National Assembly Complex, Abuja
•Justifies parliamentary alterations
•AGF to advice on presidential assent
By Ndubuisi Francis and Onwuka Nzeshi
The House of Representatives has ruled out suggestions that the National Assembly should approach the Supreme Court to seek constitutional interpretation on the powers of the executive and legislature on appropriation to end the stalemate over the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
It said there was no need for that because the legislature had the final say on the passage of the budget as it could override the president’s veto.
The House also denied allegations that part of the reasons the 2013 budget has not yet received presidential assent was because the bill was over-bloated and “heavily padded” before it was passed by the National Assembly.
However, the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Dr. Nwanze Okidegbe, said yesterday that the impasse over the budget might soon be resolved as the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, would soon advise the executive on whether President Goodluck Jonathan still has the constitutional powers to assent to the bill more than 30 days after the National Assembly had passed it into law.
There have been allegations that the lawmakers jacked up the size of the budget through inclusion of constituency projects as part of surreptitious moves to increase their quarterly allowances and raise funds for the 2015 general election.
Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. John Enoh, at the weekend explained that the National Assembly need not go to court to assert its authority over appropriation because the parliament had no doubts whatsoever that it has overriding constitutional powers on budget matters.
Enoh, who was a guest at the maiden edition of the “Hot Seat”, a media interaction series of the House of Representatives Press Corps, observed that the issue of seeking legal interpretation on the powers of the legislature over the budget had arisen during the Yar’Adua administration but was stalled because the National Assembly was not prepared to seek what it already knew were its powers.
“The fact is that the parliament or the National Assembly does not have any reason whatsoever to go to court to seek interpretation because we have no doubt whatsoever as to what our powers are. The executive is the arm of government that doubts those powers.
“Under the late Yar'Ardua, we got to this point when he actually tried to request that we go jointly to approach the Supreme Court for interpretation. I remember then that our answer was that the Supreme Court wouldn’t entertain that kind of thing. Somebody will need to initiate a legal action. One party will need to go to court. Two of us cannot go like that. We said then: ‘You are the one that doubts our powers so you are the one that should go to court and let the system benefit from whatever interpretation’.
“I think the issues are clear; it is the constitution that says that if Mr. President does not assent, that that same document can become law not requiring the assent of Mr. President anymore. What it means simply is that the final power rests with the National Assembly,” he said.
Enoh refuted the allegation that the legislators padded the budget for selfish reasons, stressing that the parliament has a duty to alter the executive proposals when necessary.
He said many people who did not understand the functions of the National Assembly often regard any legislative input into the budget proposal as padding.
Enoh explained that whenever the budget proposals were presented to the National Assembly, the appropriation committees in both chambers distribute the proposal to each of the standing committees to work on as sub-committees to the Appropriation Committee.
He said that by virtue of the fact that the various standing committees had been on oversight visits to the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), they were usually in a better position to know the needs of these MDAs and to match them with what the executive had proposed in the budget.
He said that in the wisdom of the standing committees, they could take some monies from other areas of the budget and put them on the abandoned projects to make sure that funds were available to complete the projects.
On the vexed issue of constituency projects, Enoh said there was no way the budget could be overburdened by constituency projects as there were usually provisions for them even in the executive proposals.
According to him, the issue of increasing the budget to raise lawmakers’ allowances does not arise as the budget of the National Assembly has remained static at N150 billion in the last two years.
On the controversy as to the number of days the 2013 Appropriation Bill had spent on the desk of the president and what the parliament would do if it exceeds the 30 days provided in the 1999 Constitution, Enoh said the 30 days duration stipulated in the constitution had not yet expired as claimed by some persons.
Giving the side of the executive to the budget row, the chief economic adviser to the president said at a press conference in Abuja yesterday that robust discussions were still ongoing between the executive and legislative arms of government to resolve the grey areas.
Okidegbe added that the grey areas had hamstrung the signing of the budget by President Jonathan and the matter would soon be referred to the AGF whether the president could still sign the budget after the 30-day deadline.
Admitting that positive discussions have been going on to resolve the differences, he listed the differences between both arms of government as those arising from personnel cost, overhead cost, SURE-P, constituency projects, and the zero budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“We don’t want the current situation surrounding the budget to degenerate into an impasse because the Nigerian people want results, not disagreements. That is why Mr. President has been very supportive of a collaborative approach with the National Assembly. But these issues need to be resolved in the interests of Nigerians, in order to ensure smooth implementation of the budget, and satisfaction of both the executive and the National Assembly,” he said.