The National Assembly may have agreed to make some changes in 2013 budget it had since passed so as to break the impasse after President Goodluck Jonathan had withheld assent, Daily Trust has learnt.
The President proposed N4.487 trillion budget but the National Assembly raised it to N4.987tr, making fresh proposals of their own.
The legislators passed the budget on December 19 and forwarded it for assent, but President Jonathan sent it back, saying the changes were not acceptable.
The three striking points in the budget dispute include the oil bench mark. The presidency had pegged the crude oil benchmark at $75 but the National Assembly raised it to $79 per barrel.
The lawmakers also cancelled allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) but the President said the commission should have its allocation back.
The zero allocation to SEC was as a result of refusal of the President to sack the Director-General, Ms. Arunma Oteh over allegations of gross misconduct.
Also, the legislators made provisions for constituency projects totalling N63 billion, but Mr. Jonathan said this too should go.
They argued that because of poor implementation of the capital projects in the 2012 budget, they have rolled over some of them not implemented, especially ‘constituency projects’ into 2013. The President said it is illegal.
The legislators are now said to be making some “allowable changes,” but denied they are caving in to pressure from the Presidency.
Speaking to Daily Trust yesterday, chairman House Committee on Appropriations Rep. John Owan Enoh (PDP, Cross Rivers) said both the executive and the legislature were meeting to resolve the impasse. Enoh said: “There are few allowable changes that will be made”. He did not elaborate.
But when asked whether the constitution allows the leadership to make those changes to the budget at this point without bringing it to the chambers, Enoh said: “That is why I said allowable changes”.
He stressed that parliament has “absolute powers” over budget. In the extreme case “we consider the president’s bill as a mere proposal for our consideration”.
Enoh insisted that the National Assembly as an institution would not go to court to seek interpretation as to which arm of government holds the ace over budget because “it is the executive that doubts our powers so they should go to court”.
However, a ranking Senator who spoke off record said the leadership had insisted to the President that they cannot make any changes to the budget because it had been passed by the National Assembly. He said it was pointed out to the President that if he has any issues with the document, he should sign it and thereafter send in a supplementary budget or a proposal for virement.
‘Delay in budget approval will heighten risk of doing business’
Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, MudaYusuf said delay in approving the budget would further heighten risk of doing business as well slow down investment inflow and production capacity in the country.
Speaking to Daily Trust at the weekend, Yusuf warned that delay in signing the budget would entrench the vicious cycle of poor budget implementation.
“Definitely, continued delay would affect implementation, especially the capital component of the budget. The risk is that recurrent spending will be fully implemented while capital projects suffer the usual implementation shortfall.
“Strategic planning for many organisations takes a cue from the budget structure and the policies that come with it. To the extent that the budget is not in place, uncertainty and associated business risks in the economy are heightened,” he said.
Yusuf said there is need for better communication between the National Assembly and the executive arm of government.
“They need to be on the same page with regard to the fundamental principles of the budget. The ruling party has a role to play in this matter, especially when it has the majority in the legislature. It seems also necessary to clearly define the boundaries of responsibilities between the executive and legislature in budgetary appropriations to avoid this recurring problem of delays. A judicial pronouncement is necessary to lay the matter to rest”, he said