Only a couple of weeks to the end of the year, President Goodluck Jonathan, last Tuesday sent in a fresh request to the National Assembly for the approval of N161.1bn to pay outstanding and future subsidy claims for the rest of 2012. According to him, his government's provision for subsidy payment in the year was underestimated.
This, he said, was discovered after a forensic exercise was carried out on subsidy claims for the year. So far, the government had paid after a total of N880, 264,243,683.61. Jonathan said he would still need to pay fuel importers a balance of N7,735,756,316.39 before the year runs out.
Asking for approval of Supplementary Appropriations is not an unusual practice, but the timing of this request by Jonathan is doggy. As if to confirm the suspicion, the President corralled the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly to a parley in order to ensure land-wetting session before debate on it comes up.
Characteristically, both the President of the Senate, David Mark, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal attended the villa meeting but did not come up with the same position. A couple of days later, the Senate approved the new request, while the House speaker stayed action on the debate.
We consider this move very unfortunate, frivolous and unrealistic. Giving excuses at the twilight of a budget year does not portray seriousness. If the government that has done a mere 30 per cent on the entire budget is bringing up a new vote for a sub-head like oil subsidy that has attracted so much bad blood because of its oblique processes and administration, we suspect there is more to this request than meets the eyes.
Why did the government not vire money from the other sectors that have underperformed, if it was in good faith. This request for more money to only subsidy is curious. Does it mean the economic planners did not do their homework well before tabling the request ab initio?
Many have complained about the strict regime on subsidy repayment which should give more credibility to the process and as such this kind of misnomer was unexpected. We do not want to believe that the government is trading blackmail with the populace by using the festive season to present this supplementary appropriation bill. Government will do well by coming out clean on why it is asking for more money at this time of the year.