• Senate mulls $50pb oil benchmark
By Ikechukwu Okaforadi, Christiana Ekpa and Umar Muhammad Puma Abuja
The National Assembly yesterday began debate on the 2018 Appropriation Bill submitted to it by President Muhammadu Buhari.
This is as indications emerged in the senate that the lawmakers may increase the oil benchmark from its current figure of $45 per barrel as adopted by President Mohammadu Buhari in preparing the 2018 budget to $50 per barrel.
In the House there was disagreement on non-implementation of zonal intervention projects, otherwise known as constituency projects in the 2017 budget as the Lower Chamber commenced debate on the on the 2018 Appropriation Bill.
Some of the lawmakers had argued that in the last one year, oil has maintained a steady price of over $60 per barrel in the international oil market, saying that the government should not peg the benchmark on $45 per barrel.
This was made manifest during the debate on the general principle of the 2018 budget proposal which commended yesterday in the senate, with the senators knocking the budget estimates on the grounds that the proposals were unrealistic and not based on achievable non oil revenue projections as proposed in the 2018 budget of N8.6trillion.
Leading debate on the budget, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, said all the proposals in this budget are laudable and are tailored to meet the critical needs of the country at this point of her democratic evolution.
He said the N8.6 trillion budget of 2018 has a recurrent expenditure of N3.4trillion, capital expenditure of N2.4trillion, statutory transfer of N150billion, and sinking fund of N220billion, among others.
He reiterated that the budget is based on oil benchmark of US$45 per barrel, oil production estimate of 2.3 million barrels per day, exchange rate of N305/$1, real Gross Domestic Product of 3.5per cent, and inflation rate of 12.4 per cent.
However, firing the first salvo, Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the budget is fictitious and imaginary, adding that in the last year budget the government was able to implement only 15 per cent of the capital projection.
While lamenting that only one tenth of the 2017 budget projections were realised in the non oil sector, Abaribe charged the government to be realistic in its assumptions and revenue projections, arguing that the budget is dead on arrival.
Also, senator Gorge Akumeh, said the oil benchmark of $45 per barrel is not reflective of the reality on ground, adding that it will send wrong signals internationally if the world understands that the budget of the country is based on $45 per barrel especially when the product sells above $60 per barrel in the oil market.
Speaking also, the Deputy Senate Majority leader, Francis Alimekhena, said year in year out, Nigeria is faced with budget, saying that the federal government should raise the oil benchmark. He also said that the over N4 trillion non oil projection cannot be realised.
Joshua Lidani (Gombe-PDP) said the performance of the 2017 budget especially as it relates to capital performance is very abysmal, pointing out that it is expected that by the end of the year, only 50 per cent of the capital fund would have been released for 2017 budget.
Sen. Yusuf Yusuf (APC-Taraba), said the global economy is still unstable which is affecting the economy of Nigeria, adding that Nigeria is still relying on oil and has not fully taken off really in the critical area of diversification.
Ben Bruce (PDP-Bayelsa), in his contribution, said Nigeria has been funding agencies that are no longer relevant to the country, including Voice of Nigeria (VoN) and the National Orientation Agency (NOA), which he said has non productive staff.
Concluding debate for the first day, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said without getting the revenue right Nigeria will have no money to do the expenditure.
Meanwhile, House Leader, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos), while presenting the bill, appealed to his colleagues to consider the bill which he said seeks to consolidate on gains already attained by government, even as their raise critical observations.
A point of order was raised by opposition lawmakers who demanded for suspension of the debate until work on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), is concluded and passed.
Even a lawmaker from the All Progressives Congress (APC), Rep Abubakar Adamu Chika (APC, Niger), also raised a constitutional point of order and the House Rules challenging the legality of the debate in the absence of MTEF.
This prompted the intervention of the Deputy Speaker, Lasun Yusuff who assuring Chika that it will not necessary lead to the passage of the Bill through second reading until the MTEF is dealt with.
According to him, “commencing debate on the budget without passing the MTEF does not amount to passing the budget itself, as question on the bill can be deferred to a later legislative day until the MTEF is passed.”
Responding, House Leader, Gbajabiamila admitted the constitutional and legislative correctness of Rep.Chika, saying that his colleague was “absolutely correct because we cannot be seen to violate our own law which we passed in this House”.
He urged his colleagues to look beyond the shortcomings observed and focus on the impending benefits of the budget to Nigerians.
Contributing to the debate, Rep Denis Agbo (PDP, Enugu) raised concerns over non implementation of zonal intervention (Constituency) projects by the executive in the 2017 budget.
Rep Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) on his part said there’s need for the House as a responsible arm of the legislature to take the bull by the horn in demanding adequate implementation of budgets.