Chuks Okocha and Onwuka Nzeshi
The Presidency Thursday criticised the speech read by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, during the presentation of 2013 budget by President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday, describing it as dictatorial, over authoritative and mere grandstanding.
In a swift reaction, the Speaker said his remarks and that of the Senate President, David Mark, were in conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
On his part, Senate President, said Okupe was ill informed.
The Presidency said the decision not to frivolously release funds to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), was in pursuit of due process adding that the era of releasing funds to be squandered was over. “The era of father Christmas in the release of funds without due process has gone,” it said.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, said the decision of the National Assembly to insist that the 2013 Appropriation Bill would be based on $80 per barrel instead of the $75 benchmark was ‘’dictatorial and over authoritative in over ruling the President.’’
Okupe who compared the 2013 budget benchmark of other countries with that of Nigeria, said the aim of pegging the 2013 Budget at $75 per barrel was meant to avert the danger of crash in the global price of crude oil. He gave the instance of 2008 when the budget benchmark of $147 crashed to $38 as one of the reasons the Federal Government opted to exercise caution.
While comparing the budget with other countries, he said the 2013 Algerian budget was benchmarked at $37, Qatar, $57, Venezuela, $50, Saudi Arabia, $50, Angola, $77, Kuwait, $66, insisting that pegging Nigeria’s budget bill at $75 was based on actual market realities.
Okupe further said the 2013 budget was based “on extra conservatism and undue recklessness of consuming all federally collected revenues.”Therefore, the President’s aide accused the speaker of “merely playing to the gallery.”
Okupe said “the projection of the budget on $75 was to address the increasing question of budget deficit,” arguing that there would be no bottleneck in the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) in the release of capital votes, insisting that “it is aimed to check contract inflation and over invoicing and therefore national revenue should not be squandered on the altar of speedily release of funds. The process of releasing funds to MDAS will not be abridged.”
Okupe who said it was not true that capital votes had not been released as at when due, explained that so far, over 53 per cent of the 2012 budget, which he said represented about N711.6 billion, had been released, considering the fact that the budget was passed in April this year.
Okupe said Jonathan expected federal lawmakers to do extensive legislative work on the Appropriation Bill and explained that the President ought to be commended and not condemned for presenting the budget on time. He further said it was the handiwork of a qualified Economic Management Team, whose efforts he said required a global commendation adding that the move had attracted investors’ confidence on Nigerian economy.
On alleged non-implementation of the National Assembly resolution, Okupe said “though, the resolutions of the National assembly are advice without the force of law, it contains weighty issues,” it will not be fair for the National Assembly to single out the Director General of the BPE for dismissal, saying she was not there when most of the transactions complained of, took place.
In statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Kola Ologbondiyan, Mark said it was wrong for Okupe to attack the legislature when he and President Jonathan were on the same page in the task of ensuring the actualisation of the transformation agenda of the administration.
He added that it was strange that Okupe would attempt to create unnecessary disaffection between the legislature and the executive.
“It is common knowledge that budgets are estimates of revenues and expenditures of the Federation for the next financial year. Section 81 of the1999 Constitution (as amended) is very explicit. The position of the Senate which was expressed by the President of the Senate is that in line with constitutional provisions, the legislature has a right of appropriation.
“Okupe as a public affairs manager has a responsibility to make friends and create a harmonious working relationship between the executive and other arms of government. His job is not to make enemies and create unfavorable atmosphere for Mr. President.
“We take exception to such unwarranted attack on the Office of the President of the Senate and we urge Dr. Okupe to know his limits.”
Tambuwal in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, said all statements by the two leaders were backed by facts and figures from field studies by the legislators and expert advice.
“It is apparent that Okupe is dabbling into areas where he is totally ignorant about.
“The uncouth manner in which he replied elected representatives showed his apparent lack of respect to the legislature as an institution. The entire remarks he made gave him out as an overzealous official doing a hatchet job in order to be relevant in the scheme of things.
“The Speaker and the House of Representatives will always stand by the tenets of good governance and true representation at all times,” the statement stated.
Also, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Victor Ogene, said the executive arm of government was chasing
shadows rather than substance
He stated Tambuwal was not on a popularity contest with any official in the executive arm of government.
In apparent response to the characterisation of Tambuwal as a dictator, Ogene said that Tambuwal had always acted in consonance with the wishes of his colleagues and the aspirations of the Nigerian people.
“Tambuwal embodies the wishes and aspiration of the Nigerian People, and expresses, at every point, only the position of the 360- member House of Representatives.
“For a time-worm political jobber like Dr. Okupe, whose antecedents in government is all too familiar, to attempt, therefore, to seek relevance by taking ill – considered pot-shots at the House only bespeak the tragedy which has befallen governance, whereby shadows are chased, instead of substance.
“For Okupe to seek to denounce this position simply because some other oil producing nations have lower benchmark of $75 proposed by the Executive clearly shows how the Nigerian economy is run, in a do – as – I – do fashion.