N189.2bn polls budget: Reps, Senate panels grill INEC chairman | Nigerian News. Latest Nigeria News. Your online Nigerian Newspaper. f

Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters on Wednesday grilled the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, and other top officials over the budget of the 2019 general elections.

The INEC chairman was also grilled by the Senate Committee on INEC on the same budget.

INEC has proposed to spend a total of N189.2bn to conduct the polls, covering presidential, National Assembly, governorship and state assemblies elections.

The cost covers the aspects of the elections to be handled directly by INEC. The overall cost of the elections as presented to the National Assembly in July by President Muhammadu Buhari is N242.4bn, including security operations.

Recall that the passage of elections budget is the main reason members of the National Assembly, who are on annual recess, have come under pressure lately to reconvene.

INEC met separately with the Senate and House committees on electoral matters. The two panels will hold a joint session to harmonise their findings and produce a report, setting the stage for the reconvening of the legislature.

Yakubu appeared before the House committee at the National Assembly in Abuja on Wednesday to defend the commission’s component of the elections budget (N189.2bn).

The committee is chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Gombe State, Mrs Aisha Dukku.

Yakubu said he responded to nearly 30 questions by lawmakers before he lost count of the questions.

The chairman, who arrived for the meeting with the House committee at 11.09am, left one hour and 30 minutes later.

A breakdown of the N189.2bn showed that INEC would spend N134.4bn on election operational cost; N27.5bn on procurement of election technologies; N22.6bn on administrative cost; and another N4.6bn on miscellaneous expenditure.

Members queried the seeming “duplications” in the elections budget and the regular budget of INEC already passed by the National Assembly for its 2018 operations.

Also, the 2019 elections budget rose by N69bn above the N120bn spent on the 2015 polls.

High-budget items that caught the attention of lawmakers included monitoring, cost of permanent voter cards, procurement of vehicles and the payment of allowances to ad hoc staff.

A particular item that stood out was the provision of N6bn to feed policemen during the polls next year.

Three lawmakers: the Chairman, Committee on Army, Mr Rima Shawulu; the Chairman, Committee on Legislative Budget, Mr Golu Timothy; and Mr Gaza Jonathan asked how feeding policemen alone would consume N6bn.

They also observed that in the security component of the elections budget and the regular budget of the Nigeria Police Force, there was provision to cater for police welfare while on important assignments.

Shawulu noted, “When policemen are sent out on assignments such as elections, they are paid. There is a budget for them and we still have N6bn here.

“Is this one a duplication? You have put another N7bn here again for security and procurement of security vehicles. Why?”

Jonathan queried, “Why did you provide about N700m for international observers? We know that the European Union and the United Nations, they all make provisions for their independent observer missions. Is INEC going to pay them in 2019?”

Yakubu took time to provide answers, starting with the N69bn extra elections cost above that of 2015.

He stated that INEC had so far registered 12.1million new voters, in addition to the existing 70m, bringing the total voter population to plan for in 2019 to 82.1m.

He also told the committee that INEC would have to make a provision for 91 political parties in 2019 with a “longer and more challenging” ballot paper.

“We have to monitor the activities of all these political parties like primaries, congresses and conventions. We have to process forms for all of their candidates.

“What this means is that, if all the 91 parties will present candidates for all the categories of elections, INEC will have to produce 141,778 nomination forms.

“Again, it means we are budgeting for additional ad hoc staff, up to almost one million and still counting, because we actually have over 140 applications by associations seeking registration, awaiting consideration.”

On the N6bn provided for police feeding, Mahmoud said it was an initiative by INEC to adequately cater for policemen and other security personnel because of the long hours they would stand watching to ensure that nothing went wrong.

“These policemen suffer a lot too and we just have to be human. If our own members of staff are eating food, it doesn’t look nice to ignore the people providing security for them.

“They escort the election materials from point to point and honestly, it is not easy for them. So, we have made a provision of N1,000 for each policeman. Because of the large number that will be used for the elections, that is why the total looks big,” he added.

The INEC chairman also disagreed that there were duplications of the 2018 INEC budget, stressing that the commission had earlier informed the National Assembly that the 2019 elections budget would be separate from its regular budget.

He explained that INEC must still function as an agency and perform other routine duties like conducting new elections, bye-elections and pay staff salaries, which were the purpose for the 2018 budget.

To support his argument, Yakubu stated that from January to date, INEC conducted 10 elections, including the Ekiti State governorship poll, the two senatorial elections and two state assembly polls concluded last Saturday.

“As we speak, the Osun State governorship election is next.

“Many of the by-elections were as a result of deaths, which is something INEC could not control.

“Remember, by the provisions of our laws, there is a time frame for INEC to fill any vacant position. All of these activities consume money. They are separate from the 2019 general elections,” he stated.

As the session wound down, Dukku urged her colleagues to carefully study the budget further and reconvene on Thursday (today) for the final deliberations.

She disclosed that her committee would later proceed to hold a joint session with its Senate counterpart to harmonise their findings.

The joint panels will in turn submit their report to the Joint Senate and House Committees on Appropriations for vetting before a possible reconvening date for lawmakers to pass the budget will be announced.

In the Senate, the Suleiman Nazif-led committee on INEC expressed concerns over what it called discrepancies in the budget presented by INEC and one contained in a letter written by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Suleiman had at the session said that there was the need by the commission to resolve the conflict.

He said, “It is important for us to note that there are some observations that were raised by distinguished senators in the cause of this budget defence, which are very germane. And these observations are:

“That based on what Mr President sent to the National Assembly, he sent supplementary of N143 billion (for 2018). And what we have here presented by you is N189 billion. So, we will have an opportunity by tomorrow (Thursday) to sit down once again to try to see how we can reconcile and come up with one formidable budget.

“At the same time, there was also an observation that the format being presented for this budget would have to be done again because there is the need for us to present to the Appropriations Committee and we have a format.

“So, I believe the meeting for tomorrow (Thursday) will give us another opportunity to sit down and discuss. And then we will know how to go about bringing it in such a format that will be accepted by the Appropriations Committee where the recurrent and capital expenditures will be clearly spelt out.”

Earlier, a member of the Senate committee, Senator Mohammed Hassan, drew the attention of the panel to the conflict between INEC’s budget and a letter written to the Senate by the President.

Hassan said, “There is a conflict of request here: from the letter presented by Mr President and the budget presented by INEC. You are asking for N189bn, meanwhile Mr President is asking for N143bn.

“The President is saying that the additional N45billion will be requested in the 2019 budget. You are asking for N189bn. Which of these requests should we focus on?”

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