Barely 24 hours after it constituted a five-man conference committee to meet with the Senate to harmonise the oil benchmark price for the 2014-2016 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the House of Representatives yesterday said it would not be brow-beaten to consider the proposal.
According to Section 11 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the MTEF, which was laid in the House last month, ought to have been there six months before the year runs out.
Equally, section 81 also requires that the president lay the budget proposal before the end of the fiscal year.
The Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Media, Hon. Victor Ogene, who said the delay in laying both the budget and the MTEF, the latter which is being considered by the House, does not mean that the lower chamber has been "blackmailed.
"We are waiting for the president to lay his budget estimates. We have always called for the MTEF and the budget proposal to be presented on time," Ogene said, adding that:, "The MTEF is before us now; and the constitution imposes on us to work on it," the lawmaker stressed.
"We are taking things in our stride in the course of our national work. The question should be posed to the executive as to why the budget is being delayed and not us."
On an observation raised at the plenary by Hon. Samson Okwu, that the Abdulmunini Jibrin-led conference committee was imposed on the House, Ogene explained that "the truth of the matter is that every committee of the House is a subordinate of the whole House.
"Whatever conclusions it reaches will have to be brought to the floor of the House," he pointed out, saying before now the committee had met with the Senate and agreed on $76.5 as the oil benchmark.
"But majority of the House rejected it. So the committee is going back to meet the Senate with a new mandate," he said.
Headed by the Chairman, Committee on Finance, Hon. Abdulmumin Jubrin (PDP, Kano), other members include chairman, Loan and Debts Committee, Hon. Adeyinka Ajayi (APC, Osun), Hon. Ibrahim Shehu Gusau (APC, Zamfara), Hon. Abdurrahman Terraf (APC, Borno) and Hon. Forte Dike (PDP, Anambra).
The House had adopted $79 as benchmark for oil price, while the Senate approved $76.5 under the MTEF. However, the executive had proposed $74 per barrel.
Following the inability of both chambers to agree on a common price, President Goodluck Jonathan had shelved the presentation of the 2014 budget proposal, insisting that he could only do that when there is a consensus.
In a letter sent to the Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, the president noted that “whereas the Senate has approved the MTEF based on the benchmark of $76.5 per barrel, the House of Representatives has used a benchmark of $79 per barrel, it is infeasible for me to present the budget in absence of harmonised position on MTEF.
“In the circumstance, it has become necessary to defer the presentation of the 2014 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly until such a time when both respective chambers would have harmonised their position on MTEF. It is my hope that this will be in the shortest possible time.”
Jonathan quoted the difference in price adoption by the two chambers as the reason for his inability to present the 2014 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly.
In another development, the House in a plenary appointed Hon. Yacoob Bush, Sunday Adepoju, Friday Itula among others to study the motion on the urgent need to suspend the increase in import duties on new and used vehicles, and report back to it on Tuesday.
The group will advise the House on the desirability of the motion and whether or not the lower legislative chamber has competence on the issue.
Meanwhile, the contractors handling projects under the Ecological Fund Projects in the South-east. Were yesterday summoned by the House of Representatives Committee on Environment to appear before it and explain the shoddy jobs they have been executing in the area.
A statement by the chairperson of the committee, Hon. Uche Ekwunife, sought the appearance of Grunz Link Ltd, handling Nkisi Water Works Erosion Control in Anambra State, Ragus Associates, executing Eguenyi Mpu-Ezze-Umuorma-Azunkwo Erosion Project in Enugu State and City Central Group undertaking the channelisation of Iyiokwu and Iyiudele Stream Project in Anambra State.
"The committee is hereby issuing a final warning to these contractors," that if they fail to honour future invitations, "the committee will have no other choice than to: order the immediate revocation of these so-called contracts, refund of all funds collected for these jobs which are not being executed as stipulated in the contractual agreements signed and get them arrested for disobedience of Legislative Rights and Privileges Act.
It also indicted that it will "advice the security agencies to arrest and prosecute these contractors for breaches of the Nigerian Constitution."
The committee directed the Permanent Secretary of the Ecological Fund Office to ensure that these contractors appear before the Committee on December 4 by 2p.m.