Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Budget 2017: Lawmakers issue crucial warning to Buhari

Nigerian Lawmakers have issued a strict warning to President Muhammadu Buhari as regards the 2017 budget.

 The lawmakers warned that an un-ending face-off could be triggered if the president insists on having his way all through the budget process
The two chambers of the National Assembly are to resume on Tuesday, January 10.

Against the background of claims that legislative re-order and revision of the budget amounted to padding, legislators have sounded a note of warning that they would not condone any intrusion, as they execute into their duties as stated in the constitution.

Besides the budget and the MTEF/FSP, also on agenda of the returning lawmakers are the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, the ban on the importation of vehicles through land borders, the crisis in Southern Kaduna and an investigation into the state of the aviation sector.

The 2016 budget proposal was enveloped in controversies, following the disappearance of the budget document in the Senate, the circulation of fake copies and allegations of the inflation of the proposals.

To avoid the acrimonious situation in the 2017 budget, the Presidency had, through the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, last year, given conditions upon which the President would sign the budget.

Senator Enang, at a colloquium on Budget Matters in Abuja, during the unveiling of Order Paper, had said that President Buhari might not assent to Appropriation bills passed by the National Assembly unless the schedule of details of the budget was duly passed on the floor of both chambers of the National Assembly.

Reacting to the issue, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Jonathan Gaza, said the condition given by the Presidency was not necessary as the House was only interested in doing what would be of benefit to Nigerians. He said: “We intend to cooperate fully with the executive and discharge our legislative duties as we have been empowered by the constitution.

“That which needs to be done, we will make sure it is done appropriately, adequately and, of course, we always act within the law and the powers which the constitution has given us.

“We have always insisted that we do not know what padding is, only if you can show me ‘padding’ in the constitution.

"We are going to discharge our duties as mandated in the constitution and, of course, with strict adherence to the law.

After all, we have never flouted the law in discharging our constitutional duties.” He also noted that the 2016 budget had errors and inconsistencies when it came from the executive, adding, “and we had to work both ways to smoothen it out.”

Also speaking on the issue, Mr. Austine Chukwukere, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Finance, said: “It is not the duty of the executive to decide how the parliament performs its constitutional functions as regards the appropriation. “There are processes to follow.

The executive has submitted the budget estimate; they should stay back and watch us do our work. We are not to be stampeded.”

Asked if the President decides not to assent to the Appropriation Bill, if it does not follow its line of thought, Chukwukere, who represents Ideato Federal Constituency of Imo state, said: “What happened to last year’s budget estimate was that the National Assembly did not want Nigerians to suffer and the country be on a standstill because it was the first budget, even though it came late with its problems.”

Also speaking, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ujam, representing Nkanu Federal Constituency of Enugu State said:

“The 2017 Appropriation estimate was sent to us on December 14, 2016 by Mr. President.

“There is a laid down procedure for passing an Appropriation Bill. I do not see why we should deviate from that. If the President lays the appropriation, we look at it, scrutinise it and do adjustment where it is necessary.”

On what happens if the President refuses to assent to it, he said: “The President cannot refuse to sign the Appropriation Bill. If there are areas he feels that should be accommodated, he will come back to us; we have the power of appropriation.”

Overzealous aides and eye-service chiefs

Chairman House Committee on Public Petitions, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, said: “I do not think President Buhari is undemocratic. Budget process is a democratic process.

And I do not think Mr. President will want to put a clog in the wheel of democratic process. I think that may be an overzealous statement from his aides.

“Do you mean that in the face of obvious mistakes that we should return the budget like that? They described it as budget estimates, which means there is no finality in the document as presented.

“The document ought to go through legislative purity before it can become law. “Let me caution that the opposition, in doing its job, ought to take a critical analysis of the budget, distil it very well, identify areas not fit enough and increase areas of economic benefit.”

A move has been initiated by the House of Representatives, to reduce the power of the President in the case of judges.

Vanguard reports that the House has called for the involvement of National Judicial Council (NJC), in the procedure for the removal of head of courts to avoid victimisation by the executive.

This was contained in a Bill, entitled An act to pursuant to Section 9(1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to alter Section 292 (1) (A) and (i) (ii) to include the National Judicial Council in the procedure for the removal of heads of courts established by the Constitution under Section 6 (5), promoted by Garba Datti Muhammad, APC, Kaduna.

Before now, the NJC can only recommend an erring judge to the President, but if the Bill is eventually passed, the body would be involved in the discipline or removal of any erring judge.

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