Speaker and Halifa Sallah clash over Appropriation Bill debate deadline

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By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT

On Monday 9th December, 2019 the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hon Mariam Denton highlighted that the deadline for the National Assembly to approve the Appropriation Bill shall be on Thursday. However, Hon. Halifa Sallah, National Assembly Member (NAM) for Serrekunda interjected to clarify that “the computation of time indicates that the date of occurrence is not counted and it excludes Sundays and any holidays.”

In response the Speaker seized the floor rebutting Hon. Halifa stating that “I’m sure Hon. members are cognisant of that fact. You don’t count Sundays and Saturdays in computation of time.”

Soon after the brief exchanges the Speaker swiftly moved the motion ending the National Assembly sitting for the day, stating that “it has been moved and seconded that we adjourn the debate on the Appropriation Bill to enable Hon. Members have a thorough study of it in view of the fact that there has been circulated this morning a revised copy of the estimates.  Taking of course into consideration the provisions of the Standing Order and of course the Constitution which is supreme.”

The sitting ended without any confirmation of the deadline by which NAMs shall approve the Appropriation Bill.

According to provision 152 (3A) of the 1997 Constitution “the National Assembly shall, within seven days of the introduction of the Appropriation Bill, give consideration to and pass the Bill.” Therefore, if a revised Appropriation Bill was tabled on Friday 6th December, then the deadline for NAMs to approve the Appropriation Bill will be on Saturday the 14th of December 2019.

2020 Appropriation Bill Deadline

2020 Appropriation Bill Deadline

Motion to Defer the Debate on the Appropriation Bill

Prior to the closing of the National Assembly, the Hon. Member for Serrekunda, Halifa Sallah highlighted that “this is the defining moment, Hon. Speaker, for this National Assembly regarding the National Budget. Section 152 states very clearly under subsection 3, it states that – When estimates of expenditure have been approved by the National Assembly and Appropriation Bill shall be introduced in the National Assembly for the issue from the Consolidated Fund of the sums necessary to meet the expenditure under separate votes for the several services required and for the purposes specified therein.”

“It is clear from this that we are talking about the approved expenditure is what should provide for the Appropriation Bill. Hon. Speaker our standing orders incorporate what is in the Constitution under Standing Order 87 (2) using the same text as what is in the Constitution but my emphasis goes further. It goes to Standing Order 91 paragraph 15. There is no ambiguity it states that the resolutions of the Assembly on the estimates shall serve as a basis for the Appropriation Bill. So, there should be no distinction between what we approve and what is stipulated in the Appropriation Bill.”

“In that regard Hon Speaker, we did approve the estimates with amendments, with prescriptions that the Ministry should go and prepare the final document for us. What we assume to be what we approved is just been circulated to us and we are yet to have sufficient time to be able to look at it and see whether it is in consonance with what has been provided by the Appropriation Bill.”

So, in that regard Hon. Speaker I will want to make the motion that bearing in mind the standing orders 53 M providing for motion to move any stage of the Appropriation Bill taking cognisance of section 152 (3) which is corroborated by standing order 87 (2), taking note of Standing Order 91 (15) that the resolution of the assembly on the estimate shall serve as a basis on the Appropriation Bill whereas an appropriation Bill has been submitted before the copies of the estimate that are deemed to be approved by us was circulated. I therefore move for a deferment of the debate on the Appropriation Bill to enable members to look into the revised copy of the estimates to determine the validity of the figures.”

The motion was swiftly seconded by the Hon. member for Busumbala

In what seemed like an attempt to highlight the failure of Hon. Halifa Sallah to provide a date for the deferment while moving his motion, the Speaker of the House stated “there is no date” followed by a chuckle and a tongue in cheek statement “I stand to be corrected, am I right?”

In response other NAMs responded to say “he said tomorrow!”. To which the Speaker insisted that “you can decide to carry it, only that we need to finish it on time because we have a time frame within which to finalise everything. From I think seven days from Friday.” In response an assistant suggested that the deadline was on Thursday. After receiving this advice, the Speaker stated that “it expires on Thursday. Well there’s a motion on the floor and it has been seconded.”

After the Speaker suggested Thursday, Hon. Halifa Sallah interjected to highlight that the deadline was more than the Speaker indicated. Not one to back down the Speaker rebutted his argument to insist that all NAMs are aware of the deadline. The session was swiftly closed without a firm deadline being confirmed as to when the Appropriation Bill debate should conclude.

However, the debate is expected to continue on Tuesday 10th December 2019. It will be interesting to see if the Speaker will allow any debates on the Appropriation Bill beyond Thursday 12th December, 2019.

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