Law News
N’Assembly abandons 2015 budget for politics


Hopes that the 2015 budget would be passed early might have been dashed as members of the National Assembly are now engrossed in politics while the Appropriation Bill is left unattended to, The PUNCHinvestigations revealed on Tuesday.

Almost two weeks after the N4.3tn budget passed the second reading at the House of Representatives, not much had been heard about the progress of work on the document by the lawmakers.

The budget was referred to the committee stage by the Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, on January 14.

The Speaker is the All Progressives Congress governorship candidate in Sokoto State.

Although the plenary of the House is on break due to the ongoing electioneering ahead of the February elections, House committees have a mandate to work on the budget by holding defence sessions with Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government.

“It is about two weeks since the committees were directed to meet with the MDAs on this budget. But, as we speak, no committee has called any meeting. It is a signal that this year’s budget will be very late, talking about the time it will leave the National Assembly,” a legislative official, told The PUNCH in Abuja on Tuesday.

Also, about two weeks after the Senate adjourned plenary till February 17, no committee of the upper chamber had met to consider the budget of the Federal Government ministry or agency under their Supervision.

Findings showed that members of the House were directed to share their time between campaigning for the February polls and holding budget sessions with the MDAs in a bid to fast-track the defence of the proposals made by the MDAs in the budget.

“Unfortunately, that is not happening. It is two weeks on and none of such meetings has taken place. The attention of all the members is on the forthcoming elections even though over 60 per cent of them are not candidates for any positions,” another National Assembly official stated.

It was learnt that more than 150 members of the federal legislature failed to secure a return ticket during the primaries of their respective political parties conducted in December last year.

Most of the members, who are not contesting any elective positions, were expected to sit and work on the budget, but investigations revealed that they had stayed away from Abuja in the last two weeks.

A major issue the House referred to the committees for discussion is what should be the appropriate crude oil benchmark for the budget.

While President Goodluck Jonathan proposed $65 as the barrel price for the budget, crude currently sells below $50.

The House had specifically asked the committees on Appropriations and Finance to recommend a ‘realistic” oil benchmark to the House after meeting with the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the issue.

The PUNCH learnt on Tuesday that no such meeting had been held with the minister by any of the committees.

However, some officials of the Ministry of Finance claimed that the government had already made up its mind on the $65.

“The minister is not likely to come up with a lower benchmark even if she is to meet with the House committees today.

“The thinking of the ministry is that oil price will eventually stabilise around $65 before the second quarter of the year,” one ministry official said.

When contacted for comments, House spokesman, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, denied that the budget had been abandoned for electioneering.

He claimed that the committees might be meeting with the MDAs without necessarily making it a loud event.

“The committees may be meeting and holding discussions with the MDAs. There are many details to be looked at in the budget and it takes a while; there certainly will be public sittings,” he added.

But, many legislative aides confided in The PUNCH that their bosses were in their constituencies seeking votes.

One senior aide said, “Almost all of them are back home (constituency). They can’t be sitting in Abuja when other people are working very hard to snatch their seats from them.

“The rule for now is win your election first before any other consideration.Even those who know they are not coming back in June are back home because they still have to work for their political parties to succeed.”

Also, one of our correspondents, who moved round the new Senate wing at the National Assembly on Tuesday, observed that most of the offices of the senators were locked while no activity took place in any of the committee rooms.

While ruling on the motion for the adjournment on January 14, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, had said the holiday was to allow members to participate actively in electioneering at their various constituencies.

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