From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Barring further discovery of contentious areas, the 2013 Appropriation Bill will be signed this week by President Goodluck Jonathan. Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, John Enoh, who disclosed this said both President Jonathan and the National Assembly were in talks to resolve grey areas that had caused a delay in the signing of the budget.
Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala had, similarly, assured last week that the budget bill would soon be assented to by President Jonathan. The President has declined to sign the Appropriation Bill, which was passed in October and transmitted to him in December by the National Assembly due to the existence of some contentious issues in the budget. Speaking during a special forum organised by journalists last weekend, Enoh said though concerns being raised by Nigerians over the delay in the signing of the budget were genuine and called for, there were clear indications that the President would perform the excercise this week.
He did not specify the date it would likely take place. He noted that despite the delay in the signing of the budget, if it was assented to this week , it would be considered an improvement on the previous years. He said: “ Quite a lot of contact has been going on, a lot of discussions have been going on to the extent that if before the end of this week, the Bill is assented to, we would still be better than previous years.” He added: “Let me also say this, if you compare 2013 Budget Bill to the previous budget bills and if the discussions that are on-going are positive, although the constitution indicates that after 30 days without assent, that the National Assembly can make it a law, without requiring the assent of Mr. President there is reason not to despair.”
On the speculation that the President’s refusal to sign the budget was as a result of the padding of the estimates by the National Assembly as well as the issue of constituency projects, Enoh dismissed the claims as baseless . He also denied that the delay was as result of the hiking of the oil benchmark by the lawmakers. According to him: “I think the language of padding is not a very civil language in a democracy particularly in a Presidential Democracy. I have had cause to talk to people on this. You see, parliaments can be defined in terms of how much power they have over the budget.
“There are parliaments that are budget making parliaments and I think that if you look at our constitution, we are virtually a budget making parliament. What it means for example is that if you stretch it to the limit, the President’s proposal can be regarded as dead on arrival. “But that is if you stretch it to the extreme, I am not sure that that is where we are. I mean by the practice of our democracy, you cannot start from the extremes.”
Further exonerating the National Assembly of blame in the jerking up of the budget estimates Enoh argued that “the issue of the budget or the Bill being overburdened by constituency projects that are un-implementable are actually matters that have always been there. I think that what the House is lacking really is the will to want to do what it should do. I think that it has to do with the lingering argument on who has the powers over the budget-Whether it is the executive, whether it is the National Assembly. “And until this is resolved, perhaps this budget row will keep lingering on and on.
If you are talking about the constituency projects, it depends on what a particular member of the House or Senator wants to put as a constituency project. There is a certain provision that is contained in the President’s proposal to the National Assembly of a certain sum of money that is devoted for that. “ On the allegation that the National Assembly raised the budget figure to help the leaders generate enough fund to prosecute their elections, the Committee chairman described the the allegation as untrue and wicked.
He said “ There are too much talk about raising the size of budgets. But let us not forget that if you compare this seventh assembly to the previous assembly, I think we deserve some praises in terms of its responsible and disciplined approach to the budget. “ Prior to the 7th assembly, if you compare the aggregate expenditure figures between what proposals the President came with and what eventually got out of the National Assembly, the difference will be at least N200 billion. Beginning from 2012 including 2013, the increase in terms of size of budgets has hovered around N50 billion.” . Sent from my iPad