APC gets early win in House of Reps, stalls 2014 budget debate

Inside the chambers of the House of Representatives

An APC lawmaker accused President Jonathan of breaching the law in the presentation of the budget

The All Progressive Congress, APC, secured an early lead Tuesday in its struggle against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, after its lawmakers instigated a reschedule of the 2014 budget debate at the House of Representatives, as directed by the APC’s leadership.

The House of Representatives said it would now commence debate on the budget- originally scheduled for Tuesday- only after reviewing a claim by an APC member that President Goodluck Jonathan failed to submit the budget estimates of 31 statutory government agencies, alongside the national budget.

A six-member select committee, headed by the chairman, House Committee on Business and Rules, Sam Tsokwa, will advise the house leadership within 24 hours on whether the process of submitting the budget by the president, breached the Fiscal Responsibility Act, as claimed by Emmanuel Jime, who represents Benue State.

Under the 2007 law, the 31 agencies, which include the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, are mandated to submit their budgets to the National Assembly through the Finance Ministry.

That stipulation has been violated for years, and the Senate and the House have struggled to compel the executive to comply. In 2013, as with 2012, the two chambers threatened to suspend consideration of the entire budget until the outstanding estimates were provided.

The threats were never implemented as the budgets were often passed on a compromise between the two arms of government.

At a tense session Tuesday, Mr. Jime, who defected to the APC last week, reintroduced that longstanding concern as a breach of the law, apparently in keeping with the House APC caucus’ vow to heed its party’s directive that its members frustrate all executive proposals.

The party has said it will only reverse its order after Mr. Jonathan restored normalcy in Rivers State, where a standoff between Governor Chibuike Amaechi and loyalists of Mr. Jonathan -the two backed by factions of the state assembly- has degenerated into repeated crises.

Mr. Amaechi recently defected from the PDP to the APC.

At a meeting on Monday, the APC national leadership urged its members in the House of Representatives to be firm and ensure its directive on executive proposals, is implemented.

With its considerable numerical advantage in the House as against the Senate, Tuesday’s sitting was seen as a test of the party’s lawmakers’ commitment to the mandate.

Arguing on a point of order as the budget was introduced for open debate, Mr. Jime outlined the requirement of the Fiscal Responsibility law and warned that the House would be complicit if it failed to compel the executive to compliance.

“We can never allow a breach of our law. This particular budget presentation has breached our laws,” he said.

Mr. Jime’s arguments were however addressed by John Enoh, a ranking PDP member, who chairs the House Appropriation Committee. Mr. Enoh spoke to an applause from PDP members, highlighting the partisan tinge of the debate.

He said the estimates of the 31 corporations had been submitted, but argued they are to be reviewed only by the committees responsible for each of the organization. “I disagree that the budget is presented in breach of any law whatsoever,” he argued.

The speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, however said Mr. Enoh’s response was “his opinion” while Mr. Jime’s concern was a “matter of law”.

He mandated a committee to advise the House on Wednesday.

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