The process for the passage of the 2014 budget Tuesday February 4th 2014 recorded mixed fortunes in the National Assembly where its two chambers gave different treatments to the fiscal bill.
While the Senate passed the 2014 Appropriation Bill for its second reading, with the full support of All Progressives Congress (APC) senators, whose party has directed them to block all executive bills, the bill suffered a setback at the House of Representatives, which deferred its consideration until another day.
The consideration of the Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly came amid warnings from organised labour and the private sector employers that opposition lawmakers should not heed their party’s directive to stall its passage so as not to endanger the economy.
Senators at plenary yesterday voted for the bill to move to the next stage after a week of intense debate.
With the bill scaling the second reading, it was referred to the Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance for further consideration. The committee has three weeks to conclude its assignment and report back to the Senate for final passage.
The successful second reading of the budget put to rest almost two weeks of controversy and anxiety which followed APC’s directive to its senators, ordering them to block the passage of executive bills, including the budget as well as the screening and confirmation of service chiefs and ministerial nominees.
The party said the directive was in protest against the perceived harassment of its members in Rivers State.
But when the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, called for a voice vote after the conclusion of debate on the budget yesterday, a majority of the senators endorsed the bill with only about three rejecting it.
In his remarks, Ekweremadu commended his colleagues for allowing the budget to scale the second reading, just as he advised the committee to ensure that submissions during the debate were factored into the consideration of the bill at the committee level.
“During debate, a number of issues were raised. These included the issues of waste, neglect and an over-bloated budget. The beauty of democracy is that it has its own in-built mechanisms. The executive prepares the budget. But it is the duty of the legislature to dig deep and have a critical look at the budget,” Ekweremadu said.
During debate on the budget, senators had deplored the alleged implementation of World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) policies by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, warning against continuity of the trend in 2014. They described the policies as “Okonjonomics”.
According to them, the minister was leading the nation along the wrong direction, as they insisted that IMF and World Bank policies would not work in Nigeria because the nation was not ripe for them.
Some other senators, who asked the minister to resign, said the 28 per cent of capital expenditure in the 2014 budget was below 40 per cent implementation level, a situation they said made the ordinary citizen vulnerable.
They also criticised Okonjo-Iweala for the rise in recurrent expenditure from 69 per cent in 2013 budget to 76 per cent in 2014 as well as the increasing debt profile of the nation despite supervising Nigeria’s exit from the Paris Club in 2005 after paying off its external debt.
They said the ideal thing for Okonjo-Iweala to do was to honourably resign having allegedly failed to achieve what the administration hired her to do.
However, unlike the Senate where the appropriation bill scaled the second reading, negligible progress was made in the House as a point of order raised by Hon. Emmanuel Jime (APC, Benue) led to the deferment of further consideration of the bill.
Jime argued that discussing the bill would breach the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA), which stipulate that the budget must be presented to the House in full and not in summary as was done by Okonjo-Iweala.
Quoting section 21 (1, 2 and 3) of the FRA, Jime said the presentation of the budget in a piecemeal fashion by the minister breached the constitution “and the parliament cannot accept the breach of law”.
According to him, to fully comply with the Act, the budget must include the estimates of critical money generating agencies such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), among others.
“The budget, in the manner it was presented, has breached the law, so the House of Representatives cannot allow the executive arm to get away with the impunity that has characterised its handling of the nation’s affairs,” he said.
He told his colleagues that instead of considering the budget, what should have been paramount is for the House to bother itself with unravelling the mystery behind the unremitted $10.8 billion by the NNPC.
After his submission, House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, sought further clarification on the matter from the Chairman, Appropriation Committee, Hon. John Enoh (PDP, Cross River).
But Enoh disputed the claim that Okonjo-Iweala breached the law by laying the budget in that manner, adding that in the past few years, the House had been receiving and acting on summaries of budgets presented to it by the executive.
He further argued that previous budget estimates had been abridged and they did not incur the wrath or penalty of the House.
“It is one thing for the executive to present estimates and another for the legislative arm to decide what to do with it,” he said, just as he recalled that last year’s budget also came in an abridged version and was passed.
According to him, Jime’s point of order was not enough to halt the consideration of the budget.
At this point, Tambuwal intervened to prevent a showdown which was brewing among the lawmakers by mandating the chairmen and deputies of the Committees on Rules and Business, Albert Sam-Tsokwa (PDP, Taraba) and Sunday Adepoju (APC, Oyo); Justice, Ali Ahmed (APC, Kwara) and Chukwuemeka Nwaogbo (APGA, Anambra); and Judiciary, Aminu Shagari (APC, Sokoto) and Ken Chikere (PDP, Rivers), to study the matter and report to the House today.
This decision drew applause from the APC legislators, who had received the endorsement of their national leaders and governors Monday night to checkmate what they described as the excesses of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Before constituting the ad hoc committee, Tambuwal said when a point of order was raised, it was not subject to debate.
He however said he allowed Enoh to explain the issue because he wanted more facts, because as the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee he was expected to be in the know.
Meanwhile, organised labour and private sector employers have cautioned APC lawmakers against blocking the passage of the 2014 Appropriation Bill and other executive bills. They warned that doing so would limit the performance of the economy.