18 December 2013, Abuja – After days of intense negotiations on the appropriate oil benchmark for 2014 budget, the conference committee of the National Assembly assigned to resolve the impasse has finally adopted $77.5 per barrel as the oil benchmark.
THISDAY learnt that the resolution followed the intervention of principal officers of both chambers, who separately met with Senate President David Mark and Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, after the harmonisation committee adjourned indefinitely last week over its failure to reach a compromise on the oil benchmark.
This came just as Tambuwal blamed the Ministry of Finance and the Budget Office for the crisis over the appropriate oil benchmark to be adopted for the 2014 fiscal regime.
It was gathered that following the resolution of the disagreement at the principal officers’ level, the committee was just instructed to peg the oil benchmark at $77.5 per barrel.
THISDAY learnt that the matter was resolved on the premise that if the Senate had agreed to raise its own earlier $76.5 benchmark to $77.5, the House also needed to compromise by bringing down its position pegging the oil benchmark at $79 per barrel to $77.5.
“It is a give and take thing. We at the Senate, in the interest of peace and to ensure the presentation of the budget proposal, upped the benchmark from the initial $76.5 proposal.
“Our colleagues from the House of Representatives would be persuaded to reason with us and come down from the high pedestal and accept $77.5 as a reasonable oil benchmark,” a source said.
It was learnt yesterday that President Goodluck Jonathan might not return to the National Assembly to present the 2014 budget as he might assign the task to the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, tomorrow.
The president, on November 12, had postponed the proposed presentation of the budget following differences between the Senate and the House on what should be the appropriate oil benchmark to be adopted. While the Senate adopted $76.5 per barrel benchmark, the House adopted $79 per barrel.
The Senate held a closed-door session to deliberate on the lingering budget crisis before commencing its plenary yesterday.
After the plenary, Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, told journalists that the session was necessitated by the differences between the Senate and the House on the oil benchmark.
“Of course, a resolution of the matter also means the country will be in a position to receive the budget from Mr. President. This is what I can confirm,” he said.
Abaribe also said the Senate was ready to receive the president whenever he was ready to for the presentation.
Abaribe also disclosed that the Senate would meet with service chiefs today to receive briefings on the state of emergency in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.
He also dismissed calls on the National Assembly by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to impeach Jonathan, describing it as nothing but “utter rubbish.”
Also commenting on the oil benchmark impasse, Tambuwal yesterday blamed the executive for the debacle.
Tambuwal, while hosting the board of directors of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) led by its chairman, Mr. Hamman Tukur, in Abuja, particularly criticised the Ministry of Finance and the Budget Office for the delay in budget implementation, which resulted in dearth of infrastructure in the country.
He said: “We are still dragging with the executive arm of government on the issue of oil benchmark, why because we said we need more money to fund infrastructure development. Somebody somewhere is saying that we should be saving money; saving money on an empty stomach. How do you save money when you are hungry?”
Tambuwal flayed the decision of the government to embark on saving money, while there was a serious deficit in infrastructural development across the country.
Tukur had earlier said they came to solicit the lawmakers’ assistance towards the provision of a stable power supply to Nigerians.
Tukur said if the country would dedicate $2 of each oil barrel sold, Nigerians could expect a stable power supply.
Meanwhile, the House declined yesterday to react to the suggestions that Jonathan should be removed from office.
House Committee Chairman on Media and Publicity, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, said that the lower chamber had nothing to say on the matter.