By Joseph Kingston, Calabar
Residents of Calabar, the Cross River state capital, have decried alleged secrecy surrounding the passage and the signing into law of the state’s 2019 budget, christened, “Budget of Qabalistic Densification” which Governor Ben Ayade presented to the State House of Assembly last December.
Unlike 2018 when the governor signed the budget with fanfare at the Executive Chambers of his office, unconfirmed reports said Governor Ayade secretly signed the N1.143trillion budget into law on February 26, same day it was passed by the House of Assembly. This was three days after the presidential election. The Assembly was said to have increased the budget from N1.043trillion to N1.143trillion.
Speaking, a social critique, Comrade Edim Oqua, argued that “the date the Assembly claimed to have passed the budget and the governor signing it the same day, is questionable,” and added, “26th of February was a Tuesday after the Presidential and National Assembly elections of Saturday, February 23rd. Did the Speaker leave his election results to reconvene the Assembly? Where did the governor stay to sign the budget? Certainly, not his office.”
Another respondent, Chief Ekpenyong Ita, in a chat said, “The issue surrounding the budget looks questionable. First, the governor presented the budget without telling Cross Riverians the performance index of the previous budget estimates. There was no sectoral analysis and breakdown of the figures. And then, the House purportedly passed it into law and within a twinkling of an eye, it was assented to.
“Another issue is the governor’s request for an ISPO (Irrevocable Standing Payment Order) that will cost the state a monthly payment of N300million over a period of 180 years for the construction of the 276km superhighway. We are told the ISPO has been captured. The drama surrounding this year’s budget in most unfortunate and is condemnable. This is very worrisome.”
A staff in the State House of Assembly, who also spoke with our reporter and who preferred anonymity, said that the day the budget was passed by the legislative arm; there was a caveat to the few, who were present at the chambers to keep sealed lips.
“My brother, what we are seeing is strange. They secretly passed the budget without any information unlike before. Infact, that day, they were behaving like a cartel,” she told Orient Daily.
However, Hon. John Gaul Lebo, Speaker of the House, said the budget was not passed secretly, explaining that “for the fact that journalists and CSOs were not present and did not report the passage of the budget should not be blamed on the legislature. Our sitting is always open to the public, but only a few of you are interested to cover our activities.”
According to him, the report of the budget committee could be got from the House and, therefore, charged our reporter to meet the Appropriation Committee Chairman, Hon. Eteng Williams, to get more information over the budget. Both the Commissioner for Information, Mrs. Rosemary Archibong; and her counterpart in Ministry of Finance, Asuquo Ekpeyong Jnr; confirmed that the budget was signed on February 26th, but posited that it was not signed secretly.
By Joseph Kingston, Calabar