Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shutdown: APC Reps stall 2014 Budget

SENATE1The  threat by the All Progressives Congress, APC to shut down the Federal Government got underway, yesterday, as the House of Representatives deferred debate on the 2014 budget proposals of the Federal Government. Besides, APC members in a show of muscle, also shut out their Peoples Democratic Party, PDP colleagues from having a say in motions presented on the floor of the House yesterday.
It was, however, a more dramatic development in the Senate where the PDP holds a slim majority. While APC members had their say, and lambasted the 2014 budget as anti-people and the worst budget outlay in recent years, the PDP majority nevertheless had its way in advancing the budget towards debate. One PDP senator, Enyinnanya Abaribe in taunting his APC colleagues, called for fast-tracking the budget in the same way as the APC controlled Rivers State passed the 2014 budget in under one hour.
Also yesterday, the APC rejected claims that its senators flouted its resolution on the shut down of the Federal Government. The party in a statement made available to Vanguard said it did not ask for a boycott, but for the blockage of executive bills and the 2014 budget in particular.
Though House spokesman, Zakari Mohammed had last week promised that the 2014 budget would come up for consideration this week, there were no indications, yesterday, that debate on the budget would come up for consideration this week, usually reliable sources disclosed.
APC lawmakers in show of power
Before the commencement of sitting, yesterday, APC lawmakers had a caucus meeting, where their plans were apparently laid out.
At that meeting the members had allegedly vowed to show their strength as majority on the floor, and they so proved it once the House resorted into plenary at the end of the caucus meeting.
A source who attended the APC meeting told Vanguard that “we are going to use wisdom to manage the directive our leaders gave to us but definitely executive bills will suffer.
“We are ready to face our PDP counterparts in any form on the floor of the House that I can assure you,” the member said.
A motion entitled: “Urgent need to assist the victims of a fire disaster in Rumuwoji Market in Port Harcourt, Rivers State”, sponsored by Rep Blessing Nsiegbe, APC, Rivers State became a battle ground for strength as APC members shut out their PDP colleagues from amending or altering the prayers.
An amendment seconded by Rep Bitrus Kaze, PDP, was shot down by the legislators. Members also took consideration of the fact that Kaze is the leader of the National Unity Group, NUG, a pro-Jonathan pressure group which only last Monday vowed to show the strength of the PDP in the House.
Also, an attempt by Rep Friday Itulah, PDP, Edo State to amend the motion to allow a special delegation to visit the victims was shouted down by the APC lawmakers.
Other attempts by PDP members to second motions and bills were   rubbished by APC members who shouted them down.
No mention was made of the Appropriation Bill yesterday. Rather, the House went through a rehearsal on the voting on the report of the House Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review.
Vanguard gathered that the budget is not slated for consideration this week.
Budget takes centre-stage in Senate
Senate Minority Leader, Senator George Akume was at the head of what turned out to be a doomed move to stall debate of the 2014 budget of the Federal Government in the Senate yesterday.
He called for the suspension of debate on the budget in the face of what he claimed were the absence of relevant documents that would guide senators in making contributions as required by Fiscal Responsibility Act. Among the documents he said were missing were the revenue and expenditure profiles of government, the revenue framework broken down monthly according to sector, and the document on the performance of the 2013 budget.
While calling on the Senate not to rush into the passage of the budget, Senator Akume lamented distortions in the priority of the government, citing the N700 million proposed for entertainment in the presidency and another N300 million to build up more facilities for VIPS in the State House Clinic.
Senator Ahmad Lawan, APC, Yobe North, on his part, described the budget proposal as the worst appropriation bill in the history of the Fourth Republic adding that the Senate should not discuss it without first discussing the implementation and success of the 2013 budget.
Noting the weight of the recurrent side, he said that with 74% farmed to recurrent expenditure catering to less than five million Nigerians, he flayed the style of the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who he said with the revelations of the spate of import duty waivers had shown herself to be against the poor. He thus demanded her resignation.
He also described the N2 billion proposed for the Northeast as scandalous.
Senator Alkali Jajere, APC, Yobe South also dismissed the budgetary proposals for not taking consideration of the North.
Senator Christopher Babajide Omoworare, APC, Osun East, accused the Senate of having surrendered its powers in Sections 80 and 81 of the Nigerian Constitution to the executive, reminding the chamber that good governance was a responsibility that it should show to the people of the country.
“Having listened to contributions, it appears we have surrendered to the supremacy of the executive. As it is now, the Senate should suspend the implementation of the budget and send it to a special committee to re-jig it completely and do a complete turn-around of it so that the parliament will own the document as it is required by law,” he stated.
In his contribution, Senator Abubakar Sadiq Yar’Adua said that the budget had nothing for the common man even as he accused the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of doing the biddings of the World Bank to the economic detriment of the nation.
“In this budget, there is nothing for the poor, you cannot single out one programme for the poor. Everything in the budget is for big men, the political class and the bureaucrats. The budget makes provision for about five million people (recurrent) neglecting over 97 percent of the country,” he stated.
Abaribe wants Rivers example for budget
But Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South while commending the articulation of Senator Lawan, reminded him of the fast passage of the Rivers State 2014 budget by the APC-controlled House of Assembly.
“Two weeks ago, the APC government in Rivers State passed the budget in one hour; let us copy the APC,” Abaribe said.
Senator Paulinus Igwe, PDP, Ebonyi advised that the budget should be sent to the appropriate Senate Committees for legislative action, adding, “the earlier we pass the budget the better for us.”
Earlier, the Senate President, David Mark had advised Senators “to use a national magnifying glass to look at the budget,” urging Senators to consider the interest of the country instead of personal or party interest.
Introducing the Appropriation Bill earlier, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba stated that all the proposals in the budget were laudable and tailored to meet the critical needs of the country so as to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people.
Our senators didn’t flout our order — APC
Meanwhile, the APC yesterday described as erroneous news reports that its senators flouted the party’s directive to shut down the government until the stoppage of alleged impunity in Rivers State.
The party in a statement issued in Lagos by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the presence of its senators at the screening of defence chiefs did not mean the senators had flouted the directive.
“We never directed our members in the National Assembly to boycott the chambers’ sessions, whether it is screening of appointees or plenary. What we said is that they should block Executive Bills. In any case, a Senator or an Honourable member can only filibuster when he is in attendance. Fillibuster does not equate to boycott or non-attendance,’’ APC said.
The party said it was fully aware that its members in the Senate would attend the screening of the military chiefs, ‘’just as we are sure they will be part of any debate on the issue, and we have no problems with that. After all they were elected to attend the National Assembly sessions and fully participate in its activities. But their contributions will help swing things one way or the other. That is the crux of the matter”.
Further justifying the directive, the APC said it would help restore normalcy and also benefit all Nigerians including the National Assembly which had in the past asked for the redeployment of the Rivers State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Mbu Joseph Mbu.
“It was the National Assembly that passed the resolutions on the redeployment of Mbu. Members of the PDP, APGA, Labour Party, Accord Party, who are now playing to the gallery just to feather their own nest and place personal interest above national interest, were part of the efforts that culminated in passing the resolutions in both chambers. But the Presidency simply ignored the resolutions, a dangerous trend that will make nonsense of the principle of check and balance in our democratic system and also encourage the President to flout future resolutions.
‘’In this respect, the National Assembly itself should own and commend our directive, instead of a few exhibitionist legislators rushing to the media to make uninformed comments. As far as we are concerned, we acted rightly in issuing our directive, which is meant to end the impunity in Rivers, save our democracy from descending into anarchy and protect national institutions which are being rubbished and manipulated by the Presidency,’’ APC said
Senator Babafemi Ojudu, APC, Ekiti Central also corroborated his party’s statement in a chat with Vanguard yesterday.
“Our party leadership never frowned at our participation in the screening. They never said that. What the party said is that we are free to take part in all the processes of the screening and the party has even clarified their position today (Tuesday) on that. So there is no question of anybody diso