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Executive, NASS must synergise on $29.9 billion loan request

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In most democracies, parliamentary gridlock stems from opposing views on issues by lawmakers of the ruling party/coalition and those of the opposition. 

However, this happens when the government lacks the controlling majority in the legislature.

Not infrequent, though, is stalemate spearheaded or encouraged by lawmakers of the government in power even with its majority in the parliament. 

This is an indication of fissures within the ruling party.

This latter scenario exemplifies today’s Nigeria’s National Assembly in which the government “supposedly” has a majority that can help see through its proposals before the legislature. But it hasn’t really worked that way!

Recall that the background to the inauguration of the Assembly was laced with intrigues. 

The Senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) allegedly traded the position of the Deputy Sentence President to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in order to garner majority votes to elect the Senate President. 

This was because the APC, which had its nominees for the principal positions in the Assembly, refused to back the aspirations of the current leaders of the legislature.

Things have never been the same between the executive and the legislature, especially the Senate, as the APC caucuses have to invariably defer to the PDP minority caucuses to sustain their positions. 

And they did this during the composition of the Standing Committees, with “most juicy” committees going to the PDP members. 

This gives rise to the insinuation that the opposition PDP is actually controlling the National Assembly because were the members to withdraw their support, the leadership of the Assembly would collapse immediately.

Though it appeared otherwise, the screening and approval of minister-nominees earlier on in the administration was at the behest of the PDP Senators.

These Senators equally showed their strength during the consideration of the 2016 Budget that was allegedly “padded” to give the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government a “bloody nose.”

The same old politics is reportedly playing out in the consideration of the $29.9bn foreign loan request President Buhari sent to the National Assembly, which rejected the request on technical ground of insufficient information to work with. 

But Senate President Bukola Saraki, the other day pleaded with Nigerians not to politicise the matter, saying the loan request was a “work in progress.”

Saraki’s admonition came in the wake of strong reactions across Nigeria, for and against the loan. 

While many people, including the opposition PDP and Labour Party (LP) hailed the Senate decision on the loan request, majority of others accused the Senate leadership of again poking its fingers in the eyes of the executive.

Well, while it’s not unusual for appropriating for expenditure on major projects to evoke such emotive reactions from the people, government must address the many questions its request has thrown up, so as to assuage the genuine concerns of the people over external borrowings they believe, rightly or wrongly, have no direct or immediate positive bearing on their lives or their zones.

Such questions include :

* Of what relevance are the projects to the socio-economic development of the country?

* Why borrowing $29.9bn that would almost quadruple the country’s external loan overhang of about $11.3bn to $41.162bn in just three years?

* What is the percentage of the loan to the debt-to-GDP-ratio? Will it overshoot the 40 percent suggested for emerging and developing economies?

* Why does government not explore an international concession package to execute the projects?

* Is the borrowing part of the estimates in the 2016 Appropriation Act? If not, where did this one spring from?

* Did the government do due diligence on the timeline, the cost line, and the percentage of interest on the loan, and the means of its repayment?

* Why borrowing from multilateral agencies with high interest rates rather than from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which recently announced zero interest on its loans?

* Besides borrowing, are there no other areas of finding funds, such as taxes, to implement the projects?

* Does the loan cover all segments of the polity – in this case, taking care of the needs of the zones of the federation? If not, why not?

* With public officials’ propensity for financial indiscipline, will the loan not constitute another cesspool of corruption?

These and many more questions, whose answers ought to presage President Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly, must now be addressed before the government resubmit the proposals to the Assembly.

Yet, what are the issues in contention in the loan saga?

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