06 May 2013, ABUJA — There were indications, yesterday, that the National Assembly (NASS) might have decided to distance itself from further deliberation and approval of the supplementary budget sent to the lawmakers by President Goodluck Jonathan last March.
The reason for the rejection of the President’s request, according to informed sources, is that lawmakers do not see any new justification to tamper with the budget, which they had passed into law since December last year.
The NASS had on December 20, 2012 okayed a budget of N4.987trn for 2013, slightly jerking the figure by N63bn from the original N4.924 trn, which President Jonathan had sent to them.
But before giving its nod, the lawmakers slashed recurrent expenditure by over N100bn and moved the provision over to the capital vote, a development, which the Executive kicked against.
In the original proposal, Jonathan had set aside N2.41trn for recurrent expenditure, but the lawmakers slashed it to N2.38trn.
Similarly, they increased capital vote to N1.62trn, up from Jonathan’s N1.54trn.
The lawmakers set aside the sum of N591.7bn for debt servicing, while N387.9bn was allocated to statutory transfers. They similarly pegged oil benchmark at $79 per barrel as against the government’s request for $75.
The disagreement on both sides forced the President to withhold his assent to the budget for about two months raising concerns that the implementation would suffer usual hiccups noticeable in successive years.
But in a bid to douse tension in the land, President Jonathan on February 26, 2013, signed the budget into law, with an understanding with the leadership of the NASS that a supplementary budget by him would be given an accelerated passage by the legislature.
Pact between NASS and Jonathan
Based on the understanding between the President and the NASS leadership, Jonathan on March 20, 2013 forwarded a supplementary budget of N273.5 bn to both chambers of the NASS for approval.
However, it was learnt that nearly two months after the document from the President was received by the lawmakers, no action had been taken to approve the requests made by the Presidency.
A lawmaker confirmed to Vanguard last night that they were not interested in tampering with what they had already passed because they were suspicious that the executive arm was not keen on implementing the budget as passed.
The lawmaker, who is also a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, said that they had discovered that the request for a variation in the budget was merely to find fault with what they passed and not necessarily to enhance budget implementation.
The source said, “We know that the Executive arm does not want to faithfully implement the budget we passed since December last year and they are merely looking for excuse to discredit our work, which we did with the best intention for the progress of this nation.
“For the first time in a long while, we passed the budget early enough so as to enable them to start early implementation in January 2013 but you can see that, as at today, they are still looking for excuse to delay the budget implementation.
“We are not going to fall into their trap. I can tell you that we are not in the mood to revisit that document. In fact, if we are to look at it again, we would only restore the N100 billion we slashed from recurrent expenditure. That is the only thing we can reconsider.
“As for the President’s demand for us to approve money for the Security and Exchange Commission, SEC, that will not happen until he removes the Director General, Orunma Oteh, based on our earlier resolution.
“Looking at the other request, it became clear to us that the President wants to strip us of our statutory rights of oversight and we cannot allow that to happen,” the lawmaker explained.
Reps warn govt against violation of Appropriation Act
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has warned that anybody who violates the 2013 Appropriation Act without a review by the National Assembly would face the wrath of the law at the appropriate time.
Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene (APGA, Anambra) gave the warning while briefing journalists about the activities of the Green Chamber weekend.
Commenting on the lawmakers’ efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution, he said the next phase in the process which would involve the formulation of bills would still be handled by the House Adhoc Committee on Constitution Review when they meet the Senate’s Committee on the exercise this week.
He also said the House still stands by the clause in the 2013 Appropriation Act which bars budgetary allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, until it is reviewed by the House.
The House had passed a resolution last year urging President Goodluck Jonathan to sack the SEC DG for allegedly lacking the requisite qualification to hold the position.
Commenting on the House’s efforts to amend the 1999 Constitution, Hon. Ogene explained that the next phase in the process would entail the formulation of bills based on the wishes of Nigerians during the Peoples Public Sessions held by the House last November.
Said he: “After this stage, the next step would be for the House Committee on Constitution Review to meet with the Senate Committee for the exercise in order to harmonise the work of both arms of the National Assembly”.
In response to another question, on whether the opposition parties now dominate the House rather than the ruling PDP, Ogene said the House usually operated along non‑partisan lines and handled issues brought before lawmakers based on their merit.
When asked whether rumours linking Hon. Aminu Tambuwal to the 2015 Presidential race was true he said: “Speaker of the House Hon. Aminu Tambuwal is the Leader of the entire House and not that of PDP alone. If a leader has performed well, it is left for Nigerians to determine whatever future role he would play”.
Giving a deeper insight into the House’s last Thursday resolution to probe the Minister of Petroleum Mrs Diezani Allison‑Madueke over the shady allocation of oil blocks valued at over N59 trillion, he said a prima facie case was established against the Minister by the lawmakers before deciding to embark on the investigation adding that the NNPC did not deny that the transaction took place but that the oil conglomerate maintained that it was done based on strategic alliance interest
*Soni Daniel, Okey Ndiribe & Emman Ovuakporie, Vanguard