National Assembly on same page with Buhari on the change agenda’
Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaq Sa’ad Namdas told MOHAMMED ABUBAKAR, Deputy Abuja Bureau Chief, that the 8th National Assembly is on the same page with President Muhammadu Buhari’s Change Agenda, insisting that some people were orchestrating crisis between the two arms of government for selfish interests. Excerpts:
Lessons learnt from the budget crisis
Personally, I wouldn’t say there is a misunderstanding between the executive and the legislature. I want to say that there are people who want the two arms of government to have problems, but there is no direct confrontation from either the executive or, as far as I’m concerned, from the legislature. But there are a lot of people who have been giving out some information that seem to suggest that it is either one of the arms is not doing its job and the other is not also good. That is not fair enough. As far as we are concerned the budget was presented before the joint sitting of the National Assembly on the 22nd December, 2015 to be precise, and we gave Mr. president an overwhelming ovation then because in a long time, a sitting president has not come forward to present the budget. They sometimes sent in their Finance Ministers to represent them. But this is a Mr. President, who decided on his own to come and make the presentation. So we were highly honoured and we respected that. So given that spirit, the way we took off, we wanted a very smooth relationship and we promised Nigerians that we were going to pass this budget by the grace of God on February 25th.
But as we went on to debate the general principles of the budget, we took about three days in different sittings, and as we were about to refer it to the committee level, issues cropped up where some of the ministers came out openly to disown the documents before us. Some of them were literally exchanging hot verbal words with heads of their parastatals in the full glare of the public and as a responsible parliament, it was not going to be okay for us to pass this budget, because whatever is being debated in the plenary or in the National Assembly, Nigerians are following with keen interests. Journalists are reporting it, so how can we then come and pass a budget where there were issues involved? That informed our decision to moving it and passing it close to Easter holiday, so these are the issues.
We are also mindful of the fact that whatever we do, we want to key into the programmes and policies of Mr. President and we are doing just that. But I feel whatever thing we do, there are people who feel that we have not done enough and that is not in the interest of this country.
Allegations of underhand dealings in budget management
It is like giving a dog a bad name to hang it. There are people who have made up their minds that whatever things we do in this National Assembly, we are not regarded at all. So I believe this is the position, but I want to tell you that we heard that the Presidency had fired some people, and has stated clearly that there are some bureaucrats who have attempted or have tempered with the budget, which was clearly in violation of what Mr. President has set out. It was good for Mr. President to have stood firm and took the decision because Nigerians should be shown that this is the man who is fighting corruption.
I can say that in this National Assembly, we cannot in this spirit of change, aid anybody to pad a budget or do things that are unlawful. We are in this country and we are living witnesses to people being taken to courts on issues that have taken place several years back. So we want to maintain our good names. We are not here to create any confusion and I must state clearly, the National Assembly is not a political party or an opposition party. It is an arm of government and we are to work with the executive and the judiciary for the good of this country. This is what we are doing and this is what we will continue to do.
The Calabar-Lagos Rail Project controversy
We have heard about this issue and I want to state here that the budget proposal submitted by Mr. President to the National Assembly in December last year did not include the submission for a rail project between Calabar and Lagos. So we couldn’t have removed what was not just in that budget, this is the simple fact.
Now we feel strongly that there is need for people to do little investigations before going to the media on issues like this. I’m aware of the fact that, the Minister of Transportation came during the budget defence, and as we were told, submitted a proposal in respect of rail transport amounting to the tune of N60 billion to the Senate. But we want to point out that budget proposals are documents that are sent by Mr. President, and once it is sent by Mr. President, it is our constitutional duty to appropriate funds to the proposals. It is not fair for people to expect that whatever Mr. President sends should go back 100 percent without anybody touching it. That means there is no democracy. That means there is no point debating, putting people into committees, scrutinizing the documents, in-fact, the law would have made it easy for the executive to always propose and pass their budgets if that would have been the case.
But what we are saying is that if Mr. President feels so strongly that he needs this project, he can send a supplementary budget to the National Assembly, which is allowed by law and we have no option but to accept and consider his submission, because this is what Nigerians want. What really irked us is the allegation that it has been included in the budget and we decided to remove it, either to frustrate what Mr. President is pursuing or that we are on a different page. This is utterly wrong, and it not good for this country. The legislature is an arm of government must be seen to be working together with the other arms.
Amaechi’s proposal would set bad precedent
If a document comes from a minister, as far as budget proposal is concerned, and we accept it at committee level, that means we are going to encourage it in the future. Because you would have set a precedent where other ministers would wait until when budget is at committee levels before smuggling in their documents. And before you realize it, the documents we will be passing would be different from what the president submitted.
I think the right thing should be done. But the President himself knows that budgets cannot come back to him 100 percent. Everybody knows that it can’t go back 100 percent. But if what we passed is something that the President is uncomfortable with, he can still come back to us, and then we will look at it. If it is something that is desirable to move this country forward we will do it.
But it is not fair for people to assume that anything that is before the National Assembly is not good, I must say with all sense of humility that there are people who have been in this National Assembly for the last 16 years working on budgets day in and day out. Yes, some of us are new, but there are old hands here, and some of them, before coming in here, were in the Houses of Assemblies, some were governors, who have presented budgets themselves, some were chairmen of councils and so on. So I think it’s not fair for people to say these are bunch of people who don’t know what they are doing. I think they should give us the due respects to this institution because it is the only institution that differentiates between dictatorship and democracy.
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