According to reports, the slow release of 2016 budgetary allocation to agriculture is hindering the diversification of the economy, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has said.
He said because the ministry had to follow a very rigid procurement process, it was yet to begin the implementation of any capital project since the budget was approved in May.
Ogbeh revealed this yesterday in Abuja when the Senate Committee on Agriculture paid a visit to the ministry and added that of the N33billion released for capital project only N8.82million has been spent.
In what seems to be the minister’s account of stewardship, he said: “We are just about starting the capital expenditure because we wanted to follow all the procurement process so that we don’t break the law. We had speculated this under the zero budget system, because the cash is there but we cannot spend until the processes are carried out.”
Ogbeh expressed fear over the likelihood of industrial action, following the alert received from the Accountant General’s Office that the N1.3billion remaining balance for the personnel cost may be inadequate for the payment of salaries and allowances to staff up to December.
He maintained that notwithstanding the poor budgetary process to the ministry, more attention has been shifted to the sector, as it recorded 4.5 per cent growth in the second quarter, adding that the ministry has generated N4.8 billion.
Ogbeh disclosed that at the federal level, there might be N80billion waiting to flow into the economy through contract and programme implementation.
He said the ministry had given out tenders on 215 projects including equipment and machinery, chemicals and drugs, packaging, cattle wire fencing, drilling of boreholes, construction and rehabilitation, rural roads, land clearing and mechanical work and consultancy services, expression of interest, prequalification roads and works, constituency goods and services.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Abdullahi Adamu, urged the ministry not to succumb to propaganda by importers, emphasising the need to have effective control on what comes to the country.
Adamu said: “The ban on rice importation must be maintained and the duty on imported items must be increased as time goes on pending the time a total ban is placed on many of the staple foods.”
The senator said with the amendment of the procurement process, reducing the number of bid processes from 165 days to 112 days, the 2017 budget would be more flexible.