The passage of the amendment proposals to the 2013 budget may not happen soon.
With about seven months to the end of the fiscal calendar, Senators and members of the House of Representatives are still not ready to touch the proposals sent to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan since March.
Lawmakers in both chambers considered the amendments to the N4.9tn budget, which came in three volumes, as “voluminous; a sort of complete restructuring of the budget.”
For example, at the House of Representatives, investigations showed that the majority of members were unanimous in insisting that Jonathan should implement the 2013 Appropriation Act already passed by the legislature on December 20, 2012.
A senior legislator told on Sunday: “We have a 2013 Appropriation Act in place; you can see that contracts are being awarded and projects are being implemented.
“Lawmakers are not under any compulsion to pass the amendments because they are mere proposals, unlike the Appropriation Act that is already a law.
“Mr. President signed the budget; it is a law, so let him implement it, amendments or no amendments.”
There was no indication on Sunday that either of the chambers would list the budget for debate this week.
The Senate, for instance, hinted that it might begin the debate in another three weeks, while the House gave a vague “very soon” response to a question on when the budget would be debated this week.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Ahmad Maccido, said the President’s proposals touched nearly every aspect of the budget passed by the National Assembly, meaning that they were more than mere amendments.
According to him, the amendment bill gives the impression that the executive rejected all the input made by the National Assembly into the 2013 budget.
Maccido said, “The amendment we are working on is just like another budget altogether. It seems as if the whole input of the National Assembly into the earlier budget has not been agreed to by the executive.
“They want us to look into our input as a whole. So, we have to sit down again and re-examine it. It is not something we are going to rush because we are going through the whole of the budget again.”
He further noted that senators were still studying the document, saying that he was not certain when that exercise would end.
“So, it is going to take us a lot of time like three weeks or more. In any case this is its third week. Most Senators are still not prepared for the amendment bill yet because they are still going through it. Until such a time when they are through, we cannot just put the bill in the Order Paper,” he added.
Maccido assured that the delay in passing the amendment bill would not affect the economy and governance because the 2013 Budget was being implemented.
“The time we are taking will not cause any problem because we still have a budget that is operational. That one has been passed into law. And it is the one being implemented at the moment. Until such a time when we pass this amendment bill, that budget that has been signed remained the budget to be implemented,” he explained.
Only last week, the Senate scheduled to begin the amendment after it was listed on the Notice Paper, and, later on, on the Order Paper, but it was not mentioned during the sittings.
A similar scenario played out at the House of Representatives where lawmakers simply skipped the budget on the Order Paper without explanations.
The Deputy House Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, on Sunday, told one of our correspondents that while it was the duty of lawmakers to consider any bill sent to them by the executive, they would not be in a rush to consider the budget bill.
“The amendment proposals do not negate the fact that there is already a budget in place. Very soon we will debate the budget. The amendments are about some sections, not the entire budget. We will look at them very soon,” Ogor stated.
He denied that members had resolved not to pass the amendments proposed by Jonathan.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Ogene, described the budget as a “technical issue,” which members would not consider in a hurry.
He told that the budget was referred to the Committee on Appropriation to work on the details and report back to the House.
“What I can tell you is that the budget is work in progress; we are looking at it”, Ogene said, declining to be committed to a promise that the debate would start this week.
In the last four weeks, the House has given different reasons on why it cannot debate the amendment proposals.
The National Assembly had passed a budget of N4.987tn on December 20, 2012.
The President signed the budget on February 27.
But, in March, he sent amendment proposals to the lawmakers.
Jonathan contested certain provisions in the budget such as the slash in personnel cost by over N100bn.
He also contested the controversial clause on zero allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission on the grounds that it could cripple the agency.
Another disputed provision was the crude oil benchmark for the budget.
While the President proposed $75 per barrel, the National Assembly raised it to $79.