Presidency threatens to return 2013 budget to N-Assembly

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BY SONI DANIEL, REGIONAL EDITOR, NORTH & HENRY UMORU

ABUJA—After many meetings between the National Assembly and the Presidency on the 2013 budget, there were indications Sunday that the Presidency might throw back the appropriation bill at the legislature.

The Presidency is unhappy with the final packaging of the budget, which saw an inexplicable ‘padding’ of N63 billion by the lawmakers and zero allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, over irreconcilable differences with its Director General, Arunma Oteh.

Jonathan had sent a proposal of N4.92 trillion to the National Assembly in October 2012 but when the lawmakers passed the budget in December 20, 2012, they jerked up the figure to N4.987 trillion.

They are insisting that Jonathan must first sack Oteh in line with their resolution before any amount is appropriated for the commission.

But Jonathan, who is reported to be in support of the embattled DG, is not in the mood to wield the big stick against her.

Another sour point, which has reportedly irked President Jonathan and drawn his signature away from the document, is the controversy over oil benchmark, which the Presidency pegged at $75 per barrel in his submission to the National Assembly.

President Jonathan; Senate President, David Mark and Speaker, House of Reps, Hon Aminu Tambuwal

President Jonathan; Senate President, David Mark and Speaker, House of Reps, Hon Aminu Tambuwal

However, before agreeing to pass the bill, the lawmakers fixed the benchmark at $79 per barrel, saying that the bright oil outlook had made it possible for the benchmark to be reviewed upwards.

$75 per barrel oil benchmark
The Presidency, it was reliably gathered, had in the several meetings with the legislature drawn its attention to the three vexatious issues and asked them to rework the budget for him to sign.

The President is said to have asked the lawmakers to revert the oil benchmark to his original submission of $75 per barrel, approve a commensurate budget for SEC and remove the additional N63 billion inserted by them into the budget before he appends his signature to the document.

However, it was gathered that the lawmakers are also unwilling to shift their grounds on any of the three contentious items.

Arising from the stalemate, the President has refused to assent to the bill, over a month after the lawmakers had passed it into law and dispatched the document to the Villa.

But the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emordi, said she was neither aware of any budget row nor threat by the Presidency to return the budget to the National Assembly.

Emordi did not, however, say why the President had withheld his assent to the appropriation bill almost two months after the passage by the lawmakers.

I’m not aware of budget row — Emodi
The lawmakers unanimously passed the bill on December 20, 2012 and had given hope to Nigerians that for the first time in many years, Nigeria would begin to run a budget from the first day of the New Year.

However, the rowt between the lawmakers and the executive arm of government is gradually taking the nation back to its familiar path of budget delay and poor implementation.

The Presidency had denied the receipt of the document from the National Assembly but when the lawmakers showed evidence that they had since sent it to the President, his officials were forced to admit that he was studying the budget

Vanguard learnt that some lawmakers were already mobilising to see how they could pass the 2013 budget as an Act of the Parliament in the event that the President returns the bill to the National Assembly without signing it as stipulated by law.

The law stipulates that a bill, which has been denied presidential assent after 30 days, may be passed as an act of the parliament by two thirds majority of the National Assembly.

One lawmaker, who spoke to Vanguard in confidence, said the lawmakers were ready to challenge the presidency by passing the bill as an Act, if it is returned to the National Assembly.

Another lawmaker pointed out that the days when the President took them for granted were over, as they were now more united to work for the interest of Nigerians.

The lawmakers, it was gathered, were confident they would win the budget war against the Presidency given the rancour between PDP governors and the Presidency and the growing unity among members of the National Assembly .

In 2000, the National Assembly passed the Niger Delta Development Commission Act by two thirds majority after President Olusegun Obasanjo declined assent to the bill following major differences in the law.

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