Major Tasks before National Assembly

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The National Assembly resumes plenary on Tuesday, February 26, to attend to major legislative businesses pending before it, including the 2019 Appropriation Bill and the National Minimum Wage Bill, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

The election of members of the 9th National Assembly took place yesterday in the 109 senatorial districts and 360 federal constituencies across the country.

With the results of the federal legislative seats and that of the presidential poll currently being sorted out by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives some of whom were candidates in yesterday’s elections are billed to resume plenary on Tuesday having adjourned legislative business last month.

At the Senate, two major bills that will engage the attention of members are the 2019 Appropriation Bill, which was presented to a joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari last December and the National Minimum Wage Bill, also transmitted last month by the president to the federal legislature.

Since the presentation of the 2019 budget estimate about two months ago, never a day was the issue listed on the Order Paper of the Senate before it went on recess. It is however expected that with the resumption of plenary, the issue would be listed for deliberation by the Senators.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, will set the ball rolling by formally presenting the 2019 Appropriation Bill before his colleagues for necessary legislative work.

President Buhari had on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 unveiled the N8.83 trillion federal budget estimate for the 2019 fiscal year.

The 2019 total budget estimate is N300 billion lower than the N9.1 billion being implemented for 2018 fiscal year. According to Buhari, N4.04 trillion or 50.31 per cent is earmarked for recurrent expenditure and N2.03 trillion representing 22.98 per cent for capital projects. Other estimates are N492.36 billion for statutory transfers, N2.14 trillion for debt servicing and provision of N120 billion as sinking fund.

These estimates are expected to be scrutinised by the senators especially at the committee stage, when ministers and heads of parastatals will be put on the spot to defend their budgetary allocations.

The report of the eight-man ad-hoc committee on the National Minimum Wage Bill set up last month by the Senate will be another issue for debate at the Red Chambers.

However, the ad-hoc committee headed by the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Sola Adeyeye, had expressed concern over the inability of the committee to meet since its inauguration about a month ago.

Adeyeye said last week that it’s been very difficult getting the other Senators that make up the committee to meet.

According to him, “I have been trying but I’ve not succeeded in reaching committee members”.

He, however, expressed optimism that the committee “will definitely meet on Tuesday if plenary reconvenes on that day but if plenary did not resume, because of the postponement of the election, the committee will be meeting early next week”.

Other members of the committee include Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour, Senator Abu Ibrahim, Senator Shehu Sani (North West), Senator Sam Egwu (South East), Senator Suleiman Adokwe (North Central), Senator Adeola Olamilekan, Senator Francis Alimikhena (South South); and Senator Binta Masi Garba (North East).

Only two out of the committee members, namely Senators Adeyeye and Ibrahim did not seek re-election into the Senate and were not involved in electioneering campaign unlike the other six members who were busy in their various senatorial districts canvassing for votes.

This actually accounted for the inability of the committee to meet before now. The report of the ad-hoc committee will determine how soon the Bill will be passed by the Senate as it has to be discussed at plenary.

Once this is done, the Bill which had earlier been passed by the House of Representatives, which increased the national minimum wage to N30,000 from N27,000 proposed by Muhammadu Buhari will undergo concurrence.

The Senate had on January 24, considered the National Minimum Wage Bill, which passed through second reading. It also set up an ad-hoc committee to study the provisions of the bill and make necessary recommendations to the senate within two weeks.

At the lower chamber of the National Assembly, the resumption of plenary on Tuesday will see the House continuing from where it stopped as regards the debate on the 2019 Appropriation Bill, which passed second reading on Tuesday, January 29.

Speaker Yakubu Dogara had then referred the Bill to the House committee on Appropriation and all other relevant standing and subcommittees to work on it.

Before this, members had put the Minister of Budget and National Planning on notice to urgently correct what they tagged “irreconcilable differences” in figures presented in the 2019 budget.

House members had shown more than a passing interest in urgently passing the budget, such that even at a point, when a Lagos lawmaker representing Ajeromi-Ifelodun federal constituency, Hon. Rita Orji raised an observation that the House did not form the required two-thirds quorum in the debate for the 2019 budget as only 43 members were present, the Speaker replied that she was not the custodian of the register.

Responding to Orji’s observation, Dogara had said, “You are not the keeper of the register, so you cannot determine quorum. This is politics time, some members come around to sign the register and leave. You don’t keep the register, so you cannot draw my attention to the issue of quorum.”

From his utterances and body language, it was obvious that Dogara wanted a quick passage of the budget and that reflected in the fact that despite the errors observed in the document, it has passed through second reading in the House of Representatives.

It is however not clear whether or not the corrections have been effected, but considering the need for the lawmakers to embark on their recess to enable them campaign ahead of yesterday’s presidential and National Assembly elections, they only looked at the budget in the general principle perspective but not in details as regards those errors identified.

Hon. Adamu Chika, representing Shiroro/Rafi/Munya of Niger State and Hon. Ahmad Patigi, representing Edu/Moro/Patigi federal constituency of Kwara State were the duo who pointed out that the 2019 budget was fraught with many errors in figures.

Hon. Chika had pointed out some errors in the budget, saying “I will raise some issues, which have to do, one, with the Ministry of Education, two, Ministry of Finance and three, Ministry of Budget and National Planning and then, one observation with the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).”

According to him, in the education ministry budget, in part C, which is the recurrent expenditure, which consists both the personnel and overhead, while the budget is N462.2 billion, the summary of the budget by the MDAs, in number 41: 0.5.1.8 personnel changed to about N539.6 billion and overhead, there is N33.5 billion now making it that the total recurrent expenditure, when you go by the summary by the MDAs has changed to N539 billion, stating that “I don’t know why that figure was added at that level.”

He further said, “When you go to Ministry of Finance, the budget of the ministry in the recurrent expenditure in part C is N10.8 billion, however, there is also an error when you go to the summary, which is number 21: 2.2.0, personnel is N7.4 billion, which is okay, but when you go to the overhead, it now becomes N2.26 trillion and therefore that has also changed. Now the total which is now personnel and the overhead is now N2.27 trillion. That has also changed.

“In the Ministry of Budget and Planning, in the part C is N9.3bn, however, when you go to the summary by MDAs, which is number 28: 0.2.3.8 personnel in the Ministry of Budget and Planning has now become N66.21 billion. Then overhead also changed there; it is now N832.2 billion. Then the total, which is personnel and overheard in that aspect has now become N1.49 trillion.

“The capital also has changed to about N655.9trillion, now giving us a total allocation of the Ministry of Budget and Planning, instead of N9.3bn has now become N2.15 trillion.

“Also, at the capital, which is D aspect, page 118 appeared only as ‘Federation.’ We don’t have any MDA called federation, however, when I continued with the research, I realised that in that federation, there is a capital component of N31.8 billion, but when I continued to search, I realised that federation, I found it in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), so why did they write federation?”

On his part, Pategi, who brought out faulty figures in the budget of the Ministry of Finance, particularly in the summary detail, said “Anytime we discover it (error), they can attend to it.

“We know that we are discussing the general principles. It will still get to the committee level and all those can be done. As for the ministry, we can get the Minister of Finance and the Chairman of Finance and Chairman of Appropriations to liaise with these three bodies; the Budget Office, the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the Ministry of Finance.”

Dogara, thereafter, directed that relevant committees should liaise with the Budget Office to correct the errors, after which the Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, moved the motion for the second reading of the budget, which was seconded by the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Edward Pwajok.

Another observation was that even while the budget passed the second reading, the 2019-2021 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) has not been passed.

While the position of the law is that the MTEF/FSP should be before the National Assembly for ratification by September of each year, President Buhari transmitted it to the lawmakers on November 6, 2018 and he presented the 2019 budget on December 19, 2018.

In the framework of projections on which the budget was drafted, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) projected a $60 oil price benchmark, oil production volume of 2.3million barrels per day, exchange rate of N305 to $1 and gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 3.01 per cent.

Therefore, the lawmakers will be expected to look closely into the errors with the hope to fine tune it, align the MTEF/FSP with current realities and conclude other legislative work on the budget on resumption of plenary.

Significantly, the House of Representatives had amended two provisions of the New National Minimum Wage Bill forwarded to it by President Buhari, and approved N30,000 as the lowest wage payable to workers in the country.

By that decision, the House overrode the National Council of State which had approved N27,000 as the new national minimum wage for Nigerian workers.

The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) had welcomed the passage of the national minimum wage bill, and urged the Senate to concur with the House of Representatives by adopting N30,000 as the new national minimum wage.