By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
ABUJA — SIXTY-NINE days after the National Assembly passed the 2013 Appropriation Bill, President Goodluck Jonathan reluctantly signed it into law fearing that it was replete with landmines, it was gathered.
Jonathan’s major grouse with the budget, which he refused to sign since it was transmitted to him on January 14, 2013, is that the lawmakers may use the landmines as weapon to assault him and his administration if he fails to implement the budget to the letter.
Vanguard gathered from competent sources that of particular worry to Jonathan is a clause in the budget, which states: “That the National Assembly is authorised by law to monitor and ensure that the Executive implements the budget to the letter as passed by legislature.”
One of the sources pointed out that although the clause is not a new one in the budget document, the Presidency was wary of the National Assembly members, particularly those from the House of Representatives, whose leadership, it believes, has been infiltrated by members of the opposition, who could exploit any loophole to impeach the President.
Jonathan, it was learnt, had confronted the leadership of the National Assembly and asked them to choose between outright return of the controversial fiscal bill to them or reaching a compromise on a supplementary budget.
The President’s reservations about the document and the need to sort out irreconcilable differences with the lawmakers accounted for the secret signing of the budget by Jonathan as opposed to the open tradition of doing so.
State House correspondents, who had gathered in the conference room of the President’s office, were asked to leave and await a statement on the signing of the budget following a last minute brief meeting between members of the Economic Team on one hand and the leadership of the National Assembly on the other, with Jonathan in another room.
The brief parley, it was gathered, was to enable the two parties to make concessions on contentious areas of the budget, which did not, however, yield any significant shift of hardened positions by both parties.
Jonathan rejects rollover of 2012 constituency projects
It was learnt that while the President reluctantly accepted the $79 per barrel oil benchmark and the zero allocation budget to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, on the understanding that the commission could still generate and fund its operations from the stock market, he rebuffed the lawmakers’ condition that their 2012 constituency projects be rolled over into the current budget.
It is the rollover of the projects that caused serious distortion to the budget, forcing the President to withhold his assent to it for more than two months.
Jonathan is said to have argued that doing so would stall the implementation of the budget and cause more hardship in the land. He was also said to have argued that it would pave the way for Nigerians to blame him for non-performance, thereby affecting the image of his administration, as the 2015 election draws closer.
Instead of taking the unfinished projects into the 2013 budget in addition to the new ones suggested by the lawmakers, the President suggested that the National Assembly members should forward the list of such projects to the Ministry of Special Duties for implementation, a demand the lawmakers resentfully acquiesced.
It was understood that what the President did to the budget on Tuesday night in the name of signing the 2013 budget into law, was more of a ceremonial function to nip in the bud the threat by the more radical House of Representatives to veto him and cause more friction between them and the Presidency while “an acceptable budget” would soon be sent to the National Assembly by way of a supplementary budget by the President.
...to forward supplementary budget immediately
Based on the understanding reached by both parties, the Presidency is expected to use the opportunity of the supplementary budget to expunge items inserted by the National Assembly, which the Executive believes it cannot implement rather than openly accuse the lawmakers of padding the fiscal document.
In the same spirit, the lawmakers are to accord the supplementary budget an accelerated passage for the President to sign once it is transmitted to him, unlike the painful delay which attended the current fiscal bill.
The President had distanced himself from the 2013 budget when the National Assembly added N63 billion to the figure presented to them and months of several meetings on the matter did not produce any result even with the passage of the 30-day deadline set by the law.
But on Tuesday, the House of Representatives, which is regarded as the hotbed of opposition by the government, threatened to begin the process of overriding the President on the budget, only for Jonathan to announce that he had signed the fiscal bill into law with a proviso that it would be sent back to the National Assembly “for further legislative work.”
Nigerian economy not in danger — Presidency
Meanwhile, the Presidency has declared that contrary to the claims of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, the nation’s economy was not in danger as all globally recognized indices indicate that the Nigerian economy was stable and on an upward beat.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, described the claim by the ACN as lacking in substance and running contrary to the verdicts of reputable international rating agencies.
According to the Presidency spokesman, “contrary to the claim of the ACN that the cost of producing a barrel of oil had ‘skyrocketed’ to $35 in 2012 from $4 in 2002, the actual cost of production stands at approximately $17 per barrel.
“The cost of oil production per barrel had never risen as high as the opposition claims. Even at the height of restiveness in the Niger Delta area and its consequent effect on the upstream oil sector, the per barrel cost of oil production in Nigeria never rose above $18. When compared with $50 and $70 per barrel spent on production of shale oil by the United States of America, the cost of producing oil in Nigeria which is $17 per barrel as well as a prevailing sale price of over $100 per barrel does not support the alarming claim of the opposition.
FG tackling crude oil theft
“The second leg upon which the ACN based its wrong assertions is similarly laden with deceptive undertones. For a fact, there are incidents of crude oil theft which had existed for several decades before this administration came on board. However, the truth is that this is currently being tackled through pro active steps by the government. The opposition is most probably aware of the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan recently secured the co-operation of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and French President on measures to prevent refineries in Europe from buying crude oil stolen from Nigeria.
“Similarly, the Jonathan administration has provided more and better surveillance boats for the Nigerian Navy to enhance patrol of our coastal waters. This has resulted in arrest of several vessels engaged in oil theft and these were well reported in the Nigerian print and electronic media.”
The Presidency drew the attention of the opposition to the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, currently before the National Assembly which it says was conceived by President Jonathan to provide for best practice processes for acreage availability, bidding and awards and, therefore, address the problems of dwindling oil and gas exploratory opportunities, and corruption among other problems in the sector.
It added that the need to diversify the Nigerian economy and reduce dependence on oil had also been the driving force of the Federal Government’s massive investment in agriculture in a manner unprecedented in the annals of Nigeria.
He said: “In the year 2012 alone, the agricultural sector accounted for over 75 per cent of all non-oil export; the highest output in 25 years.”
Need to reduce cost of governance
While agreeing that there is indeed a need to reduce the cost of governance at all tiers of government in Nigeria, the statement explained that President Jonathan had shown practical commitment through a reduction in recurrent expenditure from 74 per cent in 2011 to 71 per cent in 2012 and 68 per cent in the 2013 budget ,adding that the medium term target is to reach 60 per cent recurrent expenditure.
The statement said it was of concern that a political party, individual or any organisation worth its salt would chose to ignore the positive rating of the Nigerian economy by reputable international rating agencies in the last one and a half years of the Jonathan administration but rather conjure imaginary figures to make wild claims.
Negative verdict on economy
“One wonders if the ACN would have ignored the ratings by Fitch, Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s and Jp Morgan if those bodies had turned in a negative verdict on the Nigerian economy. The only conclusion one can draw from this is that the opposition has once again chosen the myopic and jaundiced path of public policy analysis rather than base its assessment on verifiable, objective indices. Unfortunately, a matter as sensitive as a nation’s economy ought not to be subjected to this fashion of blind politicking.”
While assuring Nigerians that the Federal Government remains committed to implementing sound economic policies and development of the nation’s infrastructure, the Presidency urged politicians to exhibit statesmanship in addressing issues of critical nature rather than seeking to score cheap points in desperate manner.