Mr. Femi Falana (SAN)
* House: No cause for alarm
Senate: We have resolved issues with executive
Minister clears air over 2013 FCT budget
By Onwuka Nzeshi, Omololu Ogunmade and Senator Iroegbu
Lagos lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has advised President Goodluck Jonathan not to sign the 2013 Appropriation Bill now, as submitted to him by the National Assembly, otherwise he would be violating the constitution and committing illegality.
Falana argued that the impasse that has so far stalled the signing of the 2013 Appropriation Bill into law may not be resolved anytime soon until the president re-presents the bill to the National Assembly.
He argued that the Appropriation Bill 2013 can no longer be signed as it is by the president, as the budget has already been overtaken by events following the lingering face-off.
According to the constitutional lawyer, even if the various interventions were to succeed in resolving the crisis, the president can no longer legally assent to the bill without violating Section 58(4) of the Constitution.
The provision states: “Where the president, within 30 days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent, or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting, and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both Houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.
“Since the lawmakers passed the budget proposal since December 20, 2012, the refusal of the president to assent to the bill has lasted beyond the mandatory 30 days stated by the constitution.
“Having not assented to the Appropriation within 30 days of the receipt of the receipt of the bill, the president is mandatorily required to present the bill to the joint sitting of the National Assembly, which may decide to pass it by two-thirds majority,” Falana said.
On the alternative, he said, President Jonathan could approach the Supreme Court to seek its intervention to determine the extent of the powers of the National Assembly to rewrite the budget in order to resolve this lingering constitutional crisis.
But in swift reaction, the House of Representatives debunked Falana’s claims that the budget had spent 30 days with the president and remained unsigned.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Victor Ogene, who spoke in telephone chat last night allayed the fears of a possible constitutional crisis over the 2013 budget.
According to him, those making such assertions were wrong by including weekends in their calculation of the thirty day period.
“The deadline is not yet here. You don’t calculate Saturdays and Sundays because these are non-working days.
“I also know that there are robust engagements between the executive and legislature and soon the matter will be over,” he said.
Ogene said he does not regard the feared expiration of the 30 day period as a constitutional problem.
According to him, the constitution has provided a solution to the situation by stipulating what should be done in the event of the President refusing to assent to the budget after 30 days of receiving same from the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the Senate Wednesday said it had resolved its differences with the executive on 2013 budget.
According to Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, who admitted that there were grey areas prior to the resolution, every pending issue on the budget now is the exclusive affair of the executive.
Ndoma-Egba who declined to name the grey areas, said the executive was in a better position to answer the question.
“Yes. There were issues. But they have been resolved,” he said.
On whether the resolution of the issues imply that the budget will be signed tomorrow,” Ndoma-Egba said: “I don’t co-ordinate the budget. It is the executive that’s in a better position to answer the question.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Bala Mohammed, has moved to clear the air on the controversial items in the 2013 FCT Administration (FCTA) appropriation budget, especially the N5 billion allocated for the construction of First Ladies Peace Mission House.
Mohammed in a statement signed Wednesday by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Nosike Ogbuenyi, also raised the alarm over a move by those he described as unscrupulous politicians to sponsor protests in Abuja aimed at smearing FCTA.
He said he wanted to set the budget records straight as they concern the Abuja City Gate, the African First Ladies Peace Mission House and rehabilitation of prostitutes and destitute in FCT.
“For about two weeks running, the mass media has been awash with stories alleging that the FCTA had, this fiscal year, proposed a staggering N5 billion for rehabilitation of prostitutes and destitute alone, another N7.5 billion for the construction of Abuja City gate and N4 billion for the building of office for a non-governmental organisation (NGO),” he said.
The minister dismissed the issues raised on the FCT 2013 budget as a fall-out of negative politics by some unscrupulous elements in the society to blackmail him.
He added that the powerful forces behind the allegations were planning to sponsor an artificial protest in Abuja against him.
“There is nothing like city gate project in the 2013 budget of the FCT. The contract for the expansion of the Umaru Musa Yar’Adua Expressway (Airport Road), Abuja where the former city gate was located was awarded in 2009 before the present FCT Minister’s appointment in April 2010. In that contract, what were provided for in the location of the old city were multiple interchanges (flyovers) for entry and exit from the city centre. The 2013 budget of FCT is there before the 469 members of the Senate and the House of Representatives and any person who wants to peruse the document can approach the lawmakers.”
Also, a leading civil society organisation with strong bias for fiscal discipline and governance, has said that the impasse over the 2013 budget is a fallout of poor consultations between the executive arm of government and the National Assembly.
In a telephone chat with THISDAY Wednesday, the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere said the current disagreement between the two arms of government over the content of the budget would have been ironed out before now if there had been adequate consultations at the level of budget preparations.
He noted that if the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Medium Term Sector Strategy (MTSS) would have offered a platform for grey areas to be sorted out earlier.
According to him, the lesson from the current logjam is for consultations to be started early between both arms of government and carried out exhaustively.
Also, the Executive Director, Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa, Dr. Ebere Uneze, stated that the National Assembly should explain to Nigerians why the budget had to be padded after the executive arm of government had presented the figures to the lawmakers.
Uneze also noted that it was important for the executive and legislature should go back to the drawing board and look at the differences quickly with a view to resolving grey areas so that the 2013 budget is assented to by President Goodluck Jonathan.
He regretted that the current impasse has again led to a delay in the implementation of the 2013 budget, adding that Nigerians had expected that since the executive arm of government presented the Appropriation Bill in a good time last year, a normal budget cycle commencing from January this year would have been achieved.