We gave lawmakers N17bn to pass 2015 budget —Okonjo-Iweala
Former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has revealed the blackmail and arm twisting that characterised budget passing by the National Assembly during the Goodluck Jonathan Administration.
She cited an instance in 2015 when the National Assembly leadership forced the executive arm to part with N17 billion for the federal lawmakers to pass that year’s budget.
That, she said, was at a time crude price had gone down drastically.
The N17 billion alleged bribe, according to Okonjo-Iweala in her book Fighting Corruption is Dangerous:The Story Behind the Headlines, was besides the NASS N150 billion annual ‘standard’ budget.
She described federal legislators as a tough political group to deal with.
Her words: “The legislature was concerned largely about three things—the size of its own budget; the nature and the size of the capital budget, particularly investment projects; and the number and geographical location of the projects.
“Senators and Representatives felt that their role as appropriators of the budget was not just to vet and approve budget parameters and oversee budget implementation, but also to shape the size and content of the budgets, including details of specific projects.”
She said members of the NASS Finance and Appropriation even felt ”they had the right–indeed the duty–to get into the details of the budget formulation and preparation process all along the budget value chain.”
The ex-minister said the NASS leadership, working through the various committees, “sought to add more to individual projects or create completely new, unappropriated major projects, thereby distorting the budget.”
But she explained that “not all National Assembly members supported these unfortunate manipulations of the budget.”
She added: “National Assembly members had negotiated large increases in the National Assembly budgets and would brook no discussions or challenges on the issue.
“Their operational budget had ballooned to N150 billion or 16 per cent of the budget and almost 3.5 times the 2006 budget (in naira).”
Okonjo-Iweala said when it was proposed that the lawmakers should give up some of their benefits in view of dwindling revenue in 2015, they bluntly refused to do so.
“By the time we presented the budget on December 16, 2014, oil prices had fallen further to $58 per barrel.
“We were prepared and we knew we had to trigger the additional expenditure and revenue measures in 2015 to make the budget work.
“This would be tough, given that we had entered an election year,” she said.
”Indeed, legislators initially refused to accept any cuts to their regular N150 billion budget, despite dwindling revenues.
“But eventually, they agreed to a 13 per cent cut against a backdrop of ministers accepting a voluntary 50 per cent cut to their basic salaries.
“In a tough session with the National Assembly’s ad hoc committee on the budget (made up of chairs of the Finance Committee and Appropriation Committee of both chambers and other leaders of the National Assembly), an additional N20 billion was re-introduced as election expenses for National Assembly members.
“We insisted the amount be dropped because it nullified the 13 per cent cut made to their statutory budget, but managed to reduce the N20 billion figure by only N3 billion to N17 billion.
“This became the price to pay to have the 2015 budget passed.”
Okonjo-Iweala was Jonathan’s finance minister from August 17, 2011 to May 29, 2015.
She had served in the same capacity in the Obasanjo government.
The Federal Government proposed to spend N4.454 trillion that year.