LEGISLATING FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL GOOD ~ Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke
…………Dear distinguished colleagues, it is in commitment to the wellbeing, growth and prosperity of our people that we have today passed a legal framework and fiscal architecture to help this administration consolidate on its industrialization ambition.
We have discharged our responsibility within our legislative competence to ensure that the 2018 appropriation law is an expression of the yearnings and aspirations of our people.
We weighed these desires during the public hearing by the Appropriation and Finance committee. We were also able to project into the 2018 budget proposals and made increases where they were expedient, and savings, where they were necessary, having studied the 2017 Budget Implementation Report.
I would like to note very quickly that this house gave towering considerations to critical sectors and subsectors in the budget proposal for the year. Central among these were the issues of employment in the economic sector as well as education and healthcare in the social sector.
In carrying out our responsibilities as parliament, we made sure our actions were in line with the position of the stakeholders at the public hearing as contained in the reports submitted at that public engagement. These positions influenced the various augmentations and savings we made in the budget in line with our commitment to reflecting the people’s yearnings and aspirations at all times. If we recall, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had come out with numbers, showing the challenge of unemployment over time in our dear state. We acknowledge the challenge before us and I must commend His Excellency, the Governor, for his prompt action in boosting the economic sector of our state to stimulate the opportunities for job creation for our increasing youth workforce. A large percentage of this budget is therefore targeted at economic activities and infrastructure development, taking into cognizance that the informal sector (the craftsmen, the artisans etc.) thrives when intense effort is geared towards building infrastructures. The 2018 budget of consolidation and industrialization provides a strategic support for this critical informal sector. In all honesty, no formal sector can effectively function without a robust informal economy. This budget addresses the critical infrastructure needed to be provided to help actors in the formal sector function properly. The additional provisions is for power substation for stable power supply, good roads network, enabling business environment and availability of security which are variables needed to stimulate the local economy of our state and open up job opportunities for our increasing youth workforce.
Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly is in sync with the position of the governor in creating job vacancies in the public service in addition to what the private sector is currently doing, as government in the state remains the single largest employer of labour. This is indicated in our nod for the proposals for recurrent expenditure without savings.
As a house, we appreciate the efforts of the governor in the area of economic diversification. We acknowledge the administration’s wealth distribution and job creation efforts through vigorous development of the agriculture subsector. It is for this reason that we have made augmentations in the ministry of agriculture for the provision of specialized agricultural programmes like the integrated farmers scheme, and the women agriculture empowerment programme. Specifically, we increased the proposal for women agriculture empowerment programme by 800 million from the original provision of 210 million. The aim is to make provisions for the economic empowerment of women, create wealth and provide jobs through agriculture.
We are not ignorant of the fact that the primary responsibility of government is the provision of social amenities hence the prompting to make augmentations in the budgets to support the social sector. This prompted the premium which we gave to the demands within the social sector and therefore augmented funding of social services especially healthcare and education subsectors. We were more emboldened by the position of Akwa Ibom people at the public hearing on the 2018 Appropriation Bill. Worthy of note is the position which was canvassed by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) through the paper they submitted at the public hearing.
In the area of tertiary education, the house made augmentations to support infrastructure and accreditation of academic programmes in the state college of education, polytechnic, Akwa Ibom State University, as well as the college of science and technology. In the area of secondary education, emphasis was made towards infrastructure, equipping of laboratories and establishment of Information and Communication Technology centres across public schools in the state. Augmentations were also made in the education recurrent expenditure to accommodate the additional 1,500 teachers to be employed into our public schools.
In line with the student financing disposition of this house, we made augmentations to the tune of 350 million Naira to cater for student examination fees, bursaries payment, scholarships and grants. We are aware that the financial crisis that resulted from the contraction in our economy had left its toll on the finances of our students in meeting up the financial obligations of our tertiary institutions. The augmentation in this subsector will help to intensify government scholarship awards to outstanding and indigent students especially those in specialised fields. As captured in the budget, the public expenditure on education will cover large-scale payment of WAEC/NECO fees and strengthen the free and compulsory education programme of government. We do this believing that government has to continually develop the tradition of celebrating and supporting students who are making giant strides in the academic world.
Again, it is our humble appeal that in the course of the year, as our fortune continues to soar, that students bursary payment be considered a priority. Akwa Ibom students in tertiary institutions have earnestly yearned for this.
A critical aspect for consideration in the social sector for us was healthcare delivery. This house of assembly understands that the pattern of health financing is indivisibly linked to the quality of health outcomes. The increases we have made in the health sector is aimed at reducing morbidity and mortality rate in the state. We do this in accordance with the sustainable development goals, specifically goal number 3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages. The 6th assembly is also committed to ensuring universal health coverages for all. The 2018 budget for the health subsector underlines this commitment. We placed emphasis on the completion and maximum use of the Ibom specialist hospital, provision of health equipment, the renovation of health centers and the building of health institutions in the state. Let me use this opportunity to commend His Excellency, Mr Udom Emmanuel, for the facelift of Etinan General Hospital in the 2017 fiscal year. This was for us, a sign post to government’s commitment to the development of health infrastructures across the state. To give leverage to this noble effort in the 2018 fiscal year, we made augmentations in the recurrent expenditure for the Hospital Management Board to accommodate the newly employed doctors and nurses and to also cater for the doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel that will be recruited during the year. In the area of health insurance, we increased the original provision for the state health insurance scheme by 700 Million Naira bringing it to a total of 1.5 Billion Naira. We use this opportunity as a house to appeal to His Excellency the Governor to please assent to the state health insurance scheme bill which was passed into law by this house. The law will not only spur equitable distribution of healthcare costs among different income groups, it will also protect families from the hardship of huge medical bills. This law would be a priceless gift to Akwa Ibom people.
Distinguished colleagues, besides taking care of majority of welfare issues, we attempted in the 2018 appropriation law to strengthen the output of the legislative institution. As the lawmaking arm of government, we have continually observed the challenges of budget implementation, monitoring, and management of information system, hence the need for the establishment of a legislative budget office and a functional press centre and conference hall. An additional need to build a befitting medical clinic deserving of this premises was also given substantial consideration in this year’s budget.
As we give legal backing to the implementation of proposals for government’s industrialization projects in 2018, this house calls on Akwa Ibom people to not relent their support for the current administration. We have achieved this much as a state through God’s Amazing Grace. We urge our constituents therefore to continue to pray for us as leaders and for the prosperity of our land amidst the challenges we face. On our part as the people’s assembly, we pledge to continue to put services above self; we pledge to continue to strengthen this lawmaking institution making it a tool for the creation of an educated, united, healthy and prosperous state under one leadership and under one God. We will also not relent efforts in perform our constitutional responsibilities to the benefit of Akwa Ibom people. I thank you.
°°°Being a remark by the Speaker of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly on the occasion of the passing into law of the appropriation bill 2018 today, Tuesday 13th February, 2018 during plenary at the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly°°°