13 December 2013, Abuja – Hopes of presenting the 2014 budget early dimmed further Thursday as the conference committee set up by both the Senate and House of Representatives to resolve the logjam on oil benchmark for next fiscal year has adjourned indefinitely, following the failure of the conference to harmonise their differences on the matter.
Three days of several hours of meeting by the harmonisation committees of both legislative chambers failed to yield any fruitful result, thereby foreclosing the possibility of the presentation of the budget this year.
Hopes dim further on the presentation following knowledge that the National Assembly will proceed on Christmas break next week and may not resume until mid-January.
The development signals turbulent 2014 fiscal year as well as a major setback for the nation which for the first time set a precedent last year when it passed the 2013 budget on December 20, 11 days ahead of the commencement of a new fiscal year. The National Assembly was expected to consolidate the development by repeating the feat this year but this sense of optimism was stalled by intrigues and politics between the lower chamber and the executive.
Senate Committee Chairman on Information, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, told THISDAY through a text message yesterday that the meeting ended in a stalemate, following the refusal of the five-man harmonisation committee of the House to shift grounds on its position despite the Senate decision to raise its own earlier adopted $76.5 per barrel benchmark to $77.
He said the House stuck to its position to retain the benchmark at $79 per barrel, adding that the stalemate compelled the committee to adjourn indefinitely.
“Meeting ended in a stalemate. No agreement because despite Senate shifting to $77 per barrel, House members remained adamant at $79. Meeting adjourned sine dine,” Abaribe said.
Signs of unending impasse emerged on Wednesday when the House members were said to have walked out of the meeting in protest of appeal from their Senate counterparts to alter their hard stance on the benchmark.
The 11-man committee had been mandated by both chambers to reconcile the varying crude oil benchmarks adopted by the two parliaments which stalled presentation of the budget by President Goodluck Jonathan on November 12.
While the 2014-2016 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Policy (FSP) submitted to the National Assembly in September by Jonathan had put the oil benchmark for the 2014 budget at $74 per barrel, the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance later had an understanding with the executive to raise the benchmark to $76.5 per barrel.
While the Senate kept to the terms of this agreement by adopting the agreed benchmark, the House jettisoned it and proceeded to adopt $79 per barrel benchmark.
These discrepancies in oil benchmark forced Jonathan to write both chambers of the National Assembly on November 12, announcing the postponement of the budget presentation as he cited lack of uniform oil benchmark as well as the need to leave both chambers with more time to resolve the differences.
But while the Senate promptly set up its own harmonisation committee on November 20, with the hope of resolving the impasse that week, the House did not constitute its own committee until November 28, thus prolonging the stalemate.
The Senate had upon the constitution of its own harmonisation committee, expressed optimism that the president would present the budget before the end of November with hopes that the House would toe its path by simultaneously constituting its own committee that week.
But the hope was truncated as the House did not do so until November 28.
While the Senate’s harmonisation committee comprises six members, that of the House consists of five.
The Senate committee is headed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Ahmed Markafi. Other members of the committee are Abaribe (Abia South), Senator Ita Enang (Akwa Ibom North-east), Senator Smart Adeyemi (Kogi West), Senator Bello Tukur (Adamawa Central) and Senator Ayo Akinyelure (Ondo Central).
On the other hand, the House harmonisation committee is headed by Committee Chairman on Finance, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin (PDP, Kano).
Other members of the committee are Adeyinka Ajayi (APC, Osun); Hon. Ibrahim Gusau (APC, Zamfara); Hon. Abdurahman Teraff (APC, Borno) and Hon. Forte Dike (PDP, Anambra).
– This Day