War of Elephants

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National Assembly Complex

The disagreement between the executive and the legislature over some provisions in the 2013 budget is hampering the signing of this year’s budget and thereby slowing down the economy

By Ishaya Ibrahim

When, On December 20, the 2013 budget was speedily passed by the federal lawmakers, it naturally elicited a lot of commendations from many Nigerians because, to them, the jinx of budget delay had finally been broken. But two months down the line, President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to append his signature to the budget, rendering its early passage meaningless. But worse still, there appears to be bad blood brewing between the executive and the legislature over some of the provisions in the budget.

For instance, the executive is unhappy because the lawmakers, among other things, smuggled into the budget, a provision for constituency projects of which they would be the executors. Last week, Nwanze Okeidegbe, chief economic adviser to the President, said the presidency was uncomfortable with the legislators’ action. Okeidegbe said: “There is an issue on constituency project, which is on the table and discussion is ongoing. It is difficult to give a definite answer on the matter when discussions are ongoing, but we are progressing in reaching an understanding and accommodation on the issues.”

The adviser also said the presidency was disturbed with the manner the legislators tinkered with the personnel allocation provision in the budget. “There were differences in what the executive submitted in the votes for personnel and what came back from the National Assembly, as the votes were cut down. This has remained unresolved. It would be difficult to pay salaries with the personnel votes they passed and this may lead to industrial challenges,” he said. Okeidegbe, however, promised that the president would sign the 2013 budget as soon these gray areas were resolved.

But the lawmakers have also warned that they would not hesitate to veto the president on the 2013 budget should he continue to withhold his assent. Femi Gbajabiamila, House minority leader, said the Second Chamber would work with Jonathan if there were genuine grey areas. “We are already in February and a situation where legislature will have to override his presidential veto as constitutionally provided is not a good way to start the year or foster a good legislative executive relationship,” Gbajabiamila said.

But the presidency has moved to forestall any possible move by the lawmakers to veto the 2013 budget. Okeidegbe said the president had written to the attorney general for legal advice on the constitutional provision for veto. “It has become necessary owing to the unresolved issues on the budget between the executive and the legislature,” he said.

As the crisis between the two arms of government seems to be deepening, experts have called for caution in resolving the issue. Johnson Chukwu, managing director and chief executive officer, Cowry Asset Management Limited, said if the delay lingers, it would spell doom for the nation’s economy.

‘‘Last year, the budget approval did not take place until April with a consequent partial impairment of full quarter economic activities. Added to the late passage of the budget, was the late release of capital votes to ministries agencies and departments, MDAs, with most of the disbursements taking place in the fourth quarter of the year,” he said. Chukwu, therefore, called on the two arms of government to resolve their differences in the interest of the country.

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