This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: NNPC Denies Delaying 2013 Budget

The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has said it is not in any way causing delays in the passage of the 2013 budget as recently claimed by members of the House of Representatives, explaining that it has entirely cooperated with the legislators in the budget debate processes.

This came as the Federal Government yesterday attributed the lingering artificial fuel scarcity to the strike embarked upon by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) over the refusal of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to recall its sacked workers.

Reacting to claims by the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance, Hon. Abdulmumni Jibrin, who had asked Nigerians to hold the corporation responsible for any delay in the passing of the country's 2013 budget, the General Manager Media Relations of NNPC, Dr. Omar Farouk, told THISDAYWednesday in a telephone conversation, that the corporation could not have been responsible for any delay in the passage of the 2013 budget by the national assembly.

Omar explained that the corporation had severally honoured invitations for appearance from various relevant committees of the national assembly, in which it had made presentations and clarifications on its crude oil production and revenue projection plans, adding that Jibrin's claims were unfounded.

He said: "We (NNPC) were there last week to defend our budget and whatever questions that the legislators wanted to ask the corporation could have been asked because they invited us and had the opportunity to ask for clarifications on our projections.

"The issue of the oil price benchmark also came up and was really dealt with, I don't know if there are other invitations from the national assembly for the corporation but we had appeared before the Senate and House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream) where we submitted documents containing all of the information needed by the legislators."

Jibrin had said in his accusation of the corporation: "Nigerians should blame any delay in the National Assembly not passing the 2013 budget on time on the NNPC because the corporation has refused to appear before it to explain some critical issues relating to the revenue projection.

"NNPC has projected an oil production of 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. There is the need for NNPC to appear before the House Committee to explain how it intends to produce 2.5 million barrel of crude per day. We want to know the revenue expected from gas and the status of the Joint Ventures and other projections by the NNPC."

He further stated: "Other revenue generating agencies like the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), the Customs Service and the Department of the Petroleum Resources (DPR) have appeared before the House Committee on Finance, but the NNPC is yet to respond despite several invitations to it. We have written three letters to the NNPC, but up till this moment, NNPC is yet to respond."

Jibrin also explained that the House was raising such alarm for Nigerians to know the status of the budget debate process.

However, a source at the Ministry of Petroleum Resources who would not like to be mentioned told THISDAY that the House of Representatives appears to be confused with its responsibilities in passing the 2013 budget following the seeming blame game it had just started.

The source blamed the apparent lack of coordination amongst the various committees of the House for such claims, adding that a central database of information from various government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should be created by the National Assembly for ease of information sharing amongst its committees.

"I think there is no coordination between the various committees of the National Assembly otherwise; the committees on finance, petroleum upstream and downstream and all others should be able to share information from a central pool provided by the various MDAs that they oversee.

"I am sure the information that the committee on finance is seeking for has been provided by the NNPC to the other committees it had appeared before now, and it will be quite easy for all these committees to share such information amongst themselves other than calling managers of government agencies to appear before them all the time, this will also allow them time to do the job they were elected for and paid to do," the source explained.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government claimed that the lingering artificial fuel scarcity was due to the strike embarked upon by PENGASSAN.

PENGASSAN had during the week, joined the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), to insist that SPDC management recall the affected oil workers, a move that the Anglo-Dutch oil giant has refused to comply with.

However, the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Emeka Wogu, had directed the SPDC during a mediation meeting between NUPENG and its management to recall the sacked workers on or before December 4.

But, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, while fielding questions from State House correspondents yesterday, said the lingering fuel queues in major cities of the country was being looked into with a view to ensuring steady supply of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) to motorists without hassle.

She stated that her ministry was trying to resolve matters with the unions.

The minister noted that efforts were being made to address the issues with the unions so that the celebration of the yuletide will not be as stressful as it was last year.

Previously, aggrieved petroleum marketers had held the apex government to ransom over the non-payment of fuel subsidies to them. But the government held its ground insisting that it will only pay after the sums claimed have been verified.

"Initially, the queues came out of the whole fuel subsidy issue and the fact of course that verifications of certain amounts and certain marketers claims were being made very stringently and this had to be done.

"We cannot eat our cakes and have it. We cannot keep calling out for transparency and accountability and pointing at corruption if we are not prepared to bear some of the hardship that will obviously come when you are trying to clean up a sector," she said.

She added that: "the verifications have been done, payments are now being made and like I said the queues are actually beginning to go down."

Alison-Madueke assured that the NNPC has increased its supply quota in order to mitigate the disturbing trend of fuel scarcity so that Nigerians will not groan and suffer during the yuletide season.

"We too on the NNPC side had pushed out a lot of our strategic reserve in a bid to ensure that people were not overtly put out in terms of fuel scarcity.

"And if not for this recent union issue I think it could have been completely alienated but I am sure over the next few days it will die down completely. We are doing everything we can on ground to ensure that this Christmas will not be like last Christmas," she stated.

On the liberalisation of the downstream sector, Alison-Madueke explained that the incumbent administration has provided an opportunities for all stakeholders, especially Nigerians to participate in the oil and gas business.

"I think that the NNPC is doing everything it can to ensure that there is a level playing field for all interested marketers and operators. You will bear in mind that these are private sector operators and marketers, who actually set up their facilities to make a profit and what we do on government side is to support them in terms of the allocations among others.

"For the first time in history I must say, government has supported a much greater echelon of indigenous marketers and operators in terms of setting up and also allowing them access into the sector, which is what we intend to continue doing aggressively as we go over the next couple of years," she said.

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