of importance to the citizenry. In Nigeria, to overcome the lapses of incremental budgeting, what is vogue and encouraged by the present administration is a clean slate type of budgeting which is otherwise known as zero based budgeting. At the end of the year, all unspent monies are returned to the treasury. Some ministries often find it difficult to return such money so they resort to looking for activities that will allow spending of more money in order to spend their budget, and this act has prompted a new terminology called “budget engineering”. This new assembly being a pro-people one has studied and brought this to a stop. The House is not in a hurry to apply austerity measures, but inclined to populist social spending with laudable plans to spend big on infrastructure. This is a plus for all.
As a member of the appropriation committee, why did the NASS increase its budget?
In Nigeria, we tend to deliberately politicize every action of people in authority. I have always advocated citizens buy in on top of the ladder both in planning process of the budget during the year, with monitoring and evaluation of actual budget performances. People should not sacrifice the success of this budget exercise for mundane wrangling. People still do not understand the workings of the NASS as an institution. People easily forget that we increase the budget due to the inflationary trend in the economy. The Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the media were advised to play significant role in the speedy implementation of the 2017 federal budget. There should be in place a strengthened, legal, governance and administrative policies and procedures to create a more robust platform to interact and engage with citizens as a way of promoting inclusiveness in the budget system of the nation.
What is your final advice on the budget?
There is need for the CSOs to increase advocacy for better allocation to security, health, and education as well as develop the processes, mechanisms and structure for knowledge management and information sharing through the establishment of resource centre on various issues around public finance management and monitor it through the life of this administration. This process is catalytic in strategizing towards strengthening participation in policy thrust.
Is the war on corruption justified?
David Cameroun, the former British Prime minister once described the country as” fantastically corrupt”.
Today, with the monumental recovery daily by the EFCC, it seems our people have willed the commonwealth to their leaders to do whatever pleases them with it. In other parts of the world, an ex-convict would go home quietly to his family and lie low for years hoping that people would see his contrition and forgive him of his crime. But not in Nigeria, where ex-convicts return to society on horseback or on the back of their poor people who while sweating carry the unrepentant renegade on their backs after consumption of poorly produced local liquor. What a life. You can therefore, agree with me that the war on corruption of this administration is justified.
What is the result of this to the nation?
The result of all this is that the international community is likely to sit on the proceeds of corruption in their country banks. They will argue that if returned the money, our various governments may return same to their thieving looters. This of course will be a convenient excuse for not releasing the money which can be put to better use in their countries; it like the case of a fool who will soon part with his riches.
But today, several individuals accused of corruption are senators.
The system is our problem. Until all of us realize that there is a possibility of revolt by the suffering masses, which in a blind fury, would terminate our lives, our leaders will continue to behave with impunity which makes them inured to all citizens.
But even our electoral system has been corrupted?
Yes. Recently, the police displayed millions of naira seized from INEC officials after the bye elections in River state. These monies were allegedly given to the officials of the electoral body by the Governor of the state. The governor has denied the accusation, but we have some evidences of Nigerian currency running into hundreds of millions displayed by the police as if they were mere pieces of papers. When I saw this, I was depressed seriously because our national currency has been thoroughly abused. With the naira so easily available to be dispensed by state governors, is it a wonder the naira has continued to lose its value? In a country, where salaries are not been paid as at when due, the slight of so much money on display can make the poor desperate. This desperation manifests in the current wave of kidnapping and waylaying of people on our highways.
How do we curb corruption?
All people of good conscience must support this current administration to rein in this monster of corruption. Our nation needs our general support for the sake of posterity and our future generations. Our president as man of integrity is respected all over the world for his pragmatic and systematic approach to the fight against corruption. He needs our support.
What is your take on the president medical condition?
This brings me to the unkind, uncaring and hateful rumours peddled over his medical condition. This is a man trying to slaughter the demon of corruption and some people are wishing dead. Can’t people see the nexus between the vastly reduced price of crude oil on the world market and our present economic recession?
When people say that the government should diversify the economy, I ask myself, whether these people are serious at all. To do that will take time. If we want to grow enough rice to feed ourselves and industrialized the country to stop imports, will these not take some time? Like Buhari said: if we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill this country. The Buhari administration has chosen to tread this path and from revelations so far, it is a step in the right direction. Our country has been stripped bare by those who should manage it. Our national reserves have been depleted by those who helped themselves to public funds. They turned the whole thing into the bazaar of sorts. It was as if they are in a competition over who will steal the most from the public till. The military too joined in the looting, some diverted billions of naira and dollars meant for the procurement of arms and ammunition to their personal use. They built exquisite houses in Lagos, Abuja, and Kaduna, while they sent their men to fight Boko Haram insurgents with bare hands. It was the height of sheer wickedness. Many of them stole monies which their generations yet unborn can never finish spending.
How do we reposition the economy?
Without minding the present economic recession as witnessed in the country, Nigeria is endowed with lots of natural resources, which if some countries have, will put them among the 10 top economies in the world. It is however, sad that in the midst of these abundant natural and human resources, Nigeria is still wallowing in abject poverty with low foreign reserves, unfavourable balance of trade and high exchange rates among other challenges. My personal idea for repositioning the economy is simple. The government, through an extensive and result-oriented research, should identify one or two natural resources, which are needed globally but with little or no competition.