From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
Top officials of the World Bank have met with the Senate leadership in a bid to resolve the lingering logjam over the inability of the National Assembly to agree on a benchmark for the 2013 budget. President Goodluck Jonathan had on October 9 presented a N4.92 trillion 2013 budget to a joint sitting of the National Assembly predicated on $75 oil benchmark.
Thereafter, the House of Representatives and the Senate raised the benchmark to $80 and $78 respectively, while the Upper House approved the 2012-2014 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (M-TEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP). The House of Representatives insisted it will not allow a lower oil benchmark. National Assembly sources said that the World Bank has since intervened, calling for meetings with the Senate and the House.
Sources present at the meetings said the World Bank wanted the National Assembly to maintain the status quo ante and pleaded with the lawmakers to retain the budget benchmark at the $75 presented by the Presidency.
The Senate disagreed and stuck to its guns that the budget benchmark cannot “be left as it was presented to us.” Senate President David Mark was unable to attend the meeting but the Finance Committee Chairman, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, reportedly took control of the meeting with the World Bank officials where he presented the Senate’s position.
“He told the World Bank officials how there are so many sources of revenue accruing to the Presidency, but which were not captured in the annual budgets appropriated by the National Assembly. For instance, some revenues from the NNPC, Gas, Excess Crude Account (ECA) and other sources are not reflected in the budget.
By the time Makarfi was through with his brief and all the revenues which are not paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) for appropriation, the World Bank officials could no longer canvass their argument that the National Assembly should let the oil benchmark be left at $75. “Even with the calculation given, Makarfi said there are still sources of revenue not captured in this year’s budget.”
Another source at the meeting said that the oil benchmark battle between the Presidency and the legislature on one hand is a fall-out of the simmering feud between the Presidency and the governors said on the other hand. The feud, which has found its way into the National Assembly, is all because of 2015, it was gathered. The National Assembly source said that “the main reason the Presidency is insisting on retaining the $75 oil benchmark is because it doesn’t want the governors to have too much money.
“The Presidency doesn’t want the National Assembly to raise the oil benchmark to either $78 or $80 because by so doing, more money would accrue to the CRF which by law is to be shared by the three tiers of government. “Sharing of any extra money from that legitimate account will not work in the favour of the Presidency because it automatically means that the governors will have money in preparation for 2015. Don’t also forget that more than half of the state governors now are in their second terms and do not need the Presidency to do them any favours unlike what happened in the 2011 polls.”