Nigeria: Jonathan May Not Present Budget This Year

President Jonathan

Dec. 13, 2013

The hope on possible presentation of the 2014 Budget by President Goodluck Jonathan to the joint session of the National Assembly this year may have been lost completely due to indefinite adjournment of conference committee of both the Senate and the House of Representatives on harmonization of oil benchmark for the budget.

In a text message to that effect on Thursday, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Eyinnaya Abaribe said the last meeting of the conference committee on Thursday ended in stalemate over differential oil bench marks proposal for the budget between the Senate and the House of Representatives members.

Abaribe who is also a member of the committee said: “The last meeting of the conference committee ended in stalemate. There was no agreement  because despite the Senate members of the committee shifting to $77per barrel as oil benchmark for the budget from the previous position of $76.5 per barrel,  members from the House remained adamant on their earlier proposed $79per barrel which resulted into adjournment of the meeting sine die (indefinitely)”

A worrying development that is foreclosing possible presentation of the budget this year, more so, as the National Assembly winds up legislative activities for this year next Thursday, December 19, 2013.

Before the indefinite adjournment, the committee had met twice, Tuesday and Wednesday to find a common ground for the oil benchmark for the budget, but twice the meeting ended in deadlock.

The Executive had proposed an oil benchmark of $74 per barrel for the budget, but the Senate and House of Representatives fixed it at $76.5 and $79 respectively.

The disagreement between the two chambers forced President Jonathan not to present the budget on Tuesday November 19th 2013 for the two chambers to harmonize their positions.

It will be recalled that when the committee met on Wednesday this week, following the disagreement between the two chambers and the insistence of each chamber on its earlier position, members of House of Representatives reportedly walked out on the Senate.

Another source privy to the meeting told that after heated argument and pleading for the House of Representatives to shift ground from their position could not work out, the committee “adjourned sine die.”

According to the source, “what this portends is that the 2014 budget will not be presented till next year.”

President Jonathan in his letter on why he failed to appear at the Joint Session of the National Assembly to present the budget had attributed the disagreement on the oil benchmark as the reason and advised the two chambers to harmonize their positions.

The budget presentation suffered setback twice on November 12, where it was claimed that the non passage of the MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper by the two chambers and then the November 19, where the disagreement between the two chambers on the oil benchmark was given as the reason.

The reason adduced for the first postponement was in respect of Section 18 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act which stated that, “Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Act, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework shall be the basis for the preparation of the estimates of revenue and expenditure required to pe prepared and laid before the National Assembly under Section 81 (1) of the Constitution.

“The sectoral and compositional distribution of the estimates of the expenditure referred to in Subsection 1 of this section shall be consistent with the medium term developmental priorities set out in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework.”

It was expected that after the passage of MTEF and FSP, President Jonathan would have easy ride in the proposed budget presentation but that was not to be as the President cited non harmonization of oil benchmark between the two chambers as the reason behind the non presentation.

At the November 19, botched presentation, in his letter to the Senate, with the title, Re-2014 Budget, President Jonathan recalled that he had earlier written to the Senate to grant him the slot of 12 noon to enable him address a Joint Session of the National Assembly on the budget.

“However, considering the fact whereas the distinguished senate has approved the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, based on a benchmark of $76.5 per barrel, the Honorable House of Representatives has used a benchmark of $79 per barrel, it is infeasible for me to present the budget in the absence of a harmonized position on the MTEF.

“In the circumstance, it has become necessary to defer the presentation of the 2014 Budget to a Joint Session of the National Assembly until such a time when both respected chambers would have harmonized their positions on the MTEF. It is my hope that this will be in the shortest possible time.”

Speaking in an interview after the aborted presentation, Senator Kabiru Marafa, APC, Zamfara said that there must be an agreement by the two chambers before budget should be presented.

He said, “We have to agree on the same benchmark because that is what the constitution of Nigeria says. It provides for bicameral legislature. No one had an upper hand above the other. We have to  agree as soon as practicable because we have to do away with the issue of arm twisting and impunity because this is getting too much from the executive.