By Ndubuisi Francis and Dele Ogbodo in Abuja
About 48 hours after, the executive arm of government is yet to react to the Passage of N4.987 trillion Budget for 2013, which is about N63 billion above the N4.924 trillion proposed by the former in Appropriation Bill submitted to the lawmakers in September by President Goodluck Jonathan.
This is as the Senate has explained how it harmonised the oil benchmark in the 2013 budget that led to the early passage of the Appropriation Act, saying the harmonisation committee achieved the middle ground between the $78 per barrel and $80 per barrel proposed by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Unlike the 2012 Budget, when the Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME) and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was swift in reacting to its passage, at the time of filing this report last night, neither the minister nor the Director General, Budget Office of the Federation (BOF), Dr. Bright Okogu had reacted to the passage of the 2013 Budget by the National Assembly on Thursday.
The Special Adviser to the minister, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu did not respond to calls yesterday, neither was there any response to a text message.
However, an official source in the ministry told THISDAY that the executive arm of government might be studying the budget as passed by the lawmakers before coming with an informed position.
He added that President Jonathan, the CME and other top government functionaries were in Kaduna State on Thursday for the burial of the state’s former governor, Patrick Yakowa, and could not have had enough time to look at the budget and react immediately.
However, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Ahmed Maccido, has shed light on how the deadlock was resolved. Speaking after the passage of the 2013 budget, Maccido said the decision was achieved on an agreeable note.
"If you can remember both chambers, initially had conflicting oil prices benchmark. The Senate settled for $78 and House of Representatives for $80," he said, adding that the disparity had prompted the lawmakers to set up a conference of committee whose members held extensive discussions to resolve the areas of disagreement.
That committee, he said, eventually resolved that $79 is a reasonable figure. "We believe, and reasonably too, that $79 is a very considerate figure." The lawmaker said that $80 per barrel was considered to be a little on the high side while $75 was deemed unrealistic.
"The expeditious passage of the 2013 budget was in indeed a feat because this is something that has not been done for quite a while for as long as one can remember for the National Assembly to pass the budget before the year runs out.
"This is not unconnected with the fact that the executive gave us their proposal in good time and the National Assembly on its part showed the zeal to pass this budget also in a good time. I believe that with this spirit, 2013 will be a good year for Nigeria. To that effect I believe that all that we need to do now is to pray for God’s guidance towards these endeavours."
With regard to items included in the budget as ongoing projects, Maccido said: "Actually we have been having this kind of problem and not this year alone.
"In the year 2012 there were projects that happen to be in the budget, but in 2013 they are no longer there. We believe they are not ongoing, we have a record of them and we have compiled them and we are ready to show them by the time the executive sit down with us.
"But, definitely they are not ongoing projects as far as we are concerned because they are not in 2011 budget and not in 2012 budget, and we found them in 2013. So they are not ongoing projects."
Meanwhile, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Neimeth Pharmaceuticals Plc, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa has applauded the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the National Assembly for the timely passage of the budget by the lawmakers.
Ohuabunwa, who was also a former Chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), said the development was a positive signpost for the government’s transformation agenda, it marked the first time in recent history, the nation’s annual budget was passed by the National Assembly before the new year.
He, however noted that while there were many positive sides to the budget, it remained a “huge budget”, which must be implemented with utmost circumspection.
“To start with, this is a huge budget—almost N5 trillion. That’s a huge amount of money. My take is that we need to develop a faster rate of economic activity to absorb this large budget. I am also pleased with the ratio of capital versus recurrent expenditure, and effort to bring down deficit.
“I am also pleased with the allocation to the social sector, although I want more. I think more should have gone to Works. I am also not quarrelling with the allocation to education, but I think more should have gone to Works. Can you imagine what Works is getting? Almost the same thing with subsidy.
“I think subsidy is a big distortion, and should be dispensed with without as soon as possible. It’s unconscionable, unsustainable. The earlier we deal with it, the better for the economy,” Ohuabunwa said, adding that what is spent on subsidy is almost the same thing with the capital vote.
He applauded the rolling over of the 2012 unspent vote to the first quarter of next year, adding that there should not be any hysteria to spend money for the sake of tying it to a particular year when value is not created through such spending.
On the benchmark of $79 per barrel as against $75 proposed by the executive arm, Ohuabunwa noted that while he would have preferred a more conservative benchmark of $75, the gap between that and what was approved by the National Assembly was not wide.
He added that the $79 has a two-sided implications, which include a reduction in deficit in the budget as well as increasing the risk of volatility should there be a fall in oil prices.