by Oluwole Josiah and John Alechenu (Punch)
Okonjo-Iweala spoke at the Senate when she appeared before the special joint committee on the performance of the 2012 budget.
Asked if the country was broke, she said, “The country is absolutely not broke. And I want to repeat that again, because there are those who would want to push that idea. The country is not broke, (though) the country may have cash flow problems from time to time. That is normal and is to be expected because a person may be very wealthy, he may have a lot of assets but at a particular point in time the stream of income may delay.
“You are running a business, you can be assets rich therefore you cannot be broke but you may have a temporary month when the flow is not as it should be because the price of that product may be lower. The time for you to collect money from that product may take a little longer because you extended credit to people by selling to them and then telling them you will collect later. So, sometimes there may be temporary cash flow issues, but the country broke? The answer is no.”
The House of Representatives on July 19 had berated the Federal Government for alleged poor implementation of the 2012 budget and gave President Goodluck Jonathan a September 18 deadline to achieve 100 per cent performance of the budget or face impeachment proceedings.
The Senate also on Tuesday had condemned what it described as the non-impressive execution of the budget and summoned the finance minister to appear to brief it on the budget performance on Thursday (yesterday).
Okonjo-Iweala, however, faulted the claim that the budget performance had been “abysmal.” The minister explained that her position on the 56 per cent budget performance ratio was based on funds actually utilised from the releases as of July 2012.
According to Okonjo-Iweala, the 2012 budget implementation actually started in April 2012 and had only been operated for four months after it was signed into law.
She said, “The first thing to note is that this year’s budget implementation started in April after the budget was signed. For the knowledge of all Nigerians, we have been implementing this budget for just four months, starting from April, and that is the way we have been following the budget. We talk about the utilisation of resources since April and from April to July, what have been released and what has been utilised.
“Out of the total capital budget of N1.3tn for capital…we have been implementing for four months, we have released so far, N404bn, we have cash backed N324billion, meaning that we have actually made cash available to the tune of N324billion for Ministries, Departments and Agencies to use.
“So out of the amount we have cash-backed, they have used 56 per cent of the amount we have cash backed, that is what we talked about.”
She added that the proper way to look at implementation was to consider it in terms of the money spent.
She said, “If you know how much has been used of the resources that has been released, then you will know how much more room there is.
“Out of the amount that has been cash-backed, N324bn, 56 per cent has been used meaning that there is still 44 per cent of resources not used, so there is room for implementation to progress. So we are working very hard to ensure that the 44 per cent is used.”
She denied allegations that the Ministry of Finance had withheld money from ministries and other government agencies. She added that the finance ministry had released all the funds available to it on a quarterly basis, saying that she was not withholding funds meant for the execution of the projects.
She said, “Since this budget started in April, how much should we have released from then to July of the N1.3tr appropriated for capital projects? If we look at that pro-rated for those four months, N446 bn should have been released for capital, but we have released 404billion, and you look at the cash-backing, the utilisation as a percentage of that.
“If we look at that ratio, you will see that we should have released 446 bn from April to July, we cashed-backed N324bn; N184bn has been utilised and this gives you, if you want to look at the execution part of the budget, 41.3 per cent. I have not talked about budget implementation before, I only spoke about the utilisation of the resources, but now in terms of the budget, this is the way we will present it.”
Okonjo-Iweala also appealed to the lawmakers to “give us up to the end of the year before saying that the performance of the budget is low.”
She also noted that she had heard that MDAs were coming to the National Assembly to complain of the non- release of funds. The minister urged senators to take a look at the project-by-project releases already published by the ministry to determine those agencies that had received funds but that had not utilised the funds.
Earlier, the Leader of the Senate, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, representing the President of the Senate, David Mark, at the session, had said that Nigerians needed to know what the problem was with budget implementation.
He urged the minister to clarify if the addition of the constituency projects which amounted to about N60bn were responsible for the poor implementation of the budget.
Ndoma-Egba noted that the meeting was to address the concerns of Nigerians who were wont to blame the National Assembly for “every lapse in budget implementation.”