President Goodluck Jonathan
By Ndubuisi Francis and James Emejo
All is now set for President Goodluck Jonathan to present the 2013 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly on October 4, as the government strives to return to a normal budget cycle, which has eluded the country for long.
It has also emerged that N56.7 billion subsidy claims have again been paid to 14 oil marketers within the week (most of them are oil majors) while the Bureau for Public Enterprises has adjusted the privatisation timeline for PHCN’s Distribution Companies.
Briefing journalists in Abuja Friday, Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the president had expressed a resolve to send the draft budget to the National Assembly in good time and that the planned October 4 presentation was in tandem with that resolve.
Okonjo-Iweala, who stated that the executive arm of government had already engaged the relevant committees of the National Assembly in "very fruitful discussions on the budget" noted that his ministry and the Budget Office would fine-tune the proposals, preparatory to the October 4 ceremony.
The minister applauded the diligence and commitment of the staff of her ministry, the Budget Office and others, who worked assiduously to ensure that the 2013 draft budget became ready in September as had been earlier promised even as she harped on the desirability of an early budgeting.
Asked whether the 2012 Budget would be made to end on December 31, 2012 if the National Assembly passes the 2013 Appropriation Bill within this year, the minister said that was the wish of the executive arm.
Okonjo-Iweala expressed the hope that the National Assembly would key into this, just as she affirmed that if the Appropriation Bill is passed within the year, the 2013 budget would become effective from January 1 next year.
On the implementation of the 2012 Budget, the minister said releases totalling N710.4 billion had so far been made to the ministries, departments and agencies out of which N535.2 billion is cash-backed while N320.9 billion had been utilised.
She argued that it was important that when appraising the budget performance, "people should recall that actual implementation commenced in April 2012 and not January."
The 2013 budget proposal, captioned "Budget of Fiscal Consolidation with Growth" is predicated on crude oil production projection of 2.53 million barrels a day, against 2.48 million barrels a day in 2012 and a benchmark price of $75 a barrel as against $72 a barrel in 2012.
Meanwhile, Okonjo-Iweala has disclosed that N56.7 billion was paid to 14 oil marketers within the week, adding that most of them are oil majors.
The minister said oil marketers were being paid as soon as screened and cleared by the Aigboje Aig-Imokuede committee. She said that MRS Plc, which was initially listed among the 25 oil marketers that had an issue with subsidy claims, had resolved the matter and was among the 14 marketers paid this week.
The minister, who also reacted to the reported move by the Governors Forum to head back to the Supreme Court over the Excess Crude Account.
According to her, what the governors were kicking against was neither the Sovereign Wealth Fund nor the ECA "but certain deductions from the Federation Account, admonishing that people should not try to mix up the issues."
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Public Enterprises yesterday announced October 16 as the new date for the opening of financial bids of investors for the power distribution companies whose technical proposals met the benchmark. The former date for the programme was October 10, according to the privatisation time-table.
The shift goes to confirm THISDAY's earlier report that the whole privatisation time-line may have been affected when a recent meeting of the National Council on Privatisation (NCP) slated for September 13 was postponed to September 18.
A statement from the BPE affirmed that the new date set for bids opening became necessary in order to make up for the lost time from the postponement of the NCP meeting.