Uproar as Senate passes N238.15bn NCS Budget

*MDAs fail to submit Audited Account in 6yrs

By Ignatius Okorocha

There were sharp disagreements among lawmakers on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday as the upper chamber passed an estimated N238.15 Billion Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) 2020 budget.

This was as some lawmakers have revealed that some Ministries, Department and Agencies of government ( MDAs) have failed to submit their audited accounts the Red chamber in the last six yeas.

Trouble started when some ranking Senators criticized the Senator Francis Alimikhena led report as not been thorough and failing to provide the lawmakers with sufficient information on the expenditure profile of the Service.

The senators, who disagreed with the budget report of the Committee on Custom, Excise and Tariffs presented by its Chairman, Senator Francis Alimikhena amidst uproar, pointed out that the report on the budget was not tidy, noting that some of the figures were not adding up.

They also noted that the NCS like others Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have for the past six years not submitted their audited reports.

Some of lawmakers, who kicked against the report, pointed out that Customs cannot be getting seven percent from revenue collected, two percent from all Value Added Tax (VAT), allocation from federation account and other revenues and still failed to submit its accounts for auditing.

They said that NCS collects two percent of all VAT revenues, six percent of all collectable revenues, 60 percent of all comprehensive insurance supervision, drawings from Federation accounts and yet failed to submit its accounts for auditing.

In his contribution on the report, Senator James Manager( Delta Souh) said that irrespective of what the Committee had agreed with the House of Representatives Committee, “this report is too scanty for us to look at. The Committee should have taken a proper look at the report before submitting it to us. We need to look at the federation account properly.”

Senator Gabriel Suswam said that before the Customs budget should be passed, proper explanation should be made, so that the Senate will understand why some figures are not adding up.

Senator Solomon Olamilekan had earlier observed that the seven percent for the Customs was enough to defray its expenditure, noting that apart from the seven percent, the agency still draws funds from the Federation account.

Further speaking against the passage of the budget was the Chairman Senate Committee on a public Account, Senator Matthew Urhoghide( Edo South)said, “the fact that Customs is collecting seven percent does not mean that its budget should not be audited.”

Senator IbnNa’allah,(Kebbi South)who also toed the line of argument of the senators, who kicked against the passage of the budget, noted that because the accounts of agencies have not been audited, was the reason why the nation falls below civilized standard.

He said: “This Senate has a duty to bring all agencies into conformity with the vision of federal government. We must bring our institutions to conform with what will make the country proud. We can’t pass this kind of budget.”

While Senators AdamuAliero, Albert AkpanBassey, AliyuSabi and others argued in favour of the passage of the bill noting that the committee did justice to the appropriation bill.

In his remarks after the passage of the budget, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, who presided over the plenary said, “we expect MDAs to present their audited accounts before the end of the year especially towards the end of December or at least the first quarter of next year, that is if we include all the calendar months.

“If any agency refuses or fails without any cogent reason, we have reason to take a drastic action when it comes to appropriation because not to account for what you have been given in the previous year, that is to say you are not prepared to take a new budget.

“So I’m advising the MDAs, especially those that are not up to date with their audited accounts to do so. We could decide as a National Assembly to take measures against agencies of government that are not up to date with their audited accounts.”

Presenting the report before the Senate earlier, Senator Alimikhena explained that the proposal is based on the Federal Government of Nigeria Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).

He added that the total expenditure of N238.15 Billion is being proposed for the 2020 financial year as follows: Personnel Cost =N98.61 Billion representing 41.41% Annex I, Overhead Cost =N15.95 Billion representing 6.70% Annex 11, Capital Cost =N123.59 Billion representing 51.89% Annex III.

Highlights of the Budget proposal, according to him, include, the establishment of the E-Customs Project through massive deployment of information communication technology to eliminate personal interface in customs operations.

“This will also enable the agency efficiently interconnect with all relevant trade ecosystem partners and all round automation of all manual payments in every custom formation.

“The implementation of the Nigeria Customs Service Salary Structure for 15,892 officers and men of the Service; the recruitment of three thousand two hundred (3,200) officers and men and their training.

“Provision for payment of annual premium on both Group Life/Personal Accident Insurance as provided in the new pension scheme as well as to settle part of outstanding claims of deceased officers; the capital cost estimates makes provision for the completion of the NCS New Corporate Headquarters.

“Provision is also made for construction of new Zonal offices, Multipurpose Theatres, Warehouses, Barracks and Housing accommodation across the headquarters, Zones and Area Commands.

“Provision is made for purchase of Surveillance equipment for the border posts given the security challenges, operational boats for anti-smuggling activities and purchase of power generators.”

On the recommendation, the lawmaker said, “the task for the Nigeria Customs Service are enormous at this period of international security threat and dwindling economies.; In consideration of the Needs Assessment of the Service.

“The Committee hereby recommends: That the Senate do approve a total sum of Two Hundred and Thirty-Eight Billion, One Hundred and Forty-Nine Million, Three Hundred and Twenty-Five Thousand, Eight Hundred and Thirty-two Naira Seventy kobo only (238,149,325,832.70) for Nigeria Customs Service for the 2020 financial year.

“Given the importance of the agency in terms of economic stimulation, trade facilitation, revenue collection and security at the borders and ports, the Committee hereby urges the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to give the budget a speedy passage.”

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