House Makes U-turn, Considers 2014 Budget
Asks Executive to comply with Appropriation Act SAN FRANCISCO, February 11, (THEWILL) - The House of Representatives Tuesday changed its tough posture on the 2014 Appropriation Bill as it decided to commence debate on the document.
This is in sharp contrast to its position last week when it suspended action on the budget proposal.
However, the debate would continue Wednesday as only few members contributed to the discussion before the Speaker, Hon.
Aminu Waziri Tambuwal , called for adjournment.
Debate on the budget was stalled last Tuesday after a point of order was raised by the chairman, House Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Hon.
Emmanuel Jime, who insisted that the Appropriation Bill as submitted by the Executive was in breach of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 because it was not accompanied with the estimates of the 32 corporations.
Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Hon.
John Enoh, had tried desperately to knock out Jime's submission arguing that the summary provided by the Executive was adequate for the House to begin work on the budget.
But Tambuwal instead constituted a six-man ad hoc committee led by the chairman, House committee on rules and business, Hon.
Albert Tanimu Sam-Tsokwa, to look at the point of order vis a vis the arguments of Enoh and advised the leadership appropriately.
At Tuesday's plenary, chairman of the ad hoc committee presented their report and advice, upon which, the House resolved to commence work on the budget but also directed the Minister of Finance, Dr.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to forward details of the corporations stipulated in the Fiscal Responsibility Act before work would be completed on the proposal.
While presenting the report Hon.
Sam-Tsokwa said the committee had studied the point of order raised by Jime and also Enoh's argument.
According to him, the committee used the 1999 Constitution (Ss.
4, 59 & 81), the Fiscal Responsibility Act (Ss.
21, 39 and the House Standing Orders (O.
97) to arrive at its advice.
He said the committee found out that the Minister of Finance, Okonjo-Iweala, breached the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 by failing to forward details of the 2014 income and expenditure estimates for the 31 Federal Government owned corporations listed in the schedule to the Act, the House should consider the budget but request the minister to comply.
He however advised that in spite of the breach, the House should in national interest debate the budget but also request the minister to do what the law requires.
According to him, the documents which, the chairman of the committee on appropriation, Enoh, relied on as estimates for the affected corporations were nothing beyond mere summaries which lacked the details that could guide the House properly in considering their budgets, but urged the House to proceed with the budget in the interest of the nation.
Jime's point of Order is well founded and sustainable.
However, considering the sensitive nature of the Appropriation Bill and in deference to overriding national interest, the House of Representatives should proceed with the consideration of the 2014 Appropriation Bill while the Minister of Finance is requested to comply fully with the mandatory provisions of Section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act before the conclusion of the budget," he stated.
According to him, "the fact remains that laws are meant to be complied with.
By S 21(3) of the Act, an Appropriation Bill submitted shall have the budget estimates of the corporations in the schedule to the Act attached as part of the Appropriation Bill.
Failure to do so is a fundamental breach as it robs and or denies the House the right to the materials for debating the budget bill at second reading stage.
" He added that the committee in its findings based on the diverse opinion of the two lawmakers observed that the Minister of Finance failed to fully comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Jime's point of Order appears well founded in law and appears well founded in law and is very well taken but his prayer that the budget be rejected does not seem to enjoy an equal force in law in the light of sections 59 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution and the reasons earlier adumbrated.
'On the argument by Hon.
Enoh that the submission by the Executive Arm was in line with what they had always done in the past, the committee is of the opinion that notwithstanding that fundamental breach in previous years, the House cannot continue on the path of error, now that the matter has been formally raised,' he said.
After Sam-Tsokwa presented the report, no one was allowed to comment and the speaker, Tambuwal, ruled that the House should commence debate immediately because the passage of the budget was urgent.
He told his colleagues that Hon.
Jime's point of order was 'well founded and sustainable' but in the overriding national interest, the debate on the budget should go on while calling on the Minister of Finance to forward the details as required by law before conclusion of deliberation.
The speaker admonished the lawmakers and warned them to be wary of those ready to be willing tools in the hands of desperate politicians ruled in favour of Jime's submissions but appealed to members to sheathe their swords in the interest of the nation, pointing out that the legacies already created by the current House when issues challenging national cohesion were surmounted should be their guiding principles.
While leading debate on the Appropriation Bill, Leader of the House, Hon.
Mulikat Akande-Adeola, said the budget had significantly proposed increases in the allocations to Youth Development, Education, Agriculture and Rural Revelopment, with special focus on completion of the National Independent Power Projects (NIPP).
Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Hon.
Suleiman Kawu (APC, Kano), however picked holes in some of the proposals, especially the planned commitment of about N53 billion for the rehabilitation of 30,000 repentant militants from the Niger Delta, against the allocation of N41.
08 billion for personnel of the entire key security agencies of the country.
'The proposals in this 2014 Appropriation Bill are in sharp contrast to this provision of the law.
Despite promises to device ways of significantly increasing capital expenditure, the government had in the 2014 budget proposed to increase recurrent expenditure which has little or no impact on the lives of the people of Kano which I represent and indeed the entire country.
'The proposed budget expenditure of N4.
642 trillion is higher than the expected revenue of N3.
So this budget comes with N912 billion fiscal deficit.
The estimated fiscal deficit is 83 percent of the proposed total capital expenditure of N1.
Colleagues, this is voodoo economics.
Should the government fail to meet its fiscal deficit financing plan, the little capital projects in the budget would bleed till another fiscal year.
'For the National Assembly not to appear as an agent of poverty recycling, this fiscal deficit must be trimmed down by ensuring that abuse of tax waivers which has consistently crippled our revenue projection is discouraged in a legitimate manner that seems to bring relevance to Section 29 subsection (1) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act which restricted the Minister from approving tax relief that adversely impair the revenue estimates in the annual budget.
'The budget proposal for the power sector doesn't portray that the private sector had taken over the industry.
Compare to the days when the telecommunication sector was privatised, the Federal Government is still budgeting for development of hydro power plants.
The government wants to set up a 215MW gas power plant at N3.
7 billion, N2.
3billion for development of hydro power plant, construction of 10MW Wind farm at N1 billion amongst others.
Is it the case that government wants to feed the private electricity companies with public fund? 'It also appears that the 2014 appropriation bill caters more for the militants than our national security agencies.
The sum of N63 billion is expected to cover stipends and allowances of 30,000 Niger Delta Militants, reintegration of transformed ex-militants and amnesty programmes while the total capital budget allocated to the Nigeria Army, Ministry of Defence, Army, Navy, Air Force and Police Formations is pegged at N41.
This is a clear message that the government of the day is not serious about stemming the insurgency in Northern Nigeria.
The House must ensure that this misplacement of priority is reversed,' Kawu submitted.
After Kawu spoke, about eight other members were given the opportunity to contribute and the speaker invited the House Leader to move for adjournment for the debate to continue on Wednesday.
SAINT MUGAGA, ABUJA.