By Yusuf Alli
Hope of an end to the friction between President Goodluck Jonathan and the House of Representatives brightened yesterday with the decision of the President to bow to some of the demands made by the Reps.
The lawmakers had been at daggers drawn with the President over what they termed an uninspiring implementation of the 2012 budget and the contempt of the executive for resolutions and bills passed by them.
The friction got to a head last week when they gave the executive up till the end of September to implement the budget 100 per cent, failing which they would launch impeachment proceedings against the President.
But feelers from the two meetings the President has held with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, in the past one week revealed that the President decided to yield some grounds to the lawmakers because of what a Presidency source called his “deep concern for the nation’s political stability.”
The implementation of the budget is now expected to be fast-tracked while the President is also said to have demanded a fresh, comprehensive report from the Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on the Director-General of the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ms Arunma Oteh.
Oteh was recalled from suspension by the Presidency without regard to the position of the House that she was undeserving of the position in view of the result of their investigation into her tenure.
A source privy to the talks said: “The sessions were frank as the President and the House leadership were able to identify issues and grey areas to address.
“So far, the talks have been useful; all outstanding issues are likely to be resolved on or before the House resumes in September.
“I think at the end of the day, we may not get to a dead end. Things are going to work out; the two sides are beginning to understand each other.
“But there may be another meeting with the House leadership before the recess is over. Certainly, it is obvious that the ongoing rift may end soon.”
Asked to be specific, the source said: “The President agreed that there is need to fast-track the implementation of the 2012 budget and he gave details of what his administration has done. “
The Presidency source added: ”Mr. President is committed to having everything in place. He believes that while he is addressing insecurity in the country, his administration should not give room for political instability.
“The President has asked the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to release funds to MDAs before the end of this month. The Ministry of Finance has started doing that, and it was on this basis that she had the confidence to say that budget implementation has moved from 30 per cent to 56 per cent. You can go to the MDAs; they will tell you that the situation is improving.
“I can tell you that he will address some of the issues tabled by the House. Some of the bills awaiting assent may be signed next week, although he will be taking them one by one on merit. Any of the bills which requires fine-tuning may be returned to the National Assembly after mutual consultations.
“The President has also taken steps to pacify the Senate which is also aggrieved by non-implementation of some resolutions, especially the Report of its Committee on Privatization. There may be action on reports from the National Assembly on BPE, SEC and Pension scam.
“If not for the maturity of the Senate President, Chief David Mark, the relationship between the Executive and the National Assembly would have been worse.
“The truth is that the President has tried to overlook some things but the House is not reciprocating as expected.
“On the constituency projects, the President conceded to have these included in the budget as long as it will be cost-saving, development-oriented and to be managed by the MDAs. He bent backward to accommodate the National Assembly to ensure easy passage of the budget.
“Initially, what the lawmakers wanted was N120 million projects per constituency, but the President said it could not work. They went as far as reducing it to N80 million worth of projects per constituency but they came back to N40 million after the President insisted that he would not allow waste.
“So, a deal was struck for the constituency projects which will be executed within the budget framework of each relevant Ministry, Department or Agency. They also sought leave to bring contractors.
“But after the first quarter funds were released, some members of the House started going to MDAs to ask for variation of funds allocated to projects in their constituencies. The executive arm, however, decided to stick to the budget as passed, leaving the House members angry.
“What happened during the public hearing into the management of the Capital Market and Fuel Subsidy probe on allegations against members made the Executive to be more circumspect on this budget palaver?
“The House may be making a point but the President believes that its members are doing so with politics. Right from inception, the relationship between the Presidency and the House has not been cordial. There is that suspicion that may be the Speaker and some PDP members in the House are working for the opposition.”
The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, however, said no member of the chamber is involved directly or indirectly in the execution of constituency projects.
Mohammed said: “It is unfortunate that there is a deliberate attempt to smear the image of House members on the constituency projects. The House has said it but I want to repeat that we are not contractors and we have nothing to do with the award and execution of constituency projects at all. It has been the exclusive right of the Executive to execute constituency projects.
“When the budget came, the President gave an envelope for constituency projects. They consulted and they asked National Assembly members what projects they would want executed based on the needs of their constituency or Senatorial District .
“Based on the overtures, members only provided areas of need and likely locations for these constituency projects, which are meant to accelerate development at the grassroots.
“No member of the House has anything to do with the award and execution of these constituency projects.
“The projects are even under sub-head in MDAs that are relevant to them. If members are not awarding and executing projects, it is sad to cast aspersion on them that they are asking for variation of the contract sums. There is no iota of truth in this allegation.”When we cried out on non-implementation of the 2012 budget, we did so in the interest of the nation. We assisted the President to know why things are not working because at the end of the day, Nigerians will blame him.”