BY JOSES SEDE & EDITH IMOISILI
ABUJA. House of Representatives yesterday, overruled moves to stall the 2015 budget by giving a nod to President Goodluck Jonathan to delegate any official of government to present the estimates to lawmakers.
Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is set to present the estimates to the National Assembly today but, his decision to delegate the minister instead of coming to do the presentation himself led to a protest that could have stalled the budget.
Trouble started shortly after Speaker Aminu Tambuwal had read a letter from Jonathan requesting the approval of the House for Okonjo-Iweala to present the estimates today.
Leading the protests, House Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, argued that the practice over time was for the President himself to present the estimates to a joint session of the National Assembly but that since 2013, Jonathan had formed the habit of delegating the minister to do the presentation on his behalf.
He argued that while his excuse of being out of the country last year during the budget presentation could be overlooked, his decision to delegate it again this year was questionable.
“Why is the minister coming again when the President is very much in the country?”, he queried, “the way we are going, we don’t want a situation whereby the parliament will be disregarded to a point where a Personal Assistant to Mr. President will present the budget estimates to us one day,” Gbajabiamila added.
The All Progressives Congress legislator from Lagos State, had hardly rounded off his points when House Deputy Majority Leader Leo Ogor, squared up to him from the standpoint of the 1999 Constitution.
He submitted that Section I of the Constitution recognised its ‘supremacy’ and that Section 81 specifically mandated the President to “cause” the budget estimates to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly.
“It does not say the President ‘shall’ be the one to present the budget estimates.
So, it is inconsequential for the minority leader to come under privilege to argue that the minister cannot do the presentation,” Ogor further submitted amidst applause from the floor.
At this point, Speaker Tambuwal intervened to further give Jonathan backing by making it clear that the President was not under compulsion to make the presentation personally.
According to the speaker, the President can choose not to observe the “parliamentary tradition” of presenting the estimates in person, adding that his choice of presentation should not stall the estimates.
“The provision (of the constitution) does not say it is the President. Of course, parliamentary tradition expects him to present the estimates, but if he decides to go the other way, we must not be seen to be forcing the President to do so”, he continued.
Another APC lawmaker from Kano State, Mr. Ali Madaki, also came up with another point of privilege to argue that the 2015-2017 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework must first be approved before receiving the budget estimates from Jonathan.
Again, Madaki’s protest, like Gbajabiamila’s, failed, as Tambuwal overruled him.
The speaker explained that while it was the proper procedure to pass the MTEF before taking the budget, in the prevailing circumstances, time was not enough to follow that protocol.
He directed that the minister should go ahead to present the estimates , though the House would in compliance with the law, first approve the MTEF before considering the budget itself.
Findings showed that Okonjo-Iweala, who rushed to the National Assembly early on Tuesday before the start of sitting, had met with the leadership of the House for over one hour.
The meeting was said to have discussed the “peculiar nature” of the 2015 budget, particularly the challenges posed by the tumbling prices of crude oil on the international market.
A Rep who attended the meeting volunteered “there are revenue challenges and there is the problem of time. The budget is already behind schedule; there is crude oil price instability. The minister wanted the leadership to appreciate all of this before bringing the budget estimates and to solicit the understanding of the House.”
Meanwhile the House of Representatives yesterday witnessed series of defections as Speaker,Aminu Tambuwal read out the announcement of the defectors at plenary.
Five lawmakers from Ogun State moved from the All Progressives Congress, APC to the Social Democratic Party, SDP. They are Babatunde Ogunola ( Ado-odo/Ota), Adekunle Adeyemi ( Ifo Ewekoro), Olumide Osoba (Abeokuta North/ Obafemi- Owode/Odeda), Abiodun Abudu-Balogun (Ogun Waterside/Ijebu North /East) and Taofik Buraimoh ( Remo Federal Constituency).
Four members also moved from the People’s Democratic Party, PDP to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
They are: Isau Mohammed ( Adamawa) Ibrahim El Sudi, (Taraba,) Jagaba Adams, (kaduna) Herman Hembe ( Benue).
The only female on the defection train, Aisha Ahmed Dahiru ( Adamawa) moved from the PDP to People’s Democratic Movement, PDM.