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Budget padding: Dogara shuns police invitation

Written by Maritime First
  • As El-Rufai says FG may force CBN to reduce lending rate

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has shunned the invitation of the police Special Investigating Panel over allegations of budget padding.

The PUNCH reliably gathered on Wednesday that the Speaker did not honour the police invitation because the letter was not signed by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.

The panel had in a letter to Dogara requested him and others mentioned in the petition to appear before it last Friday.

The Speaker, however, did not honour the invitation.  Rather, he met with President Muhamadu Buhari over the budget crisis on Friday.

While Dogara’s accuser and a former House Appropriation Chairman, Abdulmumin Jibrin, appeared before the panel last week Friday and on Tuesday, Dogara and other principal officers shunned it.

Jibrin had accused the Speaker of padding the 2016 budget in collusion with some officers of the House.

Jibrin had submitted a petition against the accused to the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, urging the agencies to probe them.

The lawmaker had also visited the police last Wednesday with documents to back up his claims.

The PUNCH gathered on Wednesday that the police invitation was regarded as an “informal invitation.”

A committee chairman close to Dogara who spoke on condition of anonymity told our correspondents that although an invitation was sent to the Speaker last week by the police, the document was “considered to be informal because it was signed by a low-ranking officer.”

He said, “The Speaker is the number four citizen of this country.

“If you are sending a letter to him, there should be a signature of the Inspector-General of Police on it.”

But a source close to the public panel told one of our correspondents that Dogara’s reason was not tenable, adding that any member of the panel could sign the invitation.

When contacted, Dogara’s Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Turaki Hassan, said he would make enquiries and get back to The PUNCH.

However, as of 9.48pm on Wednesday, Hassan had yet to return the call.

He also did not reply to a text message sent to his mobile phone.

The Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, said he could not comment because he did not know anything about the investigation.

“I don’t know about the investigation, so I can’t comment,” he said on the telephone.

Police, EFCC probe illegal –Reps

Some members of the House of Representatives took a position on the budget padding allegations by Jibrin on Wednesday, declaring that neither the police nor the EFCC had the power to investigate legislative proceedings.

Findings showed on Wednesday that the majority of the 96 committee chairmen and their 96 deputies considered the 2016 Appropriation Act as a law already in operation.

The development came as The PUNCH learnt that members of the Transparency Group were under pressure to back down on their confrontation with the leadership of the House.

An official of the House said, “The 1999 Constitution (as amended), particularly in sections 80 and 81, spell out the processes for the appropriation of government funds.

“The 2016 money bill did not only comply with the provisions of the constitution, but also followed all other legislative processes of passing bills by the National Assembly.

“The question that has remained unanswered is what the police and the anti-graft agencies want to investigate.”

Investigations showed that the chairmen and their deputies had discussed the issue and resolved that the budget conformed to the provisions of the law.

One of the chairmen, who heads the House Committee on Army, Mr. Rima Shawulu, told The PUNCH that lawmakers considered the involvement of the police and the EFCC in “purely parliamentary processes” as a waste of resources and man-hours.

“The police and the EFCC cannot investigate the internal proceedings of the House. Neither the House rules nor the Constitution of this country gives them the power to do so.

“What are they coming to investigate? That Jibrin said budget was padded? If he said budget was padded, he must bring the original. Where is the original?

“Let him publish the original. What will the police do in this case? That the House did not follow its process before the President signed the budget into law?

“If they are saying the zonal intervention projects are not being executed as passed in the budget, that is criminal, but that is not the case here.

“There is no place in the legislative process for the police or the EFCC.”

The PUNCH gathered that this was the position that the Speaker and the three other principal officers accused by Jibrin would make known to the police and the EFCC when they eventually appear before the security agency.

The others are the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Lasun Yussuff; the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor.

Meanwhile, the meeting of the Transparency Group, a group of legislators backing Jibril, failed to take place for the second time on Wednesday.

Findings showed that the lawmakers came under pressure to stop their attacks on the principal officers of the House.

But the group was said to have insisted that the budgeting process was flawed and must be reviewed.

One of the key members of the group, Mr. Baballe Bashir, confirmed that the group was under pressure.

He, however, denied that the pressure was the reason the group could not meet.

Bashir, who is from Kano State, explained that many members had travelled to their constituencies to attend to pressing demands by their constituents.

He admitted that the group had sought a review of the budgeting process to address the “glaring cases of exclusion” in the distribution of zonal intervention projects.

“Our position is that there is so much that we must address in the budget so that the problems will not repeat themselves,” Bashir added.

He stated that the group had not backed down on the call for investigation into the allegations made by Jibrin.

In the meantime, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, on Wednesday, faulted the decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria to increase the Monetary Policy Rate from 12 per cent to 14 per cent, saying the government might be forced to intervene and reduce it through legislation.

The MPR is the anchor rate at which the CBN, in performing its role as a lender of last resort, lends to Deposit Money Banks to boost the level of liquidity in the banking system and the economy.

If the apex bank wants to increase the level of liquidity in the economy, it reduces the MPR, but increases it when it wants to tighten money supply.

Before the increase in the MPR, banks were lending to customers at an average of 25 per cent, but since the new rate was announced, the DMBs have raised their lending rates to between 28 per cent and 30 per cent.

El-Rufai said at a forum organised in Abuja by the Women in Business, a non-profit making women advocacy organisation, on Wednesday, that the high interest rate prescribed by the apex bank was one of the major reasons for the massive job losses in the country.

Emefiele had explained that in taking the decision to increase the MPR, the CBN was faced with two policy choices of whether to hold or reduce the rate to stimulate growth, or increase it in order to curb inflation.

He said when considered from the standpoint that the primary mandate of the CBN was to maintain price stability, the committee decided to focus on its mandate by checking inflationary pressures.

But el-Rufai in faulting the position of the apex bank, stated that while inflation in the United Kingdom was between seven and eight per cent, the lending rate was currently one per cent.

He said, “We have a central bank that has an MPR at what? Fourteen per cent, and banks lending at 20 per cent. Only traders and drug dealers can make money at this interest rate.

“I have said it before and I will repeat it again, unless the central bank and the banking system make a conscious decision to bring the interest rate down, one day we will legislate it.

“The rate of inflation in the UK is not two per cent or one per cent. It is seven to eight per cent. But lending rate is at one per cent. I think they cut the interest rate last week.”

The governor stated that the CBN’s theory that the rate of interest must always be above the inflation rate did make sense, noting that the country could always decide the interest rate that would stimulate business activities.

“We must decide that businesses should be able to borrow at the interest rate that makes sense and politically lower rates to that level,” he added.

Attempts to get the CBN’s reaction to el-Rufai’s comments were not successful.

Repeated calls and a text message sent to the acting Director of the apex bank, Mr. Isaac Okoroafor, were not replied as of 8.26pm on Wednesday.

Punch

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Maritime First