Senate Changes Stance on 2013 Budget Amendment Bill

National-Assembly-1610

Contrary to its earlier stance against the consideration of the 2013 Budget Amendment Bill, the Senate has reconsidered its position as it is billed to take the second reading of the bill this week, THISDAY learnt at the weekend.

The decision to consider the bill, it was learnt, was borne out of a recent conviction that President Goodluck Jonathan reserves the right to send an amendment to any bill passed by the National Assembly as against the earlier insistence that the president could not send an amendment to a “specialised bill,” especially when the amendment bill is seeking additional budget.

By its decision to consider the bill this week, the Senate will toe the path of the House of Representatives, which last week made a U-turn not to consider the bill over claims that it was unconstitutional to legislate on an amendment to a budget after it had been passed, especially when the bill was seeking additional budget that was not included in the 2013 Appropriation Act.

It was learnt that the decision of the Senate to reconsider the bill followed a meeting of top government officials, including those from the Ministry of Finance and Budget Office, held at the Presidential Villa, where a truce was reached on the lingering budget impasse.

The meeting and the eventual U-turn of the National Assembly were also said to have been influenced by various media reports stating the pros and cons of the budget crisis for the nation.

This was also coupled with the alarm raised by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, earlier in the month that the federal government might have problem paying workers’ salaries by September if the National Assembly failed to pass the amendment bill.

The Senate, in a swift reaction to the alarm, had said if at all it would consider the bill, it would not be earlier than September when it returns from the recess.

However, Senate Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Senator Ita Enang, told THISDAY at the weekend that the committee had already listed the bill for debate this week in the Senate’s notice of Order Paper.

According to him, the upper chamber is set to take a definite decision on the bill before proceeding on its long vacation, which will end in September.

But he was not categorical on whether the bill would be passed or not, saying its passage would be dependent on the trend of debate on the matter.

THISDAY, however, learnt that the Senate is now favourably disposed to passing the bill and consequently committing it to the committee stage this week.

The crisis on the 2013 budget resurfaced on March 14 when Jonathan submitted a fresh budget amendment proposal to the National Assembly and urged the lawmakers to treat the proposal with urgency.

In the amendment bill, the executive made a slight addition to the earlier budget passed by the National Assembly on December 20, last year by replacing the earlier N4,987,220,425,601 contained in 2013 Appropriation Act with N4,987,382,196,690 in the (Amendment) Bill 2013.

The president also sought to appropriate a total sum of N2.4 trillion as recurrent expenditure as against the N2.3 trillion passed on December 20, 2012.

In addition, he sought approval for N1.588 trillion as capital expenditure as against the N1.6 trillion approved by the parliament last year.

But after three weeks of indifference to the bill, the House rejected the bill on June 26, claiming that it was totally silent on which sections of the 2013 Appropriation Act it sought to amend or repeal.

The House also said apart from being silent on the schedules or aspects to the 2013 Act that the bill sought to amend or repeal, the Appropriation Act (Amendment) Bill 2013 was seeking the appropriation of N4,987,382,196,690 as against the lesser budget of N4,987,220,425,601 passed for the 2013 fiscal year.

It declared the move as unconstitutional and asked the executive to send a supplementary bill instead of an amendment.

The House decision prompted Jonathan to send a fresh amendment version to the National Assembly less than 24 hours later, where he detailed various budget cuts by the legislature and sought the restoration of such reductions if the 2013 budget would be implementable.

Although both chambers still remained adamant after the submission of the fresh version of the amendment, the House finally opted to pass the bill for second reading last week after a meeting with the finance minister while the Senate is expected to follow suit this week.

While explaining that the president had the right to send an amendment to the 2013 budget as against the Senate’s earlier position, Enang said: “The president can send an amendment to the appropriation law. He can say that from the bill I submitted earlier, I need one clause or the other to be removed or added. After approving the bill as passed, he can say we have other projects to spend money on which were not captured in the previous bill.”

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