Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said yesterday that if Nigeria’s huge infrastructural deficit must be addressed and expand planned expenditure, there was the urgent need for the country to prioritize human capital development in national spending.

Saraki who has also called for adherence to the 1% resolution to health as it requires the Basic Health Fund to be funded by 1% of the Consolidated National Fund and which amounts to 86 billion Naira that has not been committed, however said that to achieve this target, the National Assembly hopes to allocate expenditure on critical health and education facilities in the country.

He said, “When the Speaker and I met with Bill Gates last week, the emphasis was on health, and it is something we should take very seriously indeed, especially as the 1% resolution would go a long way in boosting basic maternal and child health immunization services as well as local and rural community health in this country.”

The Senate President stated this yesterday in Abuja when he declared open a two-day public hearing on the 2018 budget, organized by the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriations.

The event is being attended by ministries, department and agencies (MDAs), international development partners, civil society organizations and other critical stakeholders.

Saraki said: “We acknowledge Nigeria’s huge infrastructural deficit, as well as the need to expand planned expenditure.

“However, you will agree with me that, while it is important to achieve equity and balance in the spread of development projects around the country, we must also prioritise human capital development. It is in this vein that the National Assembly will prioritize expenditure on critical health and education facilities as well as soft infrastructure.”

The Senate President who noted that there  the need to ensure real value-for-money in government spending as well as giving priority to spending on locally made goods, said, “The Made-in-Nigeria initiative, with particular regard to government procurements, is already the thrust of a significant law passed by the 8th National Assembly and which has the added advantage of helping to revamp our industrial base.

“This is one sure way of creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, encouraging private sector partnerships and creating jobs, especially for the youth.”

He noted that as a legislature, the 8th National Assembly is acutely aware that modern democratic lawmaking requires the deliberate engagement of the people and that issues that matter most to the people should form the core objective of parliament.

He said: “And so, for the first time, the National Assembly is becoming the People’s Parliament – where all shades of opinions are ventilated and experts are also able to have the space to contribute to the fashioning of solutions that will endure.

“It is therefore my firm belief that, with your inputs and contributions at this Public Hearing, the 2018 Budget will deliver the envisioned socio-economic benefits to Nigerians in an all-inclusive manner. That is why we strongly encourage stakeholders’ participation in the process, especially as it relates to the provision of public services and equitable distribution of social benefits.”

Saraki also expressed worry  that as at March ending, a good number of government agencies were  yet to submit their budget proposals; pointing out that such attitudes do not portray any form of seriousness.

In his remarks, Speaker House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara said that efforts by the National Assembly to inject equity in the National budget through zonal interventions have been grossly misunderstood, arguing that no amount of blackmail would stop National Assembly from ensuring equitable distribution of infrastructure across the country.

He however pointed out that the quality of budget is not in the size of it but in its implementation as he called on citizens to insist on the budget is implemented fully.

President Muhamadu Buhari had in November submitted a budget proposal of N8.6 trillion to the National Assembly to consolidate on the achievement of the 2016 and 2017 budgets.

Also Speaking, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed said that the budget is predicated on an assumption of Oil Production of 2.3 billion barrels per day with oil price pegged at $45 per barrel at an exchange rate of N305 to $1, just as she said  that budget is also projected on an inflationary rate of 12.42% and a growth rate of 3.5%, adding that the budget is designed to stimulate investment especially increase in human capital development and the new drive to diversify the Nigerian economy.

Earlier in his remarks, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje said, “The main objective of this hearing is to ensure an inclusively active stakeholder participation in the processing of the 2018 budget which is a line expression of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan [EPGP) 2017-2020, of the Federal Government. We all are scientist and laboratory technicians ready to mix and condition chemicals in the recently launched ERGP laboratory to get the best result for the people.

“The hearing is also an entrenched part of the 8th National Assembly legislative Agenda of openness in governance and public sector matters because the people we represent deserve to know and should know how our commonwealth is distributed.

“Permit me to mention one of the major achievements of the 2017 National Budget Public Hearing: it brought among others, the vexed issue of lack of funds to pay pensioners to a major National Budget platform (which made government to act); and today, it is pleasing to note that pensioners complaints of nonpayment of pension and gratuity have greatly reduced.

“Criticism whether of self/within or from without, is a fertilizer of knowledge, a harbinger and conveyor of change and growth. The joint committee is inundated with petitions, complaints and observations with recommendations to expunge “frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful estimates” in the 2018 Budget of many MDAs. The Committee will look through the claims with the deserved attention they merit.

“We are aware that most MDAs, in compliance to Mr. President’s directive are appearing before the Appropriations Sub-committees to defend their proposals. However, we believe that our work will be better and richer with inputs from the larger Nigerian public the CSOs, NGOs and other interest groups and stakeholders who are presented here to defend their memoranda.”

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