N’Assembly increased 2015 budget by N17bn, Okonjo-Iweala insists

Former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has clarified her account of what played out before the 2015 budget was passed by the National Assembly.

Okonjo-Iweala, who rejected false reports filtering around that she accused the legislators of receiving bribe noted that though the executive was not comfortable with the upward review of the budget figure but accepted to it as a ‘price to have the 2015 budget passed’.

The financial expert, in her book titled: “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines”, had narrated how the 2015 budget went up by N17 billion owing to the insistence the lawmakers.

According to her, “By the time we presented budget on December 16, 2014, the oil prices has further fallen down to $58 per barrel.

“We were prepared and knew we had to trigger the additional expenditure and revenue measure in 2015 to make the budget work.

“This would be tough, given that we had entered election year. Indeed, legislators initially refused to accept pay cuts to their regular N150 billion budget, despite dwindling revenues.

“But, eventually agreed to 13 percent cut against backdrop of Ministers accepting voluntary 50 percent to their basic salaries.

“In a tough session with the National Assembly ad hoc committee on budget (made up chairs of Finance committee and Appropriation Committee of both chambers and other leaders of National Assembly), an additional N20 billion was reintroduced as election expenses for the National Assembly members.

“We insisted that the amount should be dropped because it nullified the 13 percent cut to their statutory budget, but managed N20 billion figure by only N3 billion to N17 billion.

“This become the price to have 2015 budget passed,” she averred.

Since Okonjo-Iweala had given this account, it had drawn condemnations, especially from lawmakers who accused her of deliberate attempt to shift blame of her poor handling of the nation’s finances while she was in office.

Speaking on the claim of the former Minister, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, insisted that the book revealed how Okonjo-Iweala and her aides tampered with the 2015 budget to infuse their own project.

He recalled how the lawmakers fought Okonjo-Iweala when it realised her alleged attempt to ‘pad’ the budget, dismissing the former minister’s claim against the National Assembly.

However, reacting to the misunderstanding of her account, Okonjo-Iweala took to her Facebook page on Sunday, denying that she accused National Assembly of receiving bribe before they passed the 2015 budget.

She said her account in the book on the 2015 budget was misconstrued to suit personal interests, describing a claim made by Gbajabiamila against her and aides that they added their own projects to the budget as a move to ‘thwart the truth.’

“It has come to my attention that mischief makers are again trying to distort what is written in my book, ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: the Story Behind the Headlines’, for their own political purposes.

“One more time, It is important that people read the book for themselves. In the case of the N17 billion, the book does not talk of bribe.

“It indicates that lawmakers increased the budget by N17 billion and we had to accept that to move on; hence, the term ‘price to pay’.

“The reason for discussing what happened is that this approach needs to change. The country must clear up and clarify its budget process for the future to improve.

“Those like Hon Gbajabiamiala trying to introduce lies that myself and my aides put in our own projects and lawmakers were fighting with me on that basis are playing their usual cynical games and Nigerians are tired of that!

“Lies obscure the country’s problems and do not allow us to improve. There were and there still are politicians in the National Assembly trying to do the right thing. The book also points that out.

“Such well meaning legislators should not allow their strident colleagues to twist matters and divert attention from the need to improve the country’s budget process so our young people can see a better side of their country.”

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