As the controversy over the 2013 budget amendment bill rages, both chambers of the National Assembly have decided to suspend debate on the bill, fuelling speculations that the legislature may is not favourably disposed towards the swift passage of the bill.
Although there is no rift between the Senate and the executive over the amendment proposal, the House of Representatives, on the other hand, has been at loggerheads with the executive over the review of the legislation.
This reportedly prompted the visit of Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Board of Trustees (BoT), Chief Tony Anenih, to the House on Wednesday for a closed-door parley with the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
Yesterday’s decision by the Senate to suspend debate on the bill was viewed as a subtle protest against the bill, as the reason given for the action by the senators was perceived as flimsy.
Whereas the second reading of the bill was listed as the first item on the order paper yesterday, Senate Leader Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba suddenly announced the suspension of debate on the bill because “the lead debate on the bill was not ready”.
That was the first time the Senate would stand down a bill owing to the fact that the lead debate was not ready. Besides, the submission of a lead debate to the Committee on Rules and Business usually precedes the listing of such bill for consideration in the chamber since the committee usually edits the presentations ahead of a debate.
In the lower chamber, THISDAY learnt that the House of Representatives might have resolved to put the 2013 Appropriation Amendment Bill in the cooler for the time being.
This became apparent yesterday after the House once again shelved the consideration of the bill which was slated for second reading as captured in the order paper.
Unlike on previous days when the lawmakers made some attempts to look at the bill before giving reasons for rescheduling debate on it, House Speaker AminuTambuwal simply skipped it and went on to the next business of the day without any explanation.
In the past, the House had claimed the delay in opening debate on the general principles of the bill was because the Budget Office of the Federation had not sent copies of the amendment bill to the 360 members.
Investigations, however, have so far revealed that the Budget Office had sent copies of the bill but the lawmakers were reluctant to take the necessary action to get the bill passed in record time.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed (PDP/Kwara), who addressed newsmen shortly after plenary, said the bill was shelved yesterday because some of its members were out on oversight functions while others particularly members of the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), were away preparing for the national conventions of their political parties.
Mohammed denied speculations that the lower chamber was playing games with the budget and disclosed that it would be considered when the House reconvenes next Tuesday.
However when prodded further on the reasons for the continued postponement, Mohammed revealed that the House had some misgivings about the bill.
According to him, the President Goodluck Jonathan sent the bill in three volumes that looked like a new budget. He expressed the frustration of the House, saying the sheer size and scope of the amendment sent by the executive was aimed at undermining what the lawmakers had earlier done when they passed the 2013 budget last December.
“It’s like starting all over again. If it is an amendment why is it in three large volumes as if we have not done anything before. We need to be told if it is an entirely new budget,” he said.
Mohammed was, however, not prepared to state categorically that the House was not prepared to entertain the bill.
“The amendment means there’s a law in place that has defects, but with the level of the amendments being proposed, its like its a new budget. The amendment is voluminous, it’s like nothing has been done in the first place.
“But don’t forget that a budget has been signed, and if someone is saying that because an amendment has not been passed he won’t implement the budget, then there is a problem somewhere.
“Unless we vote on the issue it will be judgmental to say we won’t touch it. Keep your gun powder dry; Tuesday is here and we will wait to see what happens,” he said.
The National Assembly had passed the 2013 Appropriation Bill in December 2012, following which it was signed into law by the president in February after a long delay.
The budget was signed only after the presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly had agreed to resolve the grey areas in the bill.
Part of the was the terms of the agreement that an amendment bill would be sent to correct the identified deficiencies in the budget.
In the amendment proposal, Jonathan had accused the National Assembly of usurping the powers of the executive through various clauses inserted into the bill.
Jonathan in the amendment bill asked the National Assembly to restore various budget sub-heads as he presented them in the original appropriation bill.
He retained the sum of N4.987 trillion passed by the National Assembly last year as the total budget but proposed N2.4 trillion as recurrent expenditure as against the 2.3 trillion passed by the parliament.
The president also sought the approval of N1.588 trillion as capital expenditure as against the N1.6 trillion approved by the parliament.