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REPS DEFER PASSAGE OF INEC'S N89.6BN BUDGET

By NBF News

The House of Representatives yesterday ignored pressures from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by deferring the approval of the budget for the registration of voters for the 2011 general elections.

While the Senate recalled its members from recess and approved N87.7billion from the N89.6billion demanded by the INEC at its Tuesday sitting, the House which also recalled its members, however, said that it would not be a rubber stamp to the commission's proposal.

As a result, the bill to authorize the release of N89.6billion from the Consolidation Revenue Fund to register voters was read for the first and second times before it was referred to the Committees on Appropriation and Finance for further legislative scrutiny.

Speaker Dimeji Bankole, who presided over the plenary, however, assured that the report of the two committees would be considered and passed today (Thursday), in addition to two other bills.

Because the bill was purely in the purview of budgetary, Bankole asked the Electoral Committee to monitor how INEC would disburse the fund .

Chairman of INEC, Prof Attahiru Jega, had given yesterday, August 11 ,as the deadline for the release of the money if preparations for the 2011 elections must go ahead. The bill was introduced by the House Leader, Tunde Akogun, who implored members to give it accelerated debate because of the short time left between the period to register voters and the time of the election.

'History beckons on us today as we cut short our recess to come to the aid of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in its bid to conduct credible, free and fair elections that could be acceptable both at home and abroad,' he stated.

Contributing, former House Leader and now Chairman of Police Affairs, Alhaji Abdul Ningi, said the House could not be stampeded into approving the budget without proper scrutiny, explaining that some of the items were actually questionable. Ningi said that it would be wrong to just approve the proposal hook, line and sinker, stressing that some items on the proposal were already taken care of in the 2010 Appropriation Act.

He noted that it would be wrong for members to pretend that all was well with the proposal just because the time left was very short.

The Minority Leader, Alhaji Ali Ndume, who agreed that the proposal should be properly scrutinized, appealed to members to approve the INEC's request to purchase the Data Capture Machines direct from the manufacturer, because, according to him, N17 billion would be saved if that was done.

Chairman of Committee on Air Force, Mr Halims Agoda, said that in a country where there was no adequate potable water, good roads and good healthcare system, the amount being asked for by the INEC Chairman looked big. He, however, said that considering the clamour by Nigerians to have a credible election in 2011, members should approve the proposal after careful scrutiny for the purpose of transparency and accountability.

Contributing, former Speaker, Mrs Patricia Etteh, urged members to look at the challenges ahead of INEC and carry out whatever scrutiny they deemed necessary and pass the budget on time to avoid delay in preparing for the 2011 elections.

Mr Leo Ogor, Mr Igochukwu Aguma, Mr Emma Jime and Mr Tergu Tsegba echoed the argument that the proposal must be scrutinized line by line because, according them, there were duplications of some items already taken care of in the 2010 Appropriation Act. For instance, Mr Tsegba cited an item on the proposal which asked for N3 billion for transportation and another item on the 2010 Appropriation Act, which he said had a provision of N4 billion for logistics.

Mr Aguma also expressed worry that an item on the proposal asked for N260 million for hotel accommodation for National Resident Electoral Commissioners for three months as against the 28 days stipulated by the Civil Service Rules.