25 May 2015, Abuja – As motorists and commuters continue to groan over the shortage of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), popularly called petrol in the country, there appears to be no end in sight as petroleum products marketers have demanded to be paid N159 billion for exchange rate differential (the difference in the exchange rate at which they obtained loans from the bank and what they paid for products), an amount considered outrageous by the federal government.
Minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy; Dr Okonjo-Iweala who revealed this, also said that the country’s current debt stock of $63 billion was not borrowed during President Goodluck Jonathan’s five year tenure, but an accumulation of over 40 years.
Speaking during an interactive session with finance correspondents in Abuja, yesterday, Okonjo-Iweala said the marketers were acting in bad faith and making Nigerians to suffer unnecessarily.
“I cannot say that the cause of the problem we have today is because marketers are not paid. It cannot be because it is a rolling obligation. And we all know that throughout the year, marketers trade in, send to PPPRA what they have supplied, PPPRA vets it and it happens on a daily basis, so there is nothing like saying we have finished paying. There has never been one year since I came, where at any point in time, we reduced the obligation to zero and that is because even as you are doing it, a new one is rolling in. It is at the end of the year that we try to clear all outstanding and then roll into a new year,” she explained.
Noting that the federal government has prioritised payment for subsidy and since December 2014, a total of N500 billion has been paid to them despite the tough financial conditions, the minister said the marketers were holding Nigerians to ransom because they knew that everyone would blame the government.
“After we made the last payment, which was N154 billion, they said it was remaining N200 billion. When we looked at the figure they were asking for, N159 billion was for exchange rate differential not for the actual supply of the physical product, and they wanted me to sign and release this money
“But I said no. The sensible thing to do is to call those responsible for looking at exchange rate, the CBN, to come in and verify the figures because there has been so much fraud allegations and scams in this business of oil marketing.
“We met with the marketers and agreed to set up a committee to do this chaired by PPPRA and the CBN gave two directors. Is that not a sensible thing to do? To show you how in bad faith the marketers were working, the very next day after they announced to Nigerians that the issues were resolved and that supply of fuel will pick up, they did the very opposite of what they promised. If they had even waited a week, they would have said okay, we didn’t do anything but the very next day, they shut down their supply. Which kind of bad faith is this? So my conclusion is that marketers just want Nigerians to suffer,” she said.
Speaking on the debts, the minister explained that this consists of both external and domestic debts and is a combination of what the state governments owe.
Giving a breakdown of the federal government’s component of the debt, Okonjo-Iweala said $18.5 billion was outstanding debts of since 40 years ago, while $17.3billion was borrowed between 2007 and 2011.
She said the balance of $18.1 billion was borrowed between 2012 and 2015, the bulk of which was borrowed in 2010 when the federal government increased workers’ salaries by 53 per cent, and this more than doubled government borrowing from N524 billion in 2009 to N1.3 trillion in 2010.
N4.1trillion needed to offset subsidy, salaries – APC
Meanwhile, the All Progressives Congress (APC) yesterday said no less than N4.1 trillion would be required by the incoming Muhammadu Buhari administration, to pay arrears of salaries at the federal and state levels, make petrol subsidy payments as well as service debts incurred by the outgoing administration
National chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who stated this in an address at a two-day retreat for APC senators-elect in Abuja, yesterday, lamented the state of the economy, but assured Nigerians that the APC government would make things better.
He however noted that change in the state of things would not happen overnight, and that Nigerians need to be patient to reap the benefits of the change they voted for.
“Make no mistake about it, the days ahead will be tough, and this is not crying wolf. From the first day of this government, a total of N4.1 trillion would be required for sundry expenses, including oil subsidy payment, arrears of salaries at federal and state levels and debt servicing, just to mention a few.
“Put this against the background of the falling oil prices, the unprecedented $60 billion debt which the outgoing government has left for the incoming one, the largely depleted Excess Crude Account (ECA), the $60 billion that has been lost in the last four years to crude oil theft (and which is perhaps still being lost as we speak), the need to rapidly create jobs for our teeming army of unemployed youths, enhance the security of the citizenry and improve the economy, and you will begin to understand the enormity of the challenges ahead,” he noted.
The party chairman pointed out that while the forum was not for lamentation, it was imperative that the truth be told about the state of the nation, and the expectations of our people.
“In fact, to a number of our compatriots, by May 30, a day after the swearing in of our president-elect, all the streets in Nigeria will be air conditioned while electricity will become stable and fuel scarcity will be a thing of the past. Yes, we will get there, but it won’t happen overnight.
“You, our senators-elect, will be called upon to take extraordinary actions to address the extraordinary challenges that confront our nation. The incoming president, more than anyone else, needs the support and cooperation of the 8th National Assembly to fulfil his campaign promises to Nigerians. You may be required to pass important Bills at very short notices. This will not be unprecedented but will require a buy-in to the programmes of the president and the party and willingness to work with him and the party for the benefit of all Nigerians. The demands on you will be tasking, but you are up to the task!” he emphasised.
Odigie-Oyegun observed that though his party, the APC, believes that a bipartisan effort to which it is open, would be a better deal, it was also heart-warming that the party had the numbers and the Senators-elect share in the dreams of the president and the party to make the country great again.
He therefore tasked the new senators to rise to the challenge of the moment and perform their oversight functions creditably.
“May I also remind you that all eyes will be on our party – and by extension on all of you – to see if our government will walk its talk in terms of running a lean and effective government, one that eschews waste, corruption and indiscipline, and one that will harness the nation’s human, material and natural resources for the well-being of the people.
“There is no magic wand to make our economy better overnight. Against the realities on the ground, some of which I listed earlier, reviving our economy will be a long and tortuous process. Bold decisions will need to be taken, and this can only be possible if there is a synergy among our party, the National Assembly and the president. We know you will not fail us, and you will not fail Nigerians,” he added.
Mbachu Godwin Nnanna, NSE Anthony-Uko – Leadership