President Goodluck Jonathan
By Onwuka Nzeshi and Omololu Ogunmade
The much anticipated transmission of the 2013 Appropriation Bill to President Goodluck Jonathan suffered a minor setback Monday, as the process was slowed down by the bureaucracy in the National Assembly.
The setback occurred on the same day it was discovered that the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) might take longer than expected.
The House of Representatives ad hoc committee responsible for the bill is yet to get to work on the legislation two months after the bill was assigned to it.
THISDAY learnt that although the Joint Appropriation Committee of the National Assembly has concluded its work on the substance of the budget, the voluminous document would still need to pass through the scrutiny of the legal department of the National Assembly to ensure that all the loose ends are tied before its transmission.
At the time of filing this report, officials of the legal department at the National Assembly were still battling to scrutinise the nitty-gritty of the budget, preparatory to its transmission to the presidency.
THISDAY investigations revealed that barring any hitches, the budget would most likely be transmitted on or before Wednesday (tomorrow), the same day both chambers of the National Assembly will resume plenary.
President Goodluck Jonathan had in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act presented the 2013 budget estimates last October.
The early presentation was based on the understanding that the National Assembly would give the bill accelerated passage, and the president would sign it into law for the budget to commence on the first day of 2013.
On the PIB, the Chief Whip of the House and Chairman of the House Ad Hoc Committee on the PIB, Hon. Mohammed Bawa (PDP/Taraba), Monday disclosed that the committee was gearing up for its inauguration and retreat to commence its assignment.
Bawa, who did not give any specific date for this inaugural ceremony, said the committee members would thereafter embark on a retreat where members would receive briefings on the PIB to prepare them to engage stakeholders at the public hearing.
The lawmaker did not also give a timeline for the proposed retreat and public hearing.
However, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Victor Ogene, has offered some explanations for the delay of the PIB after the House debated the general principles of the bill and passed it through the second reading stage.
Ogene said the PIB might have suffered some delays because of the diversion of the attention of the House to the 2013 Appropriation Bill for most parts of the fourth quarter of last year.
According to Ogene, the delay was not out of place since members of the ad hoc committee on the PIB are equally members of other standing committees involved in the budgeting process.
He expressed optimism that the PIB would not be delayed for a day more than necessary, adding that in spite of the seeming delay, the House was still ahead of the Senate on the bill.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly is yet to hold the mandatory debates on the bill and determine if it will scale a second reading.
The Senate, however, has confirmed that what was left of the 2013 Appropriation Bill was purely "mechanical" which it said would require the bureaucracy to resolve.
Making this disclosure in the Senate Monday, Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, also spoke on the controversy surrounding the failure of Chairman, Special Task Force on Pension, Abdulrasheed Maina, to appear before the Senate committee probing the pension scam, vowing that the upper legislative chamber would leave no stone unturned to bring the task force chairman to justice.
According to Abaribe, it is a normal thing for the budget to be sent to the executive once it is passed by the National Assembly, insisting that whatever was left was only mechanical, adding that the bulk of the budget had duly been sent.
“I will have to assume that such has been done because after you have passed the budget, what is left is simply mechanical, you get a clean copy and then, you send it.
“I am assuming that it must have been passed (to the executive),” Abaribe said.
Abaribe who appealed to the media not to focus on any perceived lapses surrounding the passage of the budget, added that it was too early to pick holes with its implementation process, emphasising that what was significant is that the budget has been passed.
“I do not think that it is late. This is January 14 and whenever the assent is done this January, the budget can start to operate. I would want us not to focus on this question of whether there is some time lag.
“I do not think that the time lag is significant for it to mean that the operation of the budget will not start from January.
“We worked assiduously to be able to deliver to Nigerians what we have promised to do. In line also with what the president said, when he delivered the budget address in the National Assembly, what his own thoughts were, that it was time for us to keep to schedule; we have kept to our own schedule,” Abaribe added.
He maintained that since the budget had been passed, “any other thing that is going on now is the normal course of the bureaucracy involved and I don’t think that there would be any problem with that.”
On Maina, Abaribe said it would be foolhardy for anyone to assume that the matter would be swept under the carpet, insisting that there would be no escape route for the Pension Task Force boss.
He added that the budgets of no fewer than 43 ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have not been passed as he explained that the Senate had once passed a resolution that it would not entertain budgets that came late.
He said only budgets of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) have not been passed so far.
On the non-inclusion of the budget of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in the 2013 budget, Abaribe said: “If it is the opinion of the House of Representatives that something needs to be done, we can only advise and urge the president to take a very good look at the position of the House of Representatives.”
Abaribe, who argued that any position taken by the National Assembly as the body of people's representatives is usually in the interest of the country, added: “Beyond that, we also feel in the Senate that anybody that works for Mr. President should as much as possible, not put Mr. President at loggerheads with the parliament.”
On the delay in approving the Lagos State's efforts to obtain a World Bank loan by the National Assembly, Abaribe said what was required of Lagos State Government was to make a presentation to the House of Representatives and subsequently to the Senate.
According to him, the presentation will subsequently be taken to the plenary. He also dismissed insinuations that if Lagos did not get the loan, Nigeria would suffer an economic crisis, noting, “that is stretching matters too far.”