Damilola Oyedela and James Emejo in Abuja
It emerged yesterday that the executive may have deliberately pegged the oil benchmark for the proposed 2018 budget at $45 per barrel knowing well that the oil out target of 2.3 million barrels per day (mbpd) was unrealistic.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, reportedly admitted to the leadership of the House of Representatives during series of meetings between last Monday and Tuesday that the current production estimates were mere assumptions.
It was further gathered that another round of meeting between the executive and the leadership of the House is billed to hold today in a conscious efforts to iron out grey areas in the 2018 appropriation bill which continues to raise dusts among members of the lower chamber.
Deputy Speaker of the House, Hon. Suleiman Yussuff Lasun, gave the hint on the ongoing interface with the federal government economic team during the debate on the 2018-2020 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper TFSP) which was almost frustrated mainly by members of the opposition party.
The debate on the 2018-2020 MTEF had commenced on a rather contentious note largely because of the controversial timeline for submission of the document which members said does not afford them adequate opportunity to critically examine and digest the content for an informed opinion and contributions.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committees on Finance, Appropriation, and National Planning yesterday laid its report on the 2018 MTEF before the Senate.
Nevertheless, the House voted to set aside the earlier referral of MTEF to enable debate on the request of President Muhammadu Buhari.
It also committed the document to the Committees on Finance, Appropriations, National Planning and Economic Development, Legislative Budget and Research and, Aids, Loans and Debt Management to scrutinise and make recommendations to the House.
According to the Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, the House, upon reading the communication from the president on the MTEF on October 17, the request was inadvertently referred to the relevant committees without debate and which was not the right thing to have done.
Essentially, yesterdayâ€™s exercise was to enable the House to properly debate the document as required by law and properly commit same to the relevant committees for scrutiny and recommendations.
However, the exercise was nearly stalled by members of the opposition party particularly the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who believed that irrespective of the time constraints and pressure to pass the budget, due process ought to have been adhered to in the submission of the MTEF by the executive as prescribed by the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).
They further expressed frustration at the leadership of the House and the Senate by extension for condoning a breach of the FRA by the executive arm.
The opposition members had threatened to boycott debate on the MTEF until the right procedure is followed.
However, it took the pleas from the deputy speaker as well as Gbajabiamila and other principal officers of the House before some PDP members were pacified to allow the document scale through to the committee level.
Both appealed to members to put aside perceived lapses on the part of the leadership regarding budget submission procedures in the interest of the Hon. Betty Apiafi (PDP, Rivers) had contended that time was too short for members who only got hold of the document in less than 24 hours, to properly digest the MTEF and make useful inputs.
She argued that caution was needed so Nigerians donâ€™t end up accusing the lawmakers of budget padding in the future, adding that if the document had been submitted earlier as stipulated by the FRA, there wouldnâ€™t have been the present urgency for its passage.
Similarly, Hon. Nnenna Ukeje Elendu (PDP, Abia) said though there is the urgency to pass the budget, thereâ€™s need to really scrutinise the MTEF to be able to make informed contribution and not be blamed for lapses in future.
On his part, Hon. Daniel Asuquo (PDP, Cross River) said more time was needed to understand the MTEF as the power sector recovery plan appeared faulty and untested.
He said: â€œWe should take time and look at this document.â€
At that point, it took the intervention of Hon. Daniel Reyenieju (Delta, PDP) who prevailed on his colleagues to sheath their swords and allow for the debate on MTEF so it could be referred to the appropriate committees.
He, however, chided the House leadership for allowing for the mix up and not prevailing on the executive to follow laid down procedures in submitting the budget.
Reyenieju said: â€œWe are the opposition but nevertheless, we will allow it go in the interest of this nation.â€
For resolving the seeming logjam, the House leadership commended the maturity of Reyenieju and other PDP members.
Gbajabiamila had cited sections of the constitution, which gave the president a leeway to present the budget to the joint session of the National Assembly as how as itâ€™s within the defined financial year.
He said even though MTEF should have been brought three months before the budget, the provisions of the constitution overrides the FRA which is a creation of the parliament.
He, however, concurred that the right thing should be done going forward by ensuring the executive adheres to the FRA.
Also, amid the controversy on whether it was proper to debate the MTEF, Lasun had said the important thing was that the budget was presented by the president before December 31.
He noted that the budget was not cast in stone, and could still be debated irrespective of timing, stressing that no process will be circumvented.