This Day (Lagos)

11 April 2014

Nigeria: House Joins Senate to Pass N4.69 Trillion Budget

The House of Representatives Thursday followed in the footsteps of the Senate to pass a budget of N4.695 trillion for the 2014 fiscal year.

The Senate had on Wednesday passed the budget with the same figure, which is N53 billion higher than the N4.642 estimates submitted by the executive.

With the House's passage of the 2014 Appropriation Bill, both chambers of the National Assembly will be expected to set up a harmonisation committee to resolve whatever differences they might have, especially in sectoral allocations in the budget before the document is transmitted to President Goodluck Jonathan for assent.

The passage of the budget by the House was however not a smooth exercise as Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) raised a point of order, which if it had been adopted, would have stalled the approval of the fiscal bill Thursday.

Chinda invoked Order 97, Rule 8 of the House, which states that consideration of the clauses of an Appropriation Bill shall be postponed until a compendium giving details of the budget accompanies it.

His reason for raising the objection stemmed from the charge that the budget did not make provisions for capital projects in his state.

Chinda also cited the same Order, Sub-rule 5, which states that when a bill is read for the second time, it shall be committed to a committee of the House and subsequently deliberated upon by the Appropriation Committee, which will then pass it on to the House for consideration.

However, his suggestion that the motion for the passage of the budget be stood down and the Easter break suspended to enable the House do a thorough job drew the ire of his colleagues who shouted "nay" until the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, waded in to restore order.

After Chinda's submission, the House Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) drew the attention of the chamber to Order 17, which states that proceedings on the budget shall not be interrupted or postponed once it has begun. He urged the House to suspend its rule and consider the fiscal document.

Tambuwal then ruled Chinda out of order, paving the way for the House to proceed with its consideration of the budget.

A schedule of the budget bill passed into law indicates that of the N4.695 trillion passed, N408.68 billion was allocated to statutory transfer, while N712 billion is meant for the servicing of foreign and domestic debts.

Under recurrent expenditure, ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), federal executive bodies (FEBs), service wide votes and pensions and the Presidential Amnesty Programme got N1.95 trillion, N13.76 billion, N301.838 billion and N63.281 billion, respectively.

From the N1.119 trillion earmarked as capital expenditure, provisions were made for 42 MDAs, seven FEBs and capital supplementation. The Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) got N268.370 billion.

The passage of the budget was preceded by a closed-door executive session on Wednesday, which the House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Zakari Mohammed, explained was held to "play down the issue of the legal process of passing the budget".

"We allowed common sense to prevail in order to ensure that the budget sails through in the interest of Nigerians. We couldn't wait for two weeks, as the House goes for Easter break, before passing the budget," he added.

He explained that capital projects needed to be kicked off quickly to ensure that Nigerians enjoy the dividends of democracy.

Meanwhile, the president has met with the National Assembly leadership with a view to foster better relations between the executive and legislative arms of government.

At the meeting, which held on Wednesday night and was attended by Senate President David Mark and Tambuwal, among others, it was agreed that special intervention funds should be provided for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and other critical bodies.

Tambuwal, who gave insight into the deliberations at the meeting while the House was considering 12 clauses of the 2014 Appropriation Bill, before its passage, said they discussed funding for INEC, NJC and other strategic bodies and concluded that a pool of unspecified intervention funds be set aside for their operations.

The funds will be domiciled in the president's office, he added.

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