- As lawmakers plan showdown with Presidency
BY LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
ABUJA—The All Progressives Congress, APC, controlled House of Representatives has set stiff hurdles for the passage of the 2014 Federal Government budget including a comprehensive answer to the 50 questions on the economy presented to the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Elements in the emerging new leadership of the House who disclosed this yesterday also said that the 2014 budget must be scrutinised to ensure that it meets the felt needs of Nigerians.
The lawmakers who spoke to Vanguard ahead of next week’s resumption of the House of Representatives ruled out early passage of the N4.6 trillion budget presented to the House by Okonjo-Iweala last December.
Among those who spoke are the presumptive Majority Leader in the emerging new leadership, Femi Gbajagbiamila, spokesman of the House,Zakari Mohammed and a member of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ogbonna Nwuke representing Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency.
Budget to be treated according to merit
Submitting that the budget would be treated according its merit, Gbajagbiamila said yesterday that the proposal laid before the House of Representatives by the president through Okonjo-Iweala was hurriedly and unprofessionally coupled up by the executive.
“The budget looks hurriedly prepared, sloppy and unprofessionally done. There are manifest errors that one is unsure if they are due to carelessness or intentional which would make it a fraudulent document. We will look at the proposals and go through them with a fine tooth comb and heighten scrutiny with only one objective…to give Nigeria and Nigerians a workable budget, credible and implementable,” he said.
Continuing, Gbajagbimila who is set to assume the office of Majority Leader in the House following the emergence of APC as the leading party in the House said the minister of finance would also be made to answer the 50 questions bothering on the economic conditions of the country posed to her at the end of last year by the House committee on finance. At a meeting before the House committee on finance on December 20, 2013, the minister was given a 50 question home work to answer mostly dealing with key economic indicators.
Waiting for the minister’s answers
“We will wait for the Finance Minister to give satisfactory answers to the questions posed by the Committee that oversights her and her ministry. Her answers or non-answers will determine the next step. But the House is determined to unearth the rot in our economic system,” Gbajagbiamila stressed.
Similarly, the House spokesperson, Mohammed submitted that the parliament was not bound to rubber stamp the budget as submitted by the executive saying that questions would be asked.
“The Committee of Finance has taken over the matter. I think they have passed their questions to the Finance Minister requesting certain explanations on issues.”
He, however, said that there was no organised opposition to the budget.”I am not aware that the opposition is planning a showdown. But whether opposition or whatever, we are all Nigerians now. Once people ask valid questions, people will begin to say they want to stall. No”
House not a rubber stamp
“The House is not supposed to be a rubber stamp institution, right? So, when we ask questions, you begin to think that we are posing anything. It’s not true. People must know that the parliament will take its rightful place on issues as we have been doing. Ask questions where necessary. They have started the process and we will continue from there.”
On the early passage of the budget, Mohammed said “I can’t tell. That is putting the cart before the horse. Will there be passage if the requirement has not been met? Issues will be considered. As it comes, we will look at every issue according to its merit for the benefit of Nigerians. No strings attached. That is the truth. Again, you will ask, has the Finance Minister answered the questions?
Lending his voice also, Hon. Ogbonna Nwuke underscored the necessity of a workable budget for the country in 2014, revealing that the budget was not an asset of the Executive or the President. Saying that Okonjo-Iweala must answer the 50 questions posed by the House committee on finance, he said: “I think the House Committee on Finance was in order to have raised those questions. Okonjo-Iweala owes Nigerians the responsibility to explain those issues. And these are economic issues she is expected to deal with; issues that we think she deals with on daily basis. So, the people’s representatives are asking questions. She has to say what transpires under her watch. I believe she has the responsibility to answer those questions.
“The issue of whether or not she has been treated respectfully is immaterial now. What is material in my opinion is that Okonjo-Iweala should answer those questions. They are not personal questions. They are probing questions which will give lawmakers greater insights as to how the economy has been managed; questions which will prove that under her watch, we have had good management given the tags she goes with as the one who oversees the economy. So, there are so much at stake.
Copies of the budget
“We will get to the floor of the House, we will get to have copies of the budget and as lawmakers, we will go through those copies line by line, Committee by Committee and then we will come to some position as to whether or not the budget is worth the while. I believe that Nigerians have some expectations of us that we will pass a workable budget. I will go to the floor of the House with my mind open to see exactly what’s on the card. Whether the budget was put up very hurriedly, that’s the business of the Executive.
“In as much as we know, We have said to the Executive that there is a period to put the budget on the table. And for some reasons, the Budget was not laid on time; And so, we have work to do. I believe that members of the National Assembly should rather not say anything now until we get to the plenary; until we have much information on the budget. Let’s wait until we get there.”