The House of Representatives committee on Finance, has picked holes in the response of the minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to its 50 questions on the Nigeria economy and has invited her to further clarify the answers given.
The committee on December 19, 2013 asked Okonjo-Iweala to provide them with detailed explanation of the achievements of the administration in various sectors of the economy such as, power, job creation, GDP growth and foreign debt.
The minister said in her response that in the area of job creation which is a central focus of the administration, a total of 1.6 million jobs were created in 2013, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of which 250,000 were seasonal jobs created in dry season farming in 10 northern states, the Onne Oil and Gas Free zone created an estimated 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, while the government special intervention programmes, YouWin and SURE-P, created over 18,000 jobs 120,000 job opportunities respectively.
She also explained that the Railway Modernisation Programme involving the construction of standard gauge lines is underway and that the 1,124 km western line linking Lagos and Kano was now functional while work on the Eastern line linking Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is about 36% complete.
The minister further denied the accusation that the country is racking up debts under her watch, stressing that there has been progressive reduction in borrowing, quick settlement of due debts and the retirement of N75 billion of maturing bonds via a sinking fund dedicated to paying off substantial bonds since he came on board.
“These measures have produced clear results as shown in the reduction of borrowing from N852 billion in 2011 to N571.9 billion this year,” she added.
However, the committee has rejected the minister’s 102-page documented response after “careful analysis”, insisting that most of the questions were either not answered, partially answered, out rightly ignored or completely misunderstood and is calling for more clarification.
A letter signed by the chairman of the committee, Abdulmunin Jibrin, said Okonjo-Iweala is to provide more information on 40 of the questions she had earlier answered before the appointed date.
Part of the letter read: “Having gone through your responses, the Committee noted glaring missing gaps in the responses, absence of supporting proofs to assertions and lack of relevant documents to back up the presentation as is the practice in any legislative oversight or investigation…many data and statistics provided were inconsistent with subsequent information provided while answering other questions.”
The committee said “…if all the questions raised are beyond the competence of the Minister of Finance, it is certainly not beyond the competence of the Coordinating Minister for the Economy to the extent of information you must have in your possession unless you say otherwise.”
An interactive session between members of the committee and the minister in December had turned sour and resulted in exchange of near uncomplimentary remarks as Okonjo-Iweala was practically walked out of the meeting venue by Jibrin.