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FG Begins Release of N100bn for Constituency Projects

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  • FG Begins Release of N100bn for Constituency Projects

The presidency may have finally caved in to the demands by members of the National Assembly for the release of N100 billion meant for constituency projects before they consider and approve any request from the executive arm of government.

Several legislative approvals sought by President Muhammadu Buhari have suffered defeats or delays in recent weeks, particularly the request for the $30 billion external borrowing plan, the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), and virement of N180 billion in the 2016 budget.

So far, about 50 per cent of the constituency funds have been quietly released through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, National Commission for Refugees and other ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government.

Sources said that the leadership of the National Assembly secured commitments from the presidency for the release of the funds.

“Recall that the Senate President met with the president several times last week. So the commencement of the release of the funds would smoothen the path for the approvals being sought by the executive,” a source said.

The source, however, noted that while the lawmakers may soft pedal on their initial stance, many of them remain sceptical that the funds would be completely released by the finance ministry.

“The sour relations between both arms of government lingers, so both view each other with suspicion and do not trust each other. Many of the lawmakers are however not convinced that all the money will be released, particularly when considering utterances of the executive.

“Maybe only some lawmakers will eventually benefit,” the source explained.

Another source, who confirmed that the constituency funds were being released, however noted that the executive arm of government is currently making efforts to repair its fractured relations with the legislature.

“Before now, only Dogara (Speaker) and Gbajabiamila seemed to be the sort of balancing forces in the legislature, but obviously the Senate carries more weight.

“If the president cannot have his men there, he has to find a way to work with whoever is there. The House alone cannot pass his requests,” the source said.

Indications that the lawmakers may be somewhat appeased emerged as the leadership of the House of Representatives yesterday passed a motion mandating its Committee on Appropriation to consider the request for the virement of N180 billion.

Other committees to which the virement are related to would also serve as sub-committees of the Appropriation Committee to consider the request. These include the Committees on Nigerian Air Force, Youth Development, Niger Delta and Works, among others.

The motion was sponsored by the Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who recalled that the communication from the president requesting the virement of the funds was read on the floor of the House on October 25.

Presiding, Deputy Speaker Yussuff Sulaimon Lasun put the question on whether the prayer should be accepted. The motion was not subjected to debate as is normally the practice.

A few lawmakers uttered the “ayes” and Lasun hit the gravel before allowing any dissenting voice to register a vote.

No protests however followed the action, indicating that some lobbying by the House leadership might have worked.

Gbajabiamila was observed also engaging several members, including key members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in discussions before he read the motion.

The request would however be returned to the floor of the House for consideration of the committee’s report. At this stage, the request could be accepted or rejected.

Presenting the motion, Gbajabiamila stated that N180 billion appropriated for special intervention (recurrent) and special intervention (capital) is to fund some critical recurrent and capital items.

Gbajabiamila added that the request is intended to address shortfalls in the Amnesty Programme in the Niger Delta, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation scheme, and military operations in the North-east, among other projects.

“The Nigerian Air Force needs to cover the foreign exchange differentials in the procurement of its critical equipment and augment the contingency vote, and also to provide for the inadequacy in the provision for the NYSC programme in the 2016, among others,” he said.

Gbajabiamila further explained that several MDAs presented issues pertaining to salary shortfalls as it affects those that are not listed on the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System (IPPIS).

Also, the House resolved to summon the Director General of the Budget Office, Mr. Ben Akabueze, over his directive to heads of agencies of government to remit treasury capital funds already released to them.

The DG allegedly directed the management of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to remit N8 billion to the treasury out of N10.3 billion released for the execution of capital projects, leaving the agency with N2.3 billion only.

He is expected to appear before an ad hoc committee to explain what the House said was a worrisome trend.

The resolution followed a motion of urgent public importance sponsored by Hon. Agbedi Frederick (Bayelsa PDP), who highlighted the compelling need for FERMA to repair and maintain dilapidated roads across the nation.

He recalled that the sum of N21.8 billion was appropriated for the agency in the 2016 budget, of which N10.3 billion was released in October.

The lawmaker added that the agency had prioritised its capital projects, and contractors who had submitted tenders were bound to lose by the directive of the Budget Office.

“The directive of the DG, Budget Office of the Federation cannot be said to be virement, as virement can only be approved by the National Assembly, which has not done so in this case,” Agbedi said.

He warned that the planned execution of capital projects by agencies would be crippled if the directive is allowed to stand.

Just like the House, the Senate yesterday also commenced legislation on the president’s request for virement of N180.8 billion from the 2016 budget.

Accordingly, the Senate mandated its Committees on Appropriation and Finance to expeditiously treat the president’s request and submit its report within one week for final approval.

Buhari had asked the National Assembly to approve the virement of N180,839,254,439 billion from N500 billion appropriated for the Special Intervention Programme in the 2016 budget to finance other key projects.

CEO/Founder Investors King Ltd, a foreign exchange research analyst, contributing author on New York-based Talk Markets and Investing.com, with over a decade experience in the global financial markets.

Government

COVID-19 Vaccine: African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) to Purchase 270 Million Doses for Nigeria, Other African Nations

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African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) Approves $2 Billion for the Purchase of 270 million Doses for African Nations

African Export-Import Bank (Afrexim) said it has approved $2 billion for the purchase of 270 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for African nations, including Nigeria.

Prof. Benedict Oramah, the President of the Bank, disclosed this at a virtual Africa Soft Power Series held on Tuesday.

He, however, stated that the lender is looking to raise more funds for the COVID-19 vaccines’ acquisition.

He said: “The African Union knows that unless you put the virus away, your economy can’t come back. If Africa didn’t do anything, it would become a COVID-19 continent when other parts of the world have already moved on.
“Recall that it took seven years during the heat of HIV for them to come to Africa after 12 million people had died.

“With the assistance of the AU, we were able to get 270 million vaccines and financing need of about $2 billion. Afreximbank then went ahead to secure the $2 billion. But that money for the 270 million doses could only add 15 per cent to the 20 per cent that Covax was bringing.

He added that this is not the time to wait for handouts or free vaccines as other countries will naturally sort themselves out before African nations.

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Government

China Calls for Better China-U.S. Relations

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China Calls for China-U.S. Relations

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said on Monday the United States and China could work together on issues like climate change and the coronavirus pandemic if they repaired their damaged bilateral relationship.

Wang, a Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, said Beijing stood ready to reopen constructive dialogue with Washington after relations between the two countries sank to their lowest in decades under former president Donald Trump.

Wang called on Washington to remove tariffs on Chinese goods and abandon what he said was an irrational suppression of the Chinese tech sector, steps he said would create the “necessary conditions” for cooperation.

Before Wang spoke at a forum sponsored by the foreign ministry, officials played footage of the “ping-pong diplomacy” of 1972 when an exchange of table tennis players cleared the way for then U.S. President Richard Nixon to visit China.

Wang, a Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, said Beijing stood ready to reopen constructive dialogue with Washington after relations between the two countries sank to their lowest in decades under former president Donald Trump.

Wang called on Washington to remove tariffs on Chinese goods and abandon what he said was an irrational suppression of the Chinese tech sector, steps he said would create the “necessary conditions” for cooperation.

Before Wang spoke at a forum sponsored by the foreign ministry, officials played footage of the “ping-pong diplomacy” of 1972 when an exchange of table tennis players cleared the way for then U.S. President Richard Nixon to visit China.

Wang urged Washington to respect China’s core interests, stop “smearing” the ruling Communist Party, stop interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs and stop “conniving” with separatist forces for Taiwan’s independence.

“Over the past few years, the United States basically cut off bilateral dialogue at all levels,” Wang said in prepared remarks translated into English.

“We stand ready to have candid communication with the U.S. side, and engage in dialogues aimed at solving problems.”

Wang pointed to a recent call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden as a positive step.

Washington and Beijing have clashed on multiple fronts including trade, accusations of human rights crimes against the Uighur Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region and Beijing’s territorial claims in the resources-rich South China Sea.

The Biden administration has, however, signalled it will maintain pressure on Beijing. Biden has voiced concern about Beijing’s “coercive and unfair” trade practices and endorsed of a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.

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Government

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Release of Trump Tax Returns

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President Trump Signs Executive Order In Oval Office Of The White House

U.S. Supreme Court Allows Release of Trump Tax Returns

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for a New York City prosecutor to obtain former President Donald Trump’s tax returns and other financial records as part of a criminal investigation, a blow to his quest to conceal details of his finances.

The justices without comment rebuffed Trump’s request to put on hold an Oct. 7 lower court ruling directing the former Republican president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, to comply with a subpoena to turn over the materials to a grand jury convened by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat.

“The work continues,” Vance said in a statement issued after the court’s action.

Vance had previously said in a letter to Trump’s lawyers that his office would be free to immediately enforce the subpoena if the justices rejected Trump’s request.

A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority included three Trump appointees, had already ruled once in the dispute, last July rejecting Trump’s broad argument that he was immune from criminal probes as a sitting president.

Unlike all other recent U.S. presidents, Trump refused during his four years in office to make his tax returns public. The data could provide details on his wealth and the activities of his family real-estate company, the Trump Organization.

Trump, who left office on Jan. 20 after being defeated in his Nov. 3 re-election bid by Democrat Joe Biden, continues to face an array of legal issues concerning his personal and business conduct.

Vance issued a subpoena to Mazars in August 2019 seeking Trump’s corporate and personal tax returns from 2011 to 2018. Trump’s lawyers sued to block the subpoena, arguing that as a sitting president, Trump had absolute immunity from state criminal investigations.

The Supreme Court in its July ruling rejected those arguments but said Trump could raise other objections to the subpoena. Trump’s lawyers then argued before lower courts that the subpoena was overly broad and amounted to political harassment, but U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in August and the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October rejected those claims.

Vance’s investigation, which began more than two years ago, had focused on hush money payments that the president’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen made before the 2016 election to two women – adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal – who said they had sexual encounters with Trump.

In recent court filings, Vance has suggested that the probe is now broader and could focus on potential bank, tax and insurance fraud, as well as falsification of business records.

In separate litigation, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives was seeking to subpoena similar records. The Supreme Court in July sent that matter back to lower courts for further review.

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