SURE-P Probe: Ministers, Kolade Shun Reps

The absence of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke and the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Tuesday stalled the probe by the House of Representatives into the implementation of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).

Other Ministers and government officials who were absent include the Minister of Labour and Productivity, the Minister of Transport and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, alongside ministers of health, Onyebuchi Chukwu; transport, Idris Umar; labour, Emeka Worgu, were scheduled to give testimonies at the House of Representatives hearing on the controversies over implementation of SURE-P.

The Accountant General of the federation, Jonah Otunla, was also to appear at the sitting conducted by the House joint committees on downstream petroleum, finance, states and local government.

All the officials, including Christopher Kolade, who heads the federal government SURE-P, boycotted the meeting, forcing the lawmakers to reschedule the hearing.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources (downstream), Peterside Dakuku accused the abstaining ministers and government officials of “deliberate contempt’ for the parliament.

“This intentional act of disrespect will not be condoned,” he said.

President Goodluck Jonathan had established the SURE-P as a palliative after the January 2012 demonstrations which opposed government’s removal of the subsidy. The programme was to convert funds recovered from the subsidy scrapping, into tangible infrastructures and jobs.

Under the scheme, every state of the federation and the federal capital, Abuja, is to provide a minimum of 10,000 jobs, while new rail, and power projects, are to be implemented with the monies saved from the partial removal of fuel subsidy.

The House of Representatives had accused the subsidy committee of duplicating projects with the ministries, and defrauding the nation by making double payments for projects also financed by the ministries.

The lawmakers were told how the Kolade-led committee spent N2.2 billion on “secretariat services” and another N75 million on travels between July and October.

Another N27 billion was also spent on “Public Works for Youths”, and N8.9 billion for the purchase of 800 buses. Details of how the monies were allocated were not provided to the lawmakers.

For 2013, SURE-P is to spend N273.52 billion.

Sambo says youth unemployment is unacceptable to Jonathan

Vice President Namadi Sambo on Tuesday said that the current global phenomenon of youth unemployment is unacceptable to the Goodluck Jonathan administration.

The vice president said this at the inauguration of and technical workshop for states implementation committees of the community services, women and youth employment of the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P) in the presidential villa, Abuja.

He said youth unemployment rate which is at 50 percent in several nations was the reason the federal government has evolved innovative methods of tackling the challenges of unemployment and that for decades, the country has been faced with high unemployment rates among the youths and strategies and institutional mechanisms put in place to create wealth have not yielded much result.

According to him, the community service programme inaugurated was to fast-track the design to employ 320,000 of the unskilled youth, women and citizens with physical challenges annually, noting that the programme and graduate internship scheme designed to train 50,000 graduates in private companies are part of the benefits of the partial subsidy removal under SURE-P.

While urging each sector of the economy to play its role in contributing to job creation, Mr Sambo said “the present effort under the SURE-P therefore builds partnership between the tiers of government on the one hand and across sectors on the other.”

He said in order to hasten the achievement of the programme; State Implementation Committees (SIC) have been established in each state and the federal capital territory, not only to guide the implementation at the state level, but to also serve as a platform for strengthening partnerships with states and local governments on employment creation.

Mr Sambo urged members of the committee to live up to expectations of government and justify the confidence reposed in them by their nomination for the assignment. He also warned them that “government would not tolerate any act of wrongdoing or corruption in the programme” as their inauguration was an act of matching words with action by the federation government.

In his remark, the chairman of SURE-P, Christopher Kolade, acknowledged the support which President Jonathan and Vice President Sambo have given to the programme. He said contractors in the programme and midwives have not been owed as they are paid promptly.

The Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ministers of Women Affairs, Labour, Minister of State for Federal Capital Territory and representatives of the Minister of Water Resources and others attended the event.

Rail operations to resume on Lagos-Kano line in six weeks – SURE-P

Rail transport in the country has received a boost with a disclosure that the Lagos-Kano line would resume full operations in six weeks’ time, after two years of suspended rail transport activities by the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC).

This was disclosed on Tuesday by the Subsidy Re-investment Programme (SURE-P), Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) and Project Implementation Unit (PIU) of the Federal Ministry of Transport, after a week-long inspection tour of on-going projects in train stations across the country.

The NRC was forced to suspend rail operations on the busy commercial route when the crucial Akerri Bridge linking the North and Southern Nigeria was washed away by flash floods.

However, following the recent financing intervention of its rehabilitation by the SURE-P Committee, NRC announced that rail operations would commence in six weeks when repairs on the Bridge would have been completed.

The SURE-P Committee member and Sub-committee convener on Railways, Chike Okogwu, who led a team of inspectors drawn from a pool of professional engineers of PIU and NRC, confirmed this to journalists.

Mr Okogwu said that they embarked on the tour having been mandated by the presidency to get railway back on track, SURE-P injected massive funds into the otherwise crumbling transport sector and ensured that work commenced almost immediately on a dozen sites across the country.

Also, the Chairman of the PIU, Eric Onyeiwu, said that the week-long verification exercise has not just enabled the team to evaluate work-in-progress at the various sites, but has been useful for proper decision taking.

Mr Onyeiwu said that although members of the PIU were worried about the slow pace of work by some of the contractors on site particularly work on Asa community in Aba, contracted to Esser Nigeria Ltd, they were delighted by the overall performance of the contractors.

“Many of the contractors are performing well. But we also have issues to sort out with a few of them. We are expecting NRC to give us more detailed information about those areas we are not contented with”, he said.

“There is a noticeable improvement in the quality of work done, improvement by the commitment of NRC, improvement by the contractors and others involved in the projects,” he added.

The delegation kicked off their visit from Lagos and went through Port Harcourt, Aba, Makurdi, Lafia, Kafanchan and Gombe and ended on inspections at Akerri Bridge and Brigde 73 near Minna in Niger State.

Reps threaten to Impeach Jonathan over budget execution

The House of Representatives, on Thursday, threatened to commence impeachment move on President Goodluck Jonathan over what it described as poor implementation of the 2012 budget.

The lawmakers also cautioned the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the non-release of funds to ministries, departments and agencies of government to implement projects.

They further urged President Jonathan to direct the Mrs Okonjo-Iweala to stop forthwith her violation of the 2012 budget as passed by the National Assembly and release, accordingly, first and second quarters’ appropriation to the MDAs and implement the budget to the letter.

The House’s took made these resolution following a motion moved by Albert Sam-Tsokwa and 20 others entitled: “Poor implementation of the 2012 budget,” noting that, “while the recurrent expenditure has kept pace with expectations, capital budget implementation seriously lags behind and leaves much to be desired.”

According to Mr Sam-Tsokwa, “whereas the majority of MDAs have reached advanced stages in the implementation of the procurement process, they are unable to release contract award letters as a result of the release of insufficient funds or non-release of funds, which has further exacerbated the crushing burden of accumulated debts.”

He said that “the 2012 national budget was passed with aggregate expenditure figure of N4.887 trillion, including the N180 billion for the Subsidy Re-Investment Programme (SURE-P).”

Various chairmen of the House committees that contributed to the debate, which generated heated arguments and emotions, berated the executive for the poor implementation of the 2012 budget and equally frowned on the false alarm being raised by the Minister of Finance that the country was broke.

The lawmakers then submitted that from the data they obtained from various government revenue generating agencies, except the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the country’s economy was not doing badly, as most of the agencies were said to have already surpassed their targets.

The Minority Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamiala, said that “President Goodluck Jonathan promised Nigerians a budget of transformation, but what we have is a budget of abracadabra and a voodoo economy.”

Backing his impeachment call with Section 143, Mr Gbajabiamila said, “if by the time we resume in September 18, 2012, budget has not been implemented by 100 per cent, we shall begin the impeachment process on Mr President.”

However, the House Leader, Mulikat Adeola-Akande, cautioned the lawmakers on the impeachment threat, stressing that she believed that before the lawmakers resumed from their recess on September 18, 2012, things would have changed for the better.

Jonathan reacts

The Presidency have reacted to the impeachment threat by House of Representatives on President Goodluck Jonathan over budget implementation saying the President is equally worried by the concerns raised by the House.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati said that President Jonathan was on the same page with the House of Representatives on the need for efficient budget implementation.

He said there was no conflict between the two arms of government, noting that the President was also concerned about budget implementation.

Vanguard newspaper reported Mr Abati as saying “the House and the President are on the same page on budget implementation. Just as the House is concerned, Mr. President is concerned too. What happened today (yesterday) in the House was ironic and a big coincidence because two ministries: interior and police affairs, were in the Villa to make presentations on their key performance index.

“Each ministry came with all the parastatals under it and presented their KPI in relation to Budget 2012. They were required to state their mandates, the money they collected under Budget 2012, their level of performance and their challenges if any and then define their next steps. After each presentation, there was robust discussion.”