By Okey Ndiribe
It is not new. Indeed, the ritual of the now familiar tango between the executive arm of government and the legislature is again keeping he budget season heated as usual. This national assembly and this presidency did not invent it but the shambles that is now being introduced into the budget face-off signposts yet the sometimes infantile approach of the leadership in the country to some otherwise very critical engagements of very serious nature.
Sunday Vanguard was made to understand at the weekend that the last ditch effort to get both the leadership of the National Assembly and the executive on the same page failed.
The meeting between both, held inside ASO Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja, “succeeded in the breach rather than the expected resolution of the thorny issues”, a source privy to the meeting disclosed.
“Indeed”, the source went on, “whereas they agreed to meet again, the reality on the ground is that both have dug in so much that whatever resolution that is wrought at the end of the day would be no different from the Obama/House resolution of the American avoidance of a fiscal cliff. What this simply means is that the resolution would not be long lasting except the status quo changes regarding positions held and stuck to by each side”.
Now, this lingering budget impasse between both may reach an anti-climax, Tuesday, this week, when the mandatory 30 working days provided in the Constitution as deadline for the President to sign the document lapses. Already, federal lawmakers seem set to override President Goodluck Jonathan if he doesn’t assent to the budget by the time they reconvene for plenary sessions.
This indication was given last Thursday by the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Zakari Mohammed while addressing journalists in Abuja.
He pointed out that “If the 2013 Budget is not passed into law in good time Nigerians would suffer”.
Commenting further on the budget imbroglio between the two arms of government, Hon. Mohammed explained that meetings were still being held between principal officers of the National Assembly and the Presidency over the budget impasse adding that members of the National Assembly didn’t want to make a hasty decision on the matter.
Said he: “As at today (Thursday) we haven’t yet reached the stage of overriding the President over the budget. Our leaders are still holding meetings with them. “There is need for us to explore and exhaust all reconciliatory avenues before we can go ahead to override Mr. President.
“We have not shifted ground on any issue raised in the budget because they affect Nigerians”.
Commenting on the areas of disagreement within the budget, Hon. Mohammed cited the non-allocation of funds to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC); the inclusion of uncompleted 2012 capital projects that were rolled over to 2013 fiscal year; insistence by the legislators on quarterly briefings by the Minister of Finance and the $79 per barrel oil benchmark fixed by the National Assembly.
So far, series of meetings have been held between principal officers of both arms of government over the unfolding situation since the budget was submitted to the Presidency on January 14.
This was reportedly confirmed by the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly matters, Mrs Joy Emordi, while speaking to journalists in Abuja recently.
A principal officer of the House who spoke to Sunday Vanguard last Monday said none of the two sides had agreed to shift ground on any of the contentious issues.
It would be recalled that the House had earlier in the year adopted a resolution demanding for the sack of the SEC DG, Ms Arunma Oteh, on the ground that she lacked the requisite qualification to head the commission. The Senate later adopted the House resolution on the SEC boss.
The National Assembly’s resolution has so far been ignored by the Presidency.
The development had resulted in accusing fingers being pointed at the federal lawmak ers as legislators who had embarked on a mission of vendetta against Oteh. Reacting to the insinuation in some quarters, the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on the Media, Hon. Victor Ogene, had said it was laughable for anybody to suggest that the Green Chamber of the National Assembly’s decision against SEC was an act of vendetta against the DG of the institution as a result of the allegations of bribery she earlier leveled against Hon. Herman Hembe, the Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market. Hon. Ogene pointed out that the House had earlier initiated investigations into the activities of SEC before Oteh made her allegations against Hembe. He asked:”Which one came first?”
According to him: “This same House was already having a public hearing on SEC when Oteh made her allegations. That an issue arose midway during an investigation shouldn’t abort a process that was already on-going. During this process, issues had been raised regarding Oteh’s competence; regarding some resources of SEC that were paid into private accounts; issues bothering on corporate governance whereby staffers were recruited from outside the system and issues regarding indecorous working relationship with key commissioners in SEC. These issues were already on the front burner of the Committee’s discourse before Oteh made her allegations which up till now still remain mere allegations because the case is still in court. So, until Oteh proves her allegations, they remain mere allegations. The issues mentioned had been established for long before Oteh made her allegations.”
” It is only when somebody is drowning that he or she could clutch at anything he or she sees in order to survive” he said. President Goodluck Jonathan had last October presented the 2013 Budget Bill before the National Assembly. The bill was entitled “A Bill for an Act to authorise the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation the total sum of N4.924 trillion of which N380 billion is for statutory transfers, N591 billion is for debt service, N2.412 trillion is for recurrent expenditure while the balance of N1.540 trillion is for contribution to the Development Fund for Capital Expenditure for the year ending on the 31st day of December, 2013.”