Senate accuses Health Ministry of delay in budget execution

By Hassan Zaggi

The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has expressed its displeasure over the delay in the implementation of budgets over the years by the Federal Ministry of Health.

The ministry has, over the years, remained notorious in delaying and haphazard implementation of budgets for the health sector despite early releases.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, made this position known at the 2021 annual retreat of the National Advocates for Health (NA4H) in Abuja, yesterday.

He was the Chairman of the opening session of the retreat.  

The Senator charged the Advocates to begin to advocate for the efficient and effective utilization of the resources available.

“In the past when I was outside, I always look at it that we are looking for more and more money. When I am inside now, I realise that we have a challenge of effective and efficient utilization of funds.

“Yes, what we have is not enough. But are we getting the expected return on what we have now? The unfortunate answer is no,” he said.

While blaming the Federal Ministry of Health for the delayed and poor implementation of the health budget in the past few years, the Senator said: “We have the budget and I am happy the Minister is here. The year 2020 budget has been passed, as at October when we were reviewing, the Ministry of Health was yet to implement and utilized its 2020 budget. As at October when we reviewed, the first batch of capital funds, about 50 per cent was released as far back as June and when October came, they released additional 25 per cent and then after that they released another one.

“As we speak, they are just beginning implementing it. So, what kind of implementation do we expect?

“Of course, we will perform our role of oversight, as we know in health, it is better you treat the patient and he is well rather than come after.

“That is the starting point. To say that what all of us have been advocating for when it is not utilized well. Two; in that budget, we have two key budgets that we worked for and  ensure we request they be inserted and I have not seen them being utilised well.

“One is that budget for cancer. When we were putting it there, our hope is that what the federal government is putting down there  is tantamount for the private sector and other partners to come together and ensure that all Nigerians who have cancer should  have access to treatment.

“But as it is being used now, you discover that some unpleasant things are happening. It doesn’t make one happy as a legislator and as someone who is pushing and working hard for the money. That is what I am talking about effective utilization of funds.”

While advising the Advocates, the Senator said: “As advocates, while you are advocating for more money,  I want you to strengthen your advocacy around efficient and effective utilization of what we have. Secondly, we need to get our strategies right in the sector as per addition resources.”

Speaking, the Prof. Oladapo Ladipo, regretted that health has not been made a priority at both the federal, state and local government levels.

He advocated for a legislation that will compel the state governments to earmark 15 per cent of their monthly allocation to health.

Prof. Ladipo lamented the decayed nature of the nation’s health infrastructure and poor working condition of health care workers which he insisted are the causes of the brain-drain in the sector.

“When I look at the health system from a different lens, I see where some of the problems lie. First of all, it is true that we have not absorb the resources released, we need to look into why and to fix that. We must have professionals who are able to advice government and to ensure that the money is used timely.

“For me, as a priority, we need to improve the healthcare system. The infrastructure must be improved and the working environment for healthcare workers must be improved.

“But most importantly, too, we need to build the capacity of health workers. When  we improve their working environment and pay their remuneration timely and adequately, we shall reduce the brain-drain.

“Therefore, looking at it deeply, health is not a priority of the Nigerian government at federal, state or local government. It has to be a priority for us to see the desired improvement.

“It is a shame that we have not been able to meet the Abuja declaration. I want to appeal to legislators, let us allocate that 15 per cent, and you can even guide the Ministry of Health on how to use that 15 per cent.

“Apart from decay in our healthcare institutions, there is no research going on there. When academicians are not conducting quality research that will be competitive, they feel frustrated.

“We need to fix the primary health care. It is not too much. Since the states have their responsibilities to make their contributions, I think from the money going to the states from the federal level on a monthly basis, you should say to them 15 per cent of the amount must go to health. There should be that legislation. They should not be allowed to divert the money.”

Speaking on behalf of the newly inducted Advocates, the former Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, called for the induction of Former Senate President, Bukola Saraki and former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, into the Advocates following their contribution in ensuring that the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) was inserted into the budget.

He noted that the battle for the BHCPF was just half won, insisting that there is a lot of work to be done.

He called on the Advocates to work closely with the governors’ forum and also work closely with the executive and legislature to ensure that the  health sector gets more money.

The high point of the retreat was the induction of new members into the Advocates.

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