The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has said that its members who are opposing the controversial Real Property Tax Bill are cowards.
Speaking through its spokesman, Rt. Hon. (Barr) Ime Bassey Okon, the house said the decision of some co-sponsors of the bill to deny knowledge of the said bill and their comments/actions thereafter is preposterous and unpaliamentary.
Briefing TheMail Newspaper reporter and other journalists on Friday, Okon who is the Chairman, House Committee on Information said “Since the Real Property Charge bill was first read in May 2016, this House has no single record of a notification, whether formal or informal, of a co-sponsor of that bill who at any point indicated disinterest in the bill. It would therefore be preposterous and dishonourable and indeed unparliamentary for any Honourable Member to go about granting frivolous interviews and taking to cheap social media postings distancing himself from a bill that he originally supported. Whereas every member has the right to disagree with the content of legislation, the attempt to take advantage of perceived public condemnation of the bill and try to seek cheap popularity tantamount, with respect, to an afterthought, cowardice, utter disregard for esprit de corps and parliamentary ethics and contentions moreso when the Honourable members have not exhausted the internal mechanisms to seek redress. They still have the opportunity to register their opposition even at the committee stage.”
“The Real Property Charge Bill, as you would recall, passed through first reading on May 24, 2016 with Honourable Usoro Akpanusoh as the lead sponsor and 14 other members as co-sponsors.
“On Tuesday 14thFebruary, 2017, it was read a second time and in accordance with legislative practices, the Speaker, Rt. Hon. (Barr.) Onofiok Luke opened the floor for members to speak for or against the bill being read a second time.
“Majority of the lawmakers spoke in favour of the bill while only one Honourable member did not lend his support to the bill.
“The bill passed through second reading, since the members who spoke in favour of the bill were clearly in the majority”, said Okon who represents Ibiono Ibom in the hallowed chambers.
He frowned at the statements credited to his colleagues who have distanced themselves from the bill, saying it is unfortunate if they actually made the statements. He said comments on newspapers and social media platforms by the Assembly members that they were not informed before their names were included as co-sponsors are misleading.
“As a legislative tradition, every lead sponsor of a bill consults with, and issues advance copies of the bill to co-sponsors before presentation.
“Assuming but not conceding that the co-sponsors of the Real Property Charge Bill were not consulted and issued with advance copies of the bill for them to study before it was read the first time, at the reading of the bill the first time in May 2016, they had the opportunity to seek the withdrawal of their names from the bill.
“For the avoidance of doubts, at the presentation of any bill for first reading all members are served with a copy of such bill for study in preparation for second reading.
“Methinks at that point any member who sees his name as a co-sponsor of a bill he did not give his consent ought to take timeous steps to get his name expunged.
“Such a member could write to the Speaker or the lead sponsor of the bill. Assuming also that they were not present at plenary when the bill was read the first time and copies circulated to members they cannot claim not to have received their copies in their offices between May 2016 and February 2017.
“Another option open to the aggrieved member would be to urge the Speaker to strike out his name at the second reading of the bill right on the floor.
“Let it be stated here that matters for consideration at plenary are always listed and forwarded by the Clerk to members at least 24 hours before such sitting.
“Accordingly, in the notice of sitting forwarded to members on the 13th of February 2017 the Real Property Charge Bill HAB 171 was listed for second reading in the sitting of 14thFebruary 2017.
“One would have thought that any Honourable Member who felt strongly against the bill should have seized that opportunity to register his opposition to the bill especially having observed that he was listed as a co-sponsor.
“Where for any reason such Honourable Member was not disposed to attend the sitting then he still had the opportunity to write to the Speaker who would have been guided accordingly.
“Am not aware that this was done by any member. How come it is now insinuated that names were smuggled in as co-sponsors and that the Speaker is smuggling in a bill from the back door.
“Again, Order 1 Rule 15(1) of our Standing Orders provides for the quorum for the business of the House to be nine.
“Therefore when 9 or more members sit and take decisions, such decisions become acts of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and the entire House is bound by that decision whether any other member attended the sitting or not. No one member, no matter how highly placed, can hold the House to ransom”, the state legislature’s spokesman explained further.
On the alleged threat to the Speaker’s seat, he said the seat is not under any threat and that the members are solidly behind Barr Onofiok Luke.
When asked if punishment will be dished out to the members who have distanced themselves from the bill via the media, Barr. Okon said if any member is found to have erred, it would be discussed on the floor of the House and the matter will be referred to the House of Assembly Committee, Rules, Business, Ethics and Privileges committee. Incidentally, the above mentioned committee is headed one of the alleged opposition members, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Uko.
The two term legislator said the House is not divided, but that that they will watch as events unfold in the coming weeks.