2016 Budget: Buhari triggers semantic war in House of Reps

2016 Budget: Buhari triggers semantic war in House of Reps

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 6:09 pm

Speaker Dogara

Speaker Dogara

What’s the difference between ‘amendment’ and ‘correction’? Merriam Webster dictionary sees the two words as the same as it defines correction as : a change that makes something right, true, accurate, etc. the act of making something (such as an error or a bad condition) accurate or better : the act of correcting something. It also defines it further “as the action or an instance of correcting: as a : amendment, rectification”.

In Nigeria’s House of Representatives, an attempt by Speaker Yakubu Dogara to draw a line of distinction between amendment and correction provoked some heated debate in the House today, as the leader of the minority party challenged him.

It all started with the letter from President Muhammadu Buhari to the House of Representatives withdrawing “the faulty details” of the 2016 budget. The President in his letter seeks to make some ‘corrections’ in the document.

A similar letter was sent to the Senate.

But in the House, no sooner had the Speaker read the letter from the president than the Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor opposed the content of the letter from the President

While quoting Section 80(4) of the constitution and Order 91 of the House, he said the constitution said the budget must be submitted in a timely fashion and that the House Rule (84) permits Chairmen of committees to amend the budget in line with the needs and interests of Nigerians.

Ogor further argued that there is therefore no need for the president to write a letter for the amendment of the appropriation bill.

Quoting Rule 84 of the House, Ogor said: “Any committee to which the budget is commuted shall have the power to amend. The issue of amendment is the responsibility of committees, not a situation where an amendment is being proposed with all the attendance crisis.

“To avoid unnecessary complexity we should look at it at committee level and the chairmen of committees should do the amendment, Instead of having two documents.”

But the Speaker corrected Ogor saying the President is asking for a “correction” not “amendment” and that only the president has the right to do such.

“Communications from the President are not to be debated. You’re talking of amendment; there is nowhere in the letter that the president talked of amendment. The president talked of correction.

“What we’re saying is that there’s a difference between amendment and correction. If the president has said that, which I know he is the only person that can correct, we as a responsible parliament will work on the corrected version.

“The rule 84 referred to is because it’s a bill. It falls within our purview to make laws, to make amendments but does not relate to corrections.”

Dogara’s response triggered applause from APC members as he seemed to have knocked out Ogor’s argument.

There was no such furore in the Senate, whose leadership had last week blamed the President’s National Assembly senior assistant of giving it a budget document, different from the one Buhari laid before the joint session on 22 December.

President Muhammadu Buhari in his letter now seeks to submit a corrected version of the 2016 budget to Nigeria’s National Assembly.

The overall figures remain unchanged, Senate President told the senators.

“In this regard, please find attached the corrected version. This is the version the National Assembly should work with as my 2016 budget estimates. The draft bill remains the same and there are no changes in any of the estimates,” the letter stated.

Last week, Nigerian newspapers were awash with stories about the budget going “missing” or having been “stolen”, followed by speculation that two versions were floating around.

At the weekend, presidency and senate sources said that a letter had been sent to the two houses and that corrections would be made.

As lawmakers start debating the budget on Wednesday, further adjustments could be made such as to the assumed oil price, currently at $38 a barrel – well above the current market price.

Nigeria’s 6.08 trillion naira budget would see its deficit double to 2.2 trillion naira ($11 billion) under his administration’s plans. Capital expenditure would also be tripled for much needed infrastructure.

Brent crude, which gives Nigeria around 95 percent of its foreign earnings, has been crashing since the end of 2014 and slumped below $28 a barrel, a 12-year trough. This has sent the naira spiralling to record lows against the dollar on the parallel market amid dwindling FX reserves.

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