N'ASSEMBLY OPPOSES OIL SUBSIDY REMOVAL
Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has come under fire from the National Assembly over proposals by the Presidency to remove oil subsidy in 2012. Leadership of the National Assembly, led by Senate President David Mark and committee chairmen in both chambers pointedly refused to commit to the proposal to remove oil subsidy as from next year.
Rather, the lawmakers demanded details of the proposed removal of oil subsidy from the Finance Minister at a meeting between the Presidency and the National Assembly on Monday night.
Against the backdrop of public outcry against the removal, the Presidency commenced lobby of the National Assembly in a bid to ensure that the 2012 Appropriation Bill does not run into a hitch.
President Goodluck Jonathan is scheduled to present estimates of the 2012 budget to a joint sitting of the National Assembly in November.
In preparation of the presentation, and in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the President has forwarded the 2012-2015 Medium Term Fiscal Framework (Medium-term revenue framework and medium-term expenditure framework) and Fiscal Strategy Paper to the National Assembly for consideration.
For safe landing of some proposals contained in the MTEF, including the proposal to withdraw oil subsidy in 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan, Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala met with the leadership of and all committee chairmen in the National Assembly on Monday night.
A committee chairman present at the meeting told Daily Sun that the meeting, which was called at the instance of the Presidency was more of 'a lobby of the National Assembly to support their proposal to remove oil subsidy.
'The President was present at the meeting and our cooperation was sought concerning government proposals as contained in the MTEF Report sent to us.
'From the body language of the President and the Finance Minister, they seem bent on going ahead with the removal of the oil subsidy.
'In fact, committee chairmen pointedly told the Finance Minister that since they do not have details of the subsidy removal, they are at a loss as to how to even defend the move with their people.
The proposal to remove the subsidy did not jell with the lawmakers, even though President Goodluck Jonathan said his government had an understanding with the Labour.
The National legislators' stand was that whatever package the government had, they should bring it to the floor of the Assembly, so that the lawmakers could vote according to their conscience.
One of the points being canvassed by government was that the subsidy removal would break the backbone of a cabal behind the oil importation. But the National Assembly countered that if the government knew the people behind the cabal, why shouldn't it deal with the cabal instead of punishing the entire Nigerians.
As a result, the meeting between the National Assembly leadership and President Jonathan ended in deadlock. The President however promised to reconvene the meeting at a later date.
So many committee chairmen wanted to ask questions but for the sheer number of those present.
'Other committee chairmen told the minister that they don't even understand how and what government intends to do with the funds that would be gained from the subsidy removal.
'Moreover, we were told that there are 6, 920 abandoned capital projects all over the country and it would be wise to complete them before embarking on new ones.'
There are 56 committee chairmen in the Senate while the House of Representatives has 89.
Senate Spokesman Enyinnaya Abaribe confirmed the meeting to newsmen yesterday and also disclosed that the Presidency and the lawmakers agreed that the nation's budget should run strictly between January and December
'Chairmen from both the Senate and the house of representatives met with Mr President and we were briefed by Mrd. Okonjo-Iweala on what government expects to do in the next four years in terms of the budget and there was a lot of questions and we got also, the perspective on what the next budget revenue profile and the budget will be.
'The essence of the briefing was to us what the parameters are and expectations of government for the next four years.
'At the meeting, everything was explained. We were also glad that the President was there to moderate the meeting. It was a very frank discussion. It was also open. A lot of questions were asked and answers were givens. But it was just an interactive session; it was not a decision-making session.
'We did talk about the budget arrival because they had already given us an indication earlier that the budget was going to come in November.
'Actually one significant thing is that the President expressed his desire for us to keep strictly to our budget circle of January to December and then no longer take the budget beyond that…'