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Senate, Reps in budget presentation face-off

ABUJA — The war of supremacy between the Senate and the House of Representatives became an issue again yesterday, threatening today’s presentation of the 2010 federal budget by President Umaru Yar’Adua.

The threat followed the decision by the President of the Senate and Chairman of the National Assembly, Senator David Mark, to hold the budget presentation in the Senate chambers departing from the tradition of receiving the budget in the House chambers.

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Senate spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, who disclosed this at a press briefing said that enough logistical preparation was being made to accommodate the 360 Reps members in the Senate chambers.

The face off between the two chambers follows the yet-to-be-settled superiority battle between the two chambers that derailed the joint effort in reviewing the 1999 constitution.

The 44-member House delegation to the National Assembly Joint Committee on Constitution Review, JCCR, last January walked away from a joint retreat of the committee in Minna, Niger State in protest to the designation of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives as the deputy chairman of the joint committee.

President Yar‘Adua had written the two houses of the National Assembly requesting to present the 2010 budget proposals of the administration to a joint session of the two houses today. The request was based on section 81 of the 1999 constitution requiring the President to annually lay spending proposals of the Federal Government before a joint session of the two houses.

Affirming the decision of the Senate President to receive the President in the Senate chambers yesterday, Senator Eze said:

“You are aware that the President is coming to present a budget to the joint session tomorrow and you are equally aware that it is the prerogative of the Chairman of the National Assembly to decide the venue of the joint session and this year, he has decided that the joint session will take place in the red chamber and all the relevant authorities have been duly notified — the leadership of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly leadership including the Clerk of the National Assembly and the management.

“Every arrangement is being put in place to ensure that the president comes and makes a hitch-free presentation of the 2010 Appropriation Bill,’’ he said.

Answering a question on the capacity of the Senate chambers to accommodate the 360 members of the House of Representatives and 109 Senators, Senator Eze said:

“The Red Chamber is enough to accommodate everybody. We have enough seats in the chamber to take everybody. And then the issue of venue is not a big deal because it is the prerogative of the chairman of the National Assembly to decide the venue. He can even decide that we go to the banquet hall of the House of Representatives and his decision that the thing should hold here this year does not mean that next year it cannot go to any other venue provided that it is within the National Assembly complex.”

Denying any link between the decision of the Senate President and past reports of misunderstanding between the two presiding officers, Senator Mark and Speaker Dimeji Bankole, Senator Eze said:

“The decision to hold the joint session in the Senate Chamber has nothing to do with any frosty relationship between the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In any case, I am not even aware that there is any frosty relationship between both leadership. There is no such thing,” he said.

Section 81 (1) of the constitution requiring the President to lay the budget in a joint session states:

81(1) The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year.

(2) The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation by this Constitution) shall be included in a bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, providing for the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein.

Section 53 (2) of the constitution giving the procedure for presiding at a joint session of the National Assembly states thus:

53 (2) At any joint sitting of the Senate and House of Representatives –

(a) the President of Senate shall preside, and in his absence the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall preside; and

(b) in the absence of the persons mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection, the Deputy President of the Senate shall preside, and in his absence the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall preside.

Tradition, convenience  favour Reps Chamber — Eyibo

However, House of Representatives chairman on Media and Public Affairs,  Eseme Eyibo, has risen in defence of the House position that President Yar Adua 2010 Appropriation Bill be read in its chamber.

According to him, “traditionally it’s always been in the House of Representatives, and that tradition is usually informed by the convenience of space and logistics. 360 members in the House of Reps, 109 Senators, the President and his entourage, governors, chieftains of political parties, captains of industry, and members of the diplomatic corps are coming.

“So when I am talking about the convenience of logistics and space, it’s the tradition that the House of Reps provides that space to accommodate that audience. And Senate has the capacity to accommodate less than 150. This means that to take 360 members in that kind of space with the president and his team and other stakeholders, for a matter as serious as a national budget, that’s number one issue in any governance practice.

“It shows that someone is trying to undermine the relevance and importance of the subject matter, which is the budget. Except the person wants  to suggest that if not in the House of Representatives, let’s take it to Eagles Square or International Conference Centre,  which of course is no longer going to be a legislative  affair — it’s going to be a comedy or a bazaar.


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