House shoots down debate on budget
• Scales second reading in Senate
THE House of Representatives has shot down debate on the N4.64 trillion budget till next week, following arguments between members.
The Chairman and deputies of three Committees of the House, Rules and Business, Justice and Judiciary, were yesterday mandated to look into the legality of the issues raised and report to the House within 24 hours.
The Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal stood down the consideration of the budget after tense debates from two opposing camps of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) members at plenary.
But another disclosure from the Speaker that both the House and the Senate have agreed to postpone plenary till next week to allow APC members register, further dimed the chance of the budget being considered till next week.
It would be the second time the debate on the N4.6 trillion budget is being put off. Last week, it was postponed to give way for the voting on the constitution amendment.
Trouble started when Emmanuel Jimeh (APC, Benue) immediately raised a point of constitutional order after the 2014 Appropriation Bill was mentioned for second reading.
Jimeh said the presentation of the 2014 budget was in breach of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
According to him, the budget was meant to have been accompanied with the details of the estimates of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Ports Authority and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC ) and other revenue generating corporations and agencies of the Federal Government.
Section 21 of the the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 lists the CBN, NNPC, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Federal Inland Revenue Service ( FIRS), National Communication Commission (NCC), Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), National Agency for Food & Drug Administration & Control (NAFDAC), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Securities and Exchange Commission ( SEC) and Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) as part of corporations, agencies and government owned companies whose details must accompany the budget to the National Assembly.
Others include the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) and National Maritime Authority (now NIMASA), among others.
Jimeh further said what Sub-section 3 of the FRA demands is that details of the budget of the listed corporations, agencies and companies accompany the budget to the National Assembly.
“What I have and what other members are holding is a purported summary. The law requires that the estimates of these corporations and agencies be attached to the budget. The Minister has no right to give us her own summary. I want to ask what is the danger of not giving us the estimate?
The lawmaker said if the National Assembly had put its foot down previously on the submission of the details, the incidence of the missing $10.8 billion from the coffers of the NNPC would not have occurred.
He cited Section 11 (1,2,3) of the Act that stipulates that estimates must accompany the budget.
“What accompanied the purported budget was a summary rather than the estimates. For instance. If the estimates of the NNPC has been submitted with the 2013 budget proposal, the House would have known where the missing $10billion is.
“The House should not allow them reach the laws it passed and should not encourage the Executive to continue to engage in breaching the law.This particular budget has breached our law. This parliament must not encourage the President to continue to breach our law. We must not allow ourselves to do the wrong thing for the convenience of the moment. History will not judge the House well for sitting back when the law is breached.”
But the Chairman of the House Committee in Appropriation, John Enoh ( PDP Cross Rivers) disagreed with the submission of Jimeh when Tambuwal called him to explain the issue.
“I disagree that the estimates are in the breach.The struggle to get the Executive to comply has been long. Year in, year out, the National Assembly kept insisting. In the past two to three years, the Executive has been in full compliance.
“The question is: are the estimates abridged or not? My colleague (Jimeh) says it is abridged, but he agrees that estimates accompanied them.
“It becomes a different thing altogether what the National Assembly decides to do with the estimates. In the 2013 budget, it came the way the 2014 came. There is no time that in the course of passing the budget, that we said we can’t pass it because of the budgets of CBN, NPA, NNPC.”
At this point members in support of Jimeh’s position shouted “No! No! No!”
But Enoh ended his argument, saying that the budget of any country, particularly Nigeria, is the most important document before the parliament. “There is none that is as significant and as important as the budget,” he said.
At this point, Tambuwal ruled, saying what Jimeh said is a valid. He said it was because of the sensitivity of the budget that he called Enoh to explain the issue.
He appointed the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abert Sam-Tsokwa and his Deputy, Sunday Adepoju, the Chairman, Committee on Judiciary, Aminu Shehu Shagari and his deputy, Ken Chikere, and Chairman Committee on Justice, Ali Ahmed and his deputy, Emeka Nwaogbo to examine the issues and report to the House within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, the budget has scaled second reading in the Senate.
The Bill has generated a lot of controversy since the Senate started its debate on January 28.
Lawmakers, who made contributions during the final debate, included Senators Gbenga Kaka, Helen Esuene, Matthew Nwagu, Christopher Nwankwo, Joshua Lidani, Emmanuel Bwacha and Emmanuel Paulker.
Others are Senators Zainab Kure, Nkechi Nwogu, Olubunmi Adetumbi, Andy Uba, Aloysius Etok, Babafemi Ojudu and Ehigie Uzamere, among others.
A total of 61 Senators have so far contributed to the debate on the budget.
Senator Adetunmbi said the greatest risk with the budget is not on the expenditure, but the borrowing to finance it on the revenue side. He lamented that it had become a recurring decimal for the Federal Government to borrow to finance annual budgets.
He blamed oil theft and pipeline vandalism for the shortfall of revenue being experienced by the Federal Government, condemning a situation where about N3.7 billion is appropriated for the Presidential Fleet which, he said, was more than what is budgeted for the Nigerian Air Force.
“The Senate will have itself to blame and nobody else, if we fail to look at areas of wastage in the budget and reallocate the money to areas where they will be useful,” Adetunmbi said.
He lamented that the 2014 budget was at variance with Section 18 (2) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which stipulates that the annual budget must be in tandem with the approved Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).
Senator Paulker said the Federal Government should be commended for targeting five million farmers in the budget, adding that when empowered, they will have a multiplier effect on creating the much-needed jobs in the agricultural sector.
“This budget is targeted at consolidating on the good works this administration has done,” Paulker said.
Senator Uzamere, while supporting the passage of the budget, frowned at the increasing local and foreign debt profile of the country. He called for adequate measures to be put in place to check the unacceptable trend.
Senator Nwankwo supported the passage of the budget, saying the amount appropriated for the agricultural sectors was meagre compared with its potential to provide gainful employment for Nigerians.
While Senator Etok called for more appropriation for payment of pensioners, Senator Uba sought more budgetary allocation to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable it conduct a hitch-free election in 2015.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, asked the Committees on Finance and Appropriation to begin work on the document immediately.
He also asked the committees to liaise with their counterparts in the House of Representatives for areas that may need harmonisation if necessary.
He noted that during the debate, most of the arguments centred on bloated figures, waste neglect of some