From JOSHUA I. EGBODO, Abuja
MORE concerns were raised by members of the House of Representatives yesterday over request by President Goodluck Jonathan for a supplementary budget of 161.6 billion Naira for subsidy payment.
Debate on the general principles of the bill which generated a lot of controversies when it commenced Wednesday had to be adjourned to yesterday to obtain clarifications from some key committee chairmen.
Speaker of the House, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal had to, however, literally appeal to his colleagues to allow the bill scale second reading, as according to him, the position of the House might be well borne out of the right information on the issues raised during the debate, and that it was important that the relevant committees go out to find answers to those questions raised.
At the resumed debate yesterday, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Mr John Enoh who stated that the supplementary Bill sent falls within the powers of the President on budget matters urged the House to allow for more scrutiny at the committee level.
Also in his submission, Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Ajibola Muraina said the idea of subsidizing fuel was not in itself bad, but that there have been so much fraud in management of the scheme.
His position was supported by Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Mr. Peterside Dakuku who called for sanitization of the scheme.
Several members in the course of the debate described the request, coming at this time of the year as blackmail by the executive arm, and well intended to pitch members of the National Assembly against Nigerians, saying it should not be approved until certain questions have been answered.
According to Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Jagaba Adams Jagaba, it was curious that the same executive which could not fund the capital projects in the 2012 budget was ready to commit over 161 billion Naira to the payment of subsidy, even when the initial budgetary spending for the same purpose had not been accounted for.
Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila also questioned the alleged forensic audit said to have been conducted as stated by the President in his letter, and the decision of the Presidency to appoint AIG-Imoukhuede as head of the subsidy verification committee, when he is on the board of Access Bank, which finances most of the operations.
Other members, including Jerry Manwe, Aliyu Madaki and Ali Ahmed opposed the proposal on grounds that the government ought to account for how the initial budget was expended.
However, Emmanuel Jime and Ken Chikere warned that not passing the Bill would send a very wrong signal to Nigerians, advising that the committee’s should rather take a deeper look on the proposals.
Before putting question for vote on the Bill, Tambuwal stated that the presentation of the supplementary Bill was a demonstration that there was no problem with the revenue flow in the country, even as he tasked all standing committees to gear up their oversight functions.
“No doubt, issues has been raised during the debate, on forensic audit and the actual figures spent on subsidy, and we can only know if committees are allowed to find out before we decide whether to pass it or not. We need to be more discerning in whatever decision we are going to take,” he stated. The Bill was subsequently referred to the Committees on Finance, Appropriations, Petroleum Resources (Upstream) and Petroleum Resources (Downstream) for further action.
From JOSHUA I. EGBODO, Abuja