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2017: Green Chamber As House Of Activities

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Although a legislative year runs from June of every calendar year, the year 2017 was particularly busy and eventful in the House of Representatives. ADEBIYI ADEDAPO presents highlights of the events in the House.

2017 Budget 

President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday, December 14, 2016, presented a budget of N7.30trillion for the year 2017 before a joint session of the National Assembly.

In a bid to ensure that the 2017 budget was realistic and implementable, the House of Representatives began the year with a critical look at th decline in revenue generation in the country. To this end, the House invited the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele and chief executives of all revenues generating agencies in the country over the proposed 2017 budget.

The chief executives interfaced with the joint committees of the House on Finance, Appropriation, National Planning and Economic Development, Legislative Budget and Research and Aids, Loans and Debt Management working on the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).

Specifically, the House committee sought to determine the feasibility or otherwise of the revenue benchmark chosen by President Muhammadu Buhari in the budget.

Also, chairman of the ruling  All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie Oyegun yesterday held a closed door meeting with  the party’s caucus in the House of Representatives over the 2017 budget .

Oyegun, after the closed door meeting which lasted for about three hours stated that issues relating to the 2017 budget were discussed.

”We discussed general issues, the budget and the progress it is making and the fact that the House has been very supportive of government and of the party. And we’ve come to congratulate the speaker and members for the way so far they’ve been behind government and the party,” he said.

Controversy over signing

Genesis of the acrimony dated back to June 12 2017 when, on the verge of signing the 2017 budget into law, the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, lamented the delay in getting the budget passed. He pointed finger at the National Assembly. The then Acting President accused the National Assembly of introducing extraneous elements into the budget. Days after signing the budget, the Acting President doubled down on his initial charges against the National Assembly, this time flagging the possibility that the members of the legislative arm of government might have acted ultra vires by inserting items that were not discussed during the ministerial budget defence before the parliament.

The National Assembly was swift in response, with at least two lawmakers, House speaker Yakubu Dogara and Honourable Lawal Abubakar respectively declaring the Acting President’s speech a breach of privilege, insisting that the National Assembly was well within its rights. “When it comes to the budget, the power of the purse in a presidential system of government rests in the parliament,” Dogara said.

Face Off with Fashola 

The minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), was engaged in altercation with members of the House of Representatives, over disparaging comments against the parliament.

Fashola reportedly accused members of the House of having a ‘stark knowledge ‘ of budgeting process.

However, the minister eventually apologised to members of the House of Representatives, over his comments.

Fashola who appeared before an ad-hoc committee of the House, set-up to investigate derogatory utterances credited to him, against the House over the handling of 2017 budget, claimed that his comments was misrepresented in the media.

He also said some of his comments were directed to the chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrasaq Namdas, and not the entire members of the House.

The minister who profusely apologised to the House of Representatives over the alleged comments denied any intention to disparage the House as an institution as well as its members.

The minister said, he could not have canvassed a position that the National Assembly or the House of Representatives has no right to tinker with the proposed budget.

“Nobody can take away the power of the legislature on budget,” he said.

 

Open NASS budget

The National Assembly for the first time released details of its annual budget following outcry by the media. In the breakdown of the National Assembly budget released, the Management, Senate the House of Representatives are to receive N14,919,065013, N31,398,765,886 and N49,052,743,983 respectively.

Other appropriations under the National Assembly are as follows: legislative aides, N9,602,095,928; NASS Service Commission, N2,415,712,873; PAC-Senate, N118,970,215; N142,764,258; General Services, N12,584,672,079; NASS Legislative Institute, N4,373,813,596; and Service Wide Vote, N391,396,169.

The National Assembly also appropriated N2,987,550,033,436 for non-debt recurrent expenditure of the MDAs that are not under statutory transfers club.

 

Capital expenditure is slightly less, taking N2,177,866,775867.

For debt service, the National Assembly earmarked N1,488,002,436,547 to service domestic debts; N175,882,993,952 for foreign debts; and N177,460,296707 for sinking fund to retire maturing loans, totalling N1,841,345,727,206 for debt service.

Clause 11 of the bill, referenced in the harmonized report, provides that the budget will run for a course of 12 months starting from the date is was signed into law, in line with the constitution.

 

Series of Investigations

The House in the year 2017 entertained motions on salient issues, which led to series of investigations. In many cases, special ad hoc committees were set up to conduct thorough investigations. However very few of the committee’s were able to conclude their assignments within the stipulated time frame, while others are still ongoing.

The House also set up an ad hoc committee to query the pricing template set for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) commonly referred to as motor petrol by the Petroleum Products Price Regulatory Agency (PPPRA).

The lawmakers described the current price regime as insensitive and fraudulent, noting that the product which sells for N139-N145 per litre should not cost Nigerians more than N70 per litre.

Chairman of the committee, Hon Rapheal Nnana Igbokwe, noted that if unnecessary charges built in by government regulatory agencies were removed, the price of the product would have been below the current rate.

While interrogating officials of PPPRA, Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigerian Customs Service officials and other industry players, including marketers, the committee discovered that the 30k built into the template by PPPRA as ‘administrative charge’ was fraudulent as the was budgetary provisions for the same purpose.

Igbokwe presented a copy of the 2016 budget as evidence, wherein the sum of N1.3billion was approved for PPPRA to cover the cost of hiring six cargo inspectors.

“In the 2017 budget, which is before us, PPPRA has a proposal of another N500m for regulation, monitoring and supply of petrol. This budgetary provisions have already taken care of the purpose for which you charge 30k on the template, yet Nigerians continue to bear the burden by paying N145 per litre,” he said.

He also observed that the 84k built into the template as port charge paid to the Nigerian Ports Authority was unnecessary, as he said the charge was meant to provide ports services, including dredging to accommodate larger vessels, the services were never provided.

Similarly, the House also mandated its committee on Banking and Currency to investigate the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and commercial banks over the sharp practice of injecting defaced naira notes into circulation.

The House also urged the CBN to urgently withdraw and arrange for destruction, of all mutilated naira notes in circulation, and replace them with new notes.

The member representing Ekiti South West/Ikere/Ise/Orun of Ekiti State, Hon. Segun Adekola in a motion titled ‘Need to stem the rising tide of defaced, filthy and mutilated currency notes in circulation,’ noted that the rate of mutilated naira notes was embarrassing.

According to him, despite arrest and prosecution of some culprits by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) there is still an existing cartel in both the CBN and commercial banks who do brisk business of recycling old naira notes meant for destruction.

“Most of these mutilated notes currently in circulation harbour pathogenic micro-organisms hazardous to human health and that infectious diseases like diarrhoea, food poisoning and respiratory problems could be spread through these bacteria infectious notes,” he said.

In the same vein, the House of Representatives alleged that the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) failed to remit about N5.6 billion in Value Added Tax and Withholding Tax to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, ( FIRS).

The House empathised the need to recover the un-remitted sum from the bank and inject it into the economy.

To this end, the green chambers mandated it’s  committees on Finance, Housing and Urban Development and Regional Planning to investigate the allegations of and report to the House withing four weeks.

Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai and Hon. Victor Onyemaechi Nwokolo, in a joint motion, titled, ‘Urgent Need to Investigate the Non-remittance of N5.6 billion by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria‎ noted that between 2011 and 2015, the bank generated a total revenue of N44.073 billion.

Out of the amount, N13.17 billion was generated in 2015 but the bank defaulted in the remittance of the Value Added Tax (VAT) collections of N2.2 billion to the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

The motion also alleged that the FMBN defaulted in remittance of Withholding Tax deductions to the Federal Inland Revenue Service to the tune of N3.4 billion;

The House also set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate the planned relocation of the company and report back within four weeks.

Speaker of the House, Dogara who was represented at the committee’s inaugural meeting by the deputy majority whip Hon. Pally Iriase noted that an improved relationship between the federal government and the Niger Delta region was crucial in addressing some economic challenges confronting the country.

“This is because the Niger Delta region sit atop oil wells where much of our revenue as a nation is derived from. ‎Relocation by the SPDC is said to be based on security concerns. This has generated outcry and agitation by the people and if we as a House do not address it, it may escalate and result to violence and insecurity,’’ he said.

The speaker added that the onus laid with the federal government and the House to ensure that justice to Niger Delta region was not denied.

The House is also investigating an alleged  $17 billion stolen through undeclared crude oil and liquefied natural gas.

Group Managing Director of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baro and chief executives of over 40 international oil companies are being invited to explain their roles in the sale of crude before the committee.

Chairman of the committee, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas   noted that the international oil companies involved had provided required documents to the committee, but said thorough investigation requires oral testimonies from concerned parties.

The ongoing investigation  revealed  that some international oil companies remitted billions of dollars into Petroleum Profit Tax (PPT) through the commercial banks without proper records.

The payments were made into the PPT account of the Central Bank of Nigeria, but available records did not show that the billions are recorded for the same purpose.

The committee also revealed that most of the payments were not found in the records of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) thereby suggesting that the oil companies did not pay PPT during the period under review.

Another ad hoc committee of the  House investigating an alleged corrupt malpractices and breach of due process in the award of OPL 245 to Malabu Oil confirmed that it would invite former President Goodluck Jonathan for questioning.

Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Razak Atunwa in a statement yesterday said it’s facts emanating from the committee’s investigation puts the former President on the spotlight.

“Facts have firmly placed former President Goodluck Jonathan on the committee’s radar,” he said.

According the statement, the former President would only be invited to assist the committee further in its inquiry.

“The committee believes that former President Goodluck Jonathan may well be in a position to assist it with its inquiries. Accordingly, the Committee is considering inviting him to give evidence before it. An announcement will be made once a formal firm decision is taken on the matter,” Atunwa said.

The House also set-up an ad hoc committee to investigate the controversial reinstatement and promotion of former chairman of the defunct Presidential Task Team on Pension Reforms, Abdulrasheed Maina as well as the face off beween Intels and NPA, amongst others.

Constitutional Review

The two chambers in National Assembly concluded voting on the proposed amendment into the 1999 constitution. The resolution of the National Assembly has been sent to the state assemblies for ratification by two-thirds majority before it is transmitted to the president for assent.

A total number of 33 bills were presented to the House by the joint committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives after its harmonisation retreat in Lagos. A total of 21 bills were passed by the House while 11 were rejected. Although, some bills including the bill seeking devolution of power to states was rejected in the both chambers, they Senate and House of Representatives also disagreed on nine different bills.

Procedurally, the House shouldn’t have bothered voting on the amendment bills that had already failed in the Senate, but Speaker Dogara said the House decided to take its own votes on those issues “in order to put its position on the record.”

Dorathy Mato Replaces Herman Hembe  

After a prolonged legal battle, the member representing Konshisha/Vandeikya Federal Constituency was on sworn-in to replace the erstwhile representative, Herman Hembe.

Mato was denied her position for about three months as the Supreme Court judgment which sacked Hembe declared her the valid candidate of the APC in the 2015 election.

 

Defection

The House of Representatives recorded a number of defections in the year 2017, particularly from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP)  to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)

This is not unconnected with the leadership crisis that rocked the PDP in the larger part of the year. Many lawmakers who defected hinged their reasons on the protracted crisis while those who defected after the Supreme Court judgment on the crisis claimed to have left the party during the crisis.

The member  representing Ukanafun/Orukanam Federal Constituency of Akwa-Ibom State, Hon. Emmanuel Ukoete a  in February defected from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), while another member who represents Ado/Obadigbo/Opkokwu

of Benue State, Hon. Saleh Hassan Anthony followed suit in March.

2018 Budget

President Muhammadu Buhari on November 7, presented the proposed budget for 2018 to a joint session of the National Assembly. The President also made a special request that the lawmakers should get the budget passed by January 2018.

However, members elected on the platform of the opposition PDP had planned an ambush on President Buhari during the budget presentation. Their grouse: the alleged non-implementation of the 2016 and 2017 budgets.

Save for the leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, the president wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of calm he got from the lawmakers.

Dogara also demonstrated the quality of a good leader when he explained with diplomacy the message his colleagues in the PDP would have passed to the president.

“Our experience with the implementation of the 2016 Budget amply demonstrates that obeying our appropriation laws maximizes the release of our potentials while violating the appropriation laws caps the release of our national potentials. This means that we have to redouble our efforts in implementing the 2017 Budget, if we must retire it in January or at the very least roll over most of the projects in 2017 Budget to 2018. No need to remind us that fiscal indiscipline is as grievous a problem as corruption which this government is busy eliminating,” he stated.



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