At least 30 Senators on Wednesday gave their views on areas they feel the Executive Arm of Government needs to focus on if the nation is to attain some level of socio-economic development.
It was the second plenary in the week presided over by Senator Bukola Saraki, the Senate President and the 2017 Budget was one major bill that deliberations focused on.
Some of the areas the senators want the government to prioritise are infrastructure and agriculture.
After the Senate President led the lawmakers into plenary, he demanded that Senators should make their individual contributions to the 2017 Budget.
Senator Olanrewaju Tejuoso spoke on the need to have at least one per cent allocation of the budget to the Health Sector. The Senator also harped on the need for increased personnel provisions for salaries to avoid incessant strikes in the health sector in 2017.
Senator Nelson Effiong identified what he called the focus of the budget on local workforce and commended the five per cent VAT which he believes will build investor confidence.
He also commended the increase in budgetary allocations of the Amnesty Programme from 45 billion Naira in 2016 to 65 billion in 2017.
The low capital expenditure in the budget, was of concern to Senator George Sekibo, who warned that Nigeria was indeed broke and had no money.
He pointed out that there was an increase personnel cost in the 2017 Budget “even when we say we are saving costs” and demanded that contractors should be paid.
While Senator Bassey Akpan lamented the high budget deficit and the poor management of foreign exchange rates, fiscal and monetary policies, he also commended the increased budget allocation towards increasing agricultural production.
Senator Gbenga Ashafa commended the Executive for bringing the MTEF in good time as well as keying-into the revamp of railways.
“We must compare the 2016 Budget’s performance with the estimated allocations in the 2017 Budget,” he said, demanding that President Muhammadu Buhari should tell Nigerians how much funds they had recovered in order to ensure transparency.
Senator Shehu Sani expressed hopes that the allocation to Education in the budget would address the basic issues in the sector while Senator Yele Omogunwa spoke on the factual data and statistics of unemployed, widows and others for National Planning and budget implementation.
Senator Omogunwa further highlighted that Nigeria’s budgets do not have maximal impact due to corruption and mockingly called for the legalisation and liberalisation of corruption.
Senator Jide Omoworare spoke on the need to reduce recurrent and increase capital expenditure. “Government has to spend more. The allocations for Bank of Industry and Bank of Agriculture should be increased as the nation moves move towards diversification, PPP and Concessioning.
“The Peace in the Niger Delta Region should be sustained and the time line on MTEF and Budgets be reviewed,” he requested.
The Senator further stressed that there was a need to look at developmental planning from the past and improve on it for the future.
On his part, Senator Dino Melaye told the Senate that “truth be told, the 2017 Budget is too ambitious” and that “we borrow to swagger”, harping on the need to develop Agriculture to liberate the economy.
Senator John Enoh, like a professional in developmental economics, focused on the need to increase salaries and wages; high personnel costs; deficit budget; borrowing and revenue projections towards the implementation of the budget.
Senator Biodun Olujimi questioned the success or otherwise of the Treasury Savings Account. She said the Federal Government was paying lip service to diversification.
Senator Matthew Urhoghide spoke on the non-implementation of the Abuja Declaration on allocations to the Health Sector.
Senator Urhoghide further told the 8th Senate that they owed Nigerians a duty to do the right thing by allocating for basic health infrastructures budget.
Senator Sola Adeyeye decried the allocation to the education sector, saying “Nigeria is a pathetically poor country with an entire education budget of 448 billion Naira being 20% of that of Harvard University”.
Senator Adeyeye further identified an increased debt servicing in the 2017 Budget and demanded that cost of government must be reduced.
He said: “We must strengthen our private sector. Power, Road, Railway and Refinery Infrastructure must be developed”.
Senator Abu Ibrahim appreciated President Buhari for plans towards stabilising the country, commending the Social Intervention Plans.
For Senator Ali Ndume, the budget passed annually by the Senate so far lacks details. He says Senators need to know the sub-heads.
Senator Ndume further stressed the need for the allocations towards the humanitarian crisis in the North East to be increased.
After several other Senators took turn to give their views on the budget, the Senate Leader moved that the plenary should be adjourned to the next legislative day, Thursday, to continue the debate on the budget.