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Don’t sign 2016 Budget, Southern senators tell Buhari

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  • As House says it may reconsider budget

The controversy trailing the 2016 budget of the Federal Government got messier, yesterday, as legislators in the two chambers of the National Assembly, NASS, broke ranks with the official position of NASS which blamed the Presidency for the fiasco. While senators from the southern part of the country, in a formal position, asked the President not to give his assent to the budget, members of the House of Representatives in a closed-door session rose against Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who they blamed for orchestrating the face-off.

The southern senators and members of the House of Representatives from across ethnic and party lines were miffed by what they described as the central role of Jibrin in removing the Calabar–Lagos rail line from the federal budget.

While the Southern senators asked the President not to give his assent without the inclusion of the rail line, the House requested the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, to interface with President Muhammadu Buhari towards resolving the imbroglio. The face-off in the House ensued shortly after it went into a closed-door session and Speaker Dogara sought explanations from Jibrin on the issues concerning the budget. As Jibrin got up to explain the procedure adopted, he was faced with criticisms from several members, leading to an uproar. Members in different tones, accused him of muddling up the reputation of the House and putting the legislature and the Presidency in an unnecessary face-off.

They alleged that recommendations put up by the House committees were unilaterally tampered with by the Jibrin-led House Committee on Appropriation. At the end of the session with members seemingly convinced that the problem arose from the legislature, the members urged the speaker to seek audience with the President to remedy the situation.

Reading the resolution after the closed-door session, Speaker Dogara said:  “In the interest of our people, in view of the prevailing economic situation, the House has decided to re-examine the 2016 budget.”

Briefing journalists after plenary, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, reiterated the claim that the rail project was not contained in the original budget proposal laid before the National Assembly by the President. “We are not saying that as a House that the Calabar-Lagos rail project is not good, we know it is a viable project. “Our concern is that people say that this thing was in the budget, and we removed it. That is why we are making this clarification and again I want to state it clearly that up till now, as I speak, there is no communication from the executive, the President to the National Assembly about the budget.

“All that we read in the media are other people’s opinions, but Mr. President has not come out clearly, and this is my problem with the budget that has been passed because as we were told, this budget has been taken back to Ministries for them to examine and get back to the President. “That is why we asked our speaker to liaise with the executive, let’s know what is the issue because we are elected by the people and we are here to serve Nigerians.” Mistrust, suspicion However, a member that spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said the problem with the budget was the issue of mistrust and suspicion.

The source stated that since the election of presiding officers, there had been suspicion, adding that the controversy generated by the budget issue was not supposed to arise. The source also told Vanguard that at the closed-door session, some members had called for Jibrin’s resignation as chairman of the Appropriation Committee. “The Appropriation Committee Chairman was accused of making statements that were not approved by the House. He helped in escalating the situation, and that was why some members called for his resignation,” the lawmaker said.

For the second day running since the Senate resumed from the Easter break, the plenary went off without a mention of the budget controversy on the floor.

However, outside the chambers, it continued to engage the attention of senators. South East, South-South and South West senators, who met in separate caucuses, have also separately resolved to jettison the budget as passed by the National Assembly and urged the President not to sign the document until the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included. The South-South, South East, and South West legislators met separately on Tuesday night where they arrived at the same conclusion.

The meeting of the South West senators took place at the residence of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, APC, Lagos East, who himself is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport. As the controversy broke last week, Senator Ashafa on Monday confirmed that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was contained in the report of his committee to the Senator Danjuma Goje-led Committee on Appropriation.

Senator Adesoji Akanbi, APC, Oyo South, who confirmed the meeting, said the APC caucus in the South West was solidly behind Ashafa’s stance. Senator Akanbi said that presidential assent to the budget document as presented, without the inclusion of the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail project, would not be in the interest of the people of the South West. “Personally, I see no reason the funds in the Ministry of Transport should be moved completely to the Ministry of Works for the construction of roads which belongs to state governments, without engineering design.

“We are seeking the reversion of this decision because the Calabar – Lagos rail project is very viable and it cuts across states in the South-South and South West, and it would galvanise the social and economic activities of the affected regions. “Apart from this, the project is a joint venture between Nigeria and China and it is time bound. Any attempt to leave it out of the budget this year will affect the execution of the project.”

Senator Akanbi noted that the argument of the appropriation committees that they could not accommodate the Calabar-Lagos rail project, because it was not included in the budget presented by Buhari, was not tenable because a supplementary provision was supplied. He said that a similar situation happened in the committee of solid minerals when the rents on some of the ministry’s property were omitted in the budget presented.

The senator explained that officials of the ministry were asked to go and re-present a supplementary budget of N5m, which was instantly included by the committee and presented to the appropriation committee and consequently accommodated. “The situation is similar to what happened in the Committee on Land Transport because the supplementary budget presented by the Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, was allowed in the parliamentary process.

“Why should the money in the transportation ministry be moved to the ministry of works and voted for the construction of roads that had no engineering design and do not even belong to the federal government?” However, some lawmakers are insisting that since the budget had been passed, the only option open to the President was to present a supplementary budget to cover the shortfall.

In the meantime, the House of Representatives is to re-examine the controversial 2016 budget.

The lawmakers have mandated Speaker Yakubu Dogara to meet with President Mohammadu Buhari with a view of identifying areas of concerns in the passed budget.

The House also sworn in three members from Rivers State who won the National Assembly rerun.

The House promised to accomodate all grey areas following a re-examination of the document with the executive.

The House’s position is, however, contrary to the position of the Senate, which on Tuesday  foreclosed a revisit of the document.

The decision was announced by Dogara after a two-hour executive session where various opinions were said to have been raised.

Dogara said the decision of the House was necessitated by the prevailing economic situation facing the country.

He said: “In view of the prevailing economic  situation  and in in the interest of our people, we have resolved to reexamine the budget with a view of ironing out any differences with the executive.

“This is for the overall interest of the country in order to have a workable budget that is implementable.”

House Spokesman Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), later at a press briefing on what transpired at the executive session, insisted that the controversial Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in either the initial budget proposal presented by President Buhari nor in the reviewed version.

According to him, the House has not seen the document as flawed since the Presidency has not officially reacted to the passed bill.

As a result, he said, the House is not in a position to decide that something is wrong with it.

Namdas, however, noted that the decision to reexamine the document was due to current economc situation as well as media and public reactions on the status of the passed bill.

He said: “As a House, at the executive session, we mandated the Speaker to liaise with President Muhammadu Buhari to know what the problem is and to  identify the areas of concern.

“This is because the President has not made any official statement concerning the document but we have resolved to accomodate whatever areas of concern that might be raised in the interest of the nation.

“Up till now, there has been no communication from the Presidency to the National Assembly about the Lagos-Calabar rail project as Mr President has not made any comment on it.”

The spokesman said issues of amendment or supplementary budget were not discussed at the closed door session, “Whatever the case, we have done our job by transmitting it to the President and we cannot do anything since the President is still acting in accordance with constitution,” he said, adding:

“To us, nothing has happened to the budget and we cannot do anything before then because nothing is before us to suggest that something is wrong with the passed budget document, everything is in the realm of speculation”.

When asked to confirm if  Appropriation Committee Chairman Abdulmumin Jibrin was barred henceforth from making official comments on the budget, Namdas said such never came up.

“Every member of the House as well as Chairmen of Committees have rights to make media comments on issues, but it is only the House spokesman that have the powers to speak on behalf of the House,” he said.

The Nation  gathered that the role played by some lawmakers in the budget row was hotly debated at the session.

A lawmaker, who pleaded not to be named, said members were concerned that they were left in the dark about the preparation of the budget.

Without mentioning the lawmaker(s) involved, the source said that the agitation of his colleagues was due to lack of information and, were disappointed about the controversies over the Lagos-Calabar rail project among other anomalies identified in the document.

In his reaction, the Minority Leader of the House, Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta) said the executive should stop resorting to blame game on issues it can resolve through dialogue, instead of confrontation.

He said: “Nobody can take away the power of Appropriation from the National Assembly.

“If anyone thinks he can bring a budget to the legislature and it would be returned to him the same way, he must be dreaming”.

Also, three members from Rivers state were sworn in yesterday at plenary.

The members had won the National Assembly re- run elections in their various constituencies..

The lawmakers that took the oath of of office and  allegiance were  Betty Apiafi (PDP) representing Ahoada East/Abua/Odual East constituency; Chinda Kingsley Ogundu (PDP) Obio/Akpor constituency and Nsiegbe Blessing Ibiba (PDP) representing Port- Harcourt 11 constituency.

Vanguard with additional report from Nation

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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