14 December 2012

Nigeria: NASS Approves Jonathan's N161 Billion Supplementary Budget Request

The Senate and the House of Representatives have passed the N161.6billion supplementary budget requested by President Goodluck Jonathan to pay off outstanding fuel subsidy money and to avert fuel scarcity during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

In a letter Tuesday to both chambers, Jonathan premised his reasons for the additional budget on the report of a forensic audit which revealed that the N888.1 billion initially provide for fuel subsidy in the 2012 budget was underestimated.

In the Senate, though the bill was passed swiftly, a majority of the senators expressed strong reservations, with most of querying why details of the forensic report were not made available to the Senate.

Other senators, especially those from the opposition party, who lamented that they were being 'blackmailed' to pass the request considering its timing, said that they were caught between alleviating the pain of the masses and ensuring proper scrutiny of the request, in view of the ongoing investigation of fraudulent dealings in the subsidy regime.

In his remark, however, Senate President David Mark expressed worry at the poor planning by the economic team, especially for not identifying such a shortfall while presenting the initial budget.

Mark, who bemoaned the level corruption in the subsidy regime, also stated that the decision on whether or not to stop subsidy payments should be left to Nigerians.

According to him, "All the arguments by senators were very valid and nobody went off the track. I think everybody spoke their mind as they were. It is not a secret anymore to say there is a lot of corruption in the fuel subsidy administration, in whatever system they are adopting; and I think the nation must make a decision now whether to continue this or to stop it. If we can't eliminate and stop the corruption in the industry, then the other alternative will be to stop the whole exercise of fuel subsidy and we will take the one that is easier and the one that will bring less pain to Nigerians. The reason why we are here in the chambers is to work for the welfare of our people, and anything we can to alleviate their sufferings, we will continue to do.

"The nation, in my candid opinion, must make that decision sooner than later, because we cannot carry on this way. Obviously, they should have anticipated that there was going to be shortfall when they first made this presentation at the beginning of the year. That did not happen; and we are now shouldered with the responsibility of this additional approval, and we have done so in the best interest of this country," he said.

In his summation, Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi, appealed to his colleagues to act like statesmanship and pass the bill, adding that its passage will help the country to move forward.

House of Representatives queries forensic audit

In the House of Representatives, the legislators queried the forensic audit which the presidency cited in arriving at an additional N161,617,364,911 billion over and above the N888.1 billion approved for payment of fuel subsidy this year.

House members accused President Goodluck Jonathan of attempting to blackmail them in assenting the proposed supplementary budget which, if approved, will bring the total fuel subsidy budget for 2012 to N1,041,881,608,594 trillion, just 18 days to the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

Deliberating on Jonathan's request at yesterday's plenary, the Chairmen of the House Committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Dakuku Peterside (River/PDP); Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Ajibola Muraina (Oyo/PDP), and Appropriation, John Enoh (Cross River/PDP) chorused that an attempt to reach a decision at yesterday's plenary would be rushed and that the matter would be better handled at committee level.

Peterside and the House Minority Leader/Leader of Opposition, Femi Gbajabiamila, insisted that the forensic audit should be presented before the House for scrutiny. Gbajabiamila said the underestimation of the 2012 fuel subsidy budget was an indictment on the Budget Office of the Federation. The duo demanded from the federal government actual consumption figures of subsidised petroleum products.

"The government needs to block leakages in the system (subsidy). We agree that subsidy is not in our best interest, but in the interim we have to live with it and make it work well," Peterside said.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, in an address at plenary, called for better budget tracking by House standing committees.

Tambuwal's address read in part, "Throughout this debate, issues around forensic report, actual subsidy figures, and actual requirements have been raised. We can only know this if we allow this Bill to get to the committee for them to work on it and come back with all these details that we require, either for us to pass it or to justify why their request should not be passed."

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