Indications emerged yesterday that President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Assembly are heading for another round of showdown over the 2014 budget, due to some amendments in the Appropriation Bill by the federal lawmakers, which are not acceptable to the President.
Recall that President Jonathan and the lawmakers had earlier been entangled in a bickering bordering on oil benchmark and other oil production indices, which eventually delayed the Appropriation Bill for more than six months.
The President had proposed daily oil production of 2.7 million barrels per day, at an international oil benchmark price of $74 per barrel, while the federal lawmakers protested against this and increased it to $79 per barrel.
To this end, a harmonisation committee was set up- which included delegates from the executive, members of the Appropriation Committees of both Senate and House of Representatives, who met and agreed on oil benchmark of $77.5 per barrel.
However, more than one month after the budget was passed by the lawmakers and sent to the President for assent, fillers from that quarters indicate that it is still being sat upon due to some alleged alterations by the lawmakers, which Jonathan appears not ready to accept.
Investigation by our correspondents revealed that President Jonathan has faulted the 2014 budget as passed by the federal lawmakers on three major grounds.
Our source said the decision by the lawmakers to increase the money which the executive had appropriated to some specific projects, and which resulted in the budget being jerked upwards by N57 billion, is a major factor why Jonathan refused to assent to it.
It was further revealed to our correspondents that the benchmark price of $77.5 per barrel of crude oil which was arrived at by the harmonisation committee of both arms is allegedly not suitable to the President; hence he has refused to sign the budget.
This is particularly against the background that the original benchmark proposal by the executive was $74 per barrel of crude oil, before the House of Representatives vehemently refused to accept it.
our reporters reliably learnt that the third issue in contest is the constituency projects of the lawmakers. Our Source said that the President has expressed doubt over the figures budget for the constituency projects of the lawmakers.
When contacted for comment on the constituency project issue, the Senator Representing Yobe north, Alkali Jajere, said the constituency projects of the lawmakers are very indispensable.
He argued that constituency projects remain the only means through which most constituents of the federal lawmakers have a feel of the federal government.
“Constituency projects are the only way through which most of our constituents in the north have a feel of the federal government. In my constituents for example, there has not been any federal government project over the last three years”, Jajere said.
Responding to questions on why the 2014 budget is still being delayed one month after its passage, the Senate spokesman, EnyinnayaAbaribe, said the lawmakers have done their own part, even as he pointed out that signing of the budget is the prerogative of the President.
According to him, “I believe the questions should be directed to the Presidency. The National Assembly has not been communicated to formally with respect to any issues. It is the prerogative of the Presidency to schedule the signing ceremony”.
Also, the Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Media and Publicity, Zakari Mohammed, said, the president can choose when and where to sign the budget at his convenience, but as far as the House is concerned they have done their job.
“This is a speculation, nobody has come out openly, either the Minister of Information or the spokesman of the President to say that the President cannot sign the budget, so as far as this is concerned, it is a mare speculation and we don’t react on speculations. What if after they come out and denied the statement?”.
When contacted on the issue, a senior official of the Federal Ministry of Finance, who declined to be named, tacitly confirmed the spat between the executive and the legislative arms over the 2014 budget.
According to the top finance ministry official, there was an initial delay in transmitting the harmonized budget to the Presidency by the National assembly.
The official said, however, that after the budget was received “it was released to the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), for them to peruse the signed document and identify alterations made by the National Assembly to their respective proposals”.
The official said that the executive arm of government had noted with great concern, the ‘cynical adjustments’ made to the original estimates submitted to the parliament.
The official however, noted that the MDAs have since referred the budget to the Presidency and assured that in a matter of days, the dispute will be sorted out and the President will assent to the budget.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, yesterday also confirmed that the delay in signing of the 2014 Budget by President Jonathan was due to distortions by the National Assembly to the Appropriation Bill.
Maku said, “The Minister of Finance briefed us yesterday at the FEC relating to the progress on the budget. It is very sad that we have almost entered the middle of the year and we don’t have a budget.
“This indeed is sad that the budget has taken so long in coming and practically we have less than seven months to execute the budget.
“We will do everything possible to reconcile the few differences that emerged in what was transmitted to the government by the national Assembly.
“There are few areas of distortions and they are those areas that are very serious and we think there is a need to look into them because of the negative impact those distortions may have on the implementation of the budget.
“There is a lot of conversation going on now between the Federal Ministry of Finance and the National Assembly on these issues. And very shortly we believe that we are going to reconcile those areas and then the final budget will be announced to the nation by the President.”
It will be recalled that both chambers of the National Assembly had, in passing the 2014 Budget, raised the figures to N4.695 trillion from the N4.642 trillion estimates submitted by the Executive.
The 2014 budget is made up of statutory transfers, N408.687 billion; debt servicing, N712 billion; recurrent expenditure, N2.454 trillion; and capital expenditure, N1.119 trillion.
In the Appropriation Bill submitted by the Executive, the recurrent expenditure was put at N2.4 trillion while capital expenditure was N1.1 trillion.
The budget passed was based on an oil price benchmark of $77.5 per barrel and crude oil production of 2.3883 million barrels per day.