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10 Jul 2013

News: Budget 2013: We won’t be intimidated – Sen Makarfi

Senator Ahmed Makarfi, former governor of Kaduna State is the senator representing Kaduna North in the Senate. In this interview, he bares his mind on national issues ranging from budget amendment, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, crises and the opposition parties. Excerpts:
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala  was reported to have said that  government by September might be shutdown if the budget ammendment bill was not  passed. What is your reaction?
Well, that is what I read myself in the papers but I believe that sometimes the report might not be exactly what the person said. I do know the presidency has submitted different versions of budget amendment to the National Assembly and these different versions could have been avoided if ab-initio proper consultation had been made.
The fury over the 2013 budget is totally unnecessary, even if there are certain areas that needed to be attended to. My professional opinion is that such areas could have been easily attended to through supplementary budget as the year goes by. But we missed that chance and I believe maybe they were bombarded with  advice from different directions and the situation became confusing.

Sen. Makarfi
She (Okonjo-Iweala) was with me and she never agreed she made such statement. The National Assembly is conscious of its responsibilities and if there are issues in the budget that needed to be addressed, I am absolutely sure that the National Assembly will address it but we cannot be intimidated or coerced by any kind of statement from any quarters over the budget because the National Assembly will surely carry out its responsibilities.
Are you not afraid that the issue may lead to a  face-off between the presidency and the National Assembly?
I don’t understand what people mean by face-off because we are two independent bodies though cooperating. The National Assembly is supposed to be independent but again we are supposed to be cooperating for the common good of all Nigerians. If not over budget, there could be other issues that could trigger disagreement but these disagreements will be resolved through consultation and dialogue.
What really is the fuss over the budget amendment bill?
Well, first of all as soon the budget was passed by the National Assembly, there were hues and crieses the budget was over-bloated. There is ongoing debate that the National Assembly has no authority to add but can only approve or reject what the President has brought.
And the National Assembly based on the provision of the constitution claims that  what the executive submits are mere estimates and proposals and such estimates and proposals are subject to what the final decision of the National Assembly would be. So, there have been arguments whether the National Assembly can add a new project that was not initially in the proposed budget.
If the National Assembly cannot, then who are they representing? As representatives of the people, I believe responsible addition to any proposal by the executive should be expected otherwise their representation will not be so effective as it should be in terms of making sure the constituencies they represent are given a fair share of development vis-a-vis every other constituency in the country.
The argument followed immediately the budget was passed and submitted to Mr. President and in addition to that was an assertion that personnel cost was cut across board and that that will result to shortage of funds to pay personnel cost. I was Finance Chairman of the Senate when the budget was made and I am still the chairman till date and I was not privy to any such cut but if that happens to be the case, it is a very easy thing to do.
As I mentioned earlier, what is in the provision will last up to September or October and you are required to move funds from one head to the other and you can easily do that through virement and this virement is approved through resolution not even legislation. Legislation takes a longer process but resolution is a two or three day affair.
Even the critical capital project, before now, it had been a tradition that as the year draws to an end, you will look at where you have not exhausted the funds or where you are not likely to exhaust the funds provided, then you move them to where you can exhaust the funds and deliver completed projects.
Supplementary budget
This has been the tradition, so there is nothing new in approaching the National Assembly with a virement or supplementary budget but the way it was presented ab-initio, any legislator from a distance will think the entire budget was returned, the same bulky document like the initial proposal were just brought back to the National Assembly and that is actually intimidating.
As a former governor and  member of the NGF between 1999 and 2007, was there a time the forum faced a crisis as it is now facing?
I am always conscious of the people around the corridors of power because sometimes whether you are on the side of the governors or the president, sometimes they create unnecessary confusion. All these crises are not about the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), even if it affects the PDP because we are in power. Now we have PDP Governors Forum, even during our time we used to meet as PDP governors but we didn’t have to announce that. So PDP Governors Forum did not start with the present governors only that theirs was well announced, so when I hear people saying all sort of things about the formation of the PDP Governors Forum, to me it is nothing new. 
Exaggeration of chairman’s capacity
So there should not be accusation that it has been created to victimise certain people, it existed and served a purpose during our time. If I may ask, what is South-South governors forum, what is South-East governors forum or Northern governors forum? For me, it is just a governor like any other governor. Maybe we over-exaggerated the capacity of the chairman of any of the governors’ fora.
At the end of the day, they are only governors and I would rather call for reconciliation and dialogue for the sake of stability of the nation. That is what politics is all about and I don’t think it is a problem beyond resolution. Of course there maybe people, who are not interested in wanting the problems solved for reasons best known to them, but based on my experience, I believe it is a crisis that could be resolved for the common good of Nigeria.
In electing the NGF chairman during your time as governor of Kaduna State, was it done through voting or consensus?
During our time, there was nothing like zoning. We never looked at ourselves as northerners or southerners. There was a time a chairman emerged when the incumbent went inside to ease himself, before he came back, he had been changed as NGF. He had the right to disagree with the decision then, it could have been offered to him but he never said anything. So I think politics is at play and the problems we are seeing now is politics.
What are your feelings on the spate of crises affecting your party, the PDP?
We have not been able to change with the changing time. In 1999 when we started, we were just starting but as time passed we created past leaders. Unfortunately we now say once you are a past leader, your time has gone and you have no business in what is going on now.
That is absolutely impossible. Our political system has been unable to create that system where everybody is carried along. You cannot be there forever but again you cannot be completely ignored. So you have to find a balance to what makes people feel they are part of one large family if you continue going with the policy of exclusion, then the politics will be more heated and such crises will only get worse.
How far do you think opposition parties involved in the mega merger can go in their efforts against the PDP?
It is part of political development. For me, if we in PDP were sleeping before, it will wake us from our slumber. For me, it is a good thing that it’s happening. Opposition can make an attempt but that is if the PDP gives them a chance. If we put our house together and do what we are supposed to do, we will continue to govern.


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