Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: 2013 Budget - Jonathan, NASS Weigh Options Following Deadlock

Abuja — President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly were yesterday weighing their options following a deadlock in negotiations to find solutions to the impasse over the 2013 budget.

At the end of the negotiations in the Presidential Villa yesterday, both sides it was learnt were unable to reach a compromise on the issues raised by President Jonathan on why he could not sign the 2013 budget as presented to him by the National Assembly.

The deadlock was despite optimism raised earlier this week by the Senate of a breakthrough, despite the concession by the president that constituency projects would be channeled to the Minister of Special Duties for speedy execution.

Last night's meeting which was the second in as many days left the two parties dejected, raising prospects of an override of what is now considered to be a presidential veto.

The budget was transmitted to the president on January 14, more than a month ago.

Presidential spokesman, Dr. Rueben Abati, however, insisted that the president's restraint was essentially to ensure that Nigerians get the best from the budget.

He quoted Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as saying that the grey areas in the budget had yet to be overcome.

Sources, however, disclosed that the president was worried over several mistakes in the details presented to him, some of which were attributed to typographical mistakes.

45,000 ghost workers

The president it was learnt, was also concerned that personnel cost in several cases were rolled over to capital cost by the legislators. The legislators, it was learnt, however, insisted that the discovery of 45,000 ghost workers in the federal civil service had freed a personnel budget of as much as N30 billion to be rolled over to capital.

"Going by the discovery of 45,000 ghost workers it means that as much as N30 billion would now have been freed from the personnel budget and where else to take that money but to capital?" the legislators were quoted to have argued at the meeting.

The legislators, Vanguard learnt, were said to have argued that whatever mistakes the president saw should be addressed in the form of a supplementary budget to be forwarded to the National Assembly for passage. The presidency, it was learnt, was still mulling over the issue as at last night.

Continued hesitation by the president to sign the budget could spur the legislators to exercise their power to override the apparent veto of the president on the budget.

Section 59 (4) of the budget stipulating the powers of the National Assembly in the event of the president wielding a veto on the budget states:

"Where the President, within 30 days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting, and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required".

The president of the senate, Senator David Mark and Speaker Aminu Tambuwal led the National Assembly delegation to the meeting that also had the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala among others to the meeting.

Jonathan working for best interest of Nigerians -- Abati

Speaking with newsmen after yesterday's Federal Executive Council meeting, Abati said "the position remains the same as articulated previously by the Minister of Finance that there are grey areas in the document that are being discussed by the Executive and the Legislature and that once these are clarified, the budget will go to the next stage.

"There is really no problem although I see that in many of the reports, some are trying to insinuate whether there is conflict or whether there is a problem.

"When two arms of government are involved in something that is strategic as that, you can be sure that there will be need for clarification, there will be need for further consultation to ensure that the overriding objective is met.

"What is that overriding objective? It is the best interest of Nigerians to ensure that what comes out is the budget that serves their interest.

"So this is not about conflict, or territorial conflict. It's all about making sure that the best is done in the interest of Nigerians," he said.

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