Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) Wednesday has directed the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed; Governor of Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele; and the Director-General of the Debt Management Office, Mrs Patience Oniha, to meet within one week with petroleum marketers and resolve the issue of outstanding fuel subsidy payments that have lingered for over two years.
While federal government claims it’s owing petroleum products marketers about N469 billion for outstanding fuel subsidy, the marketers disagree saying they are being owed about one trillion naira. The Senate had in July approved N348 billion for payment to the oil marketers for outstanding fuel subsidy.
Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kabir Marafa, gave the directive after listening to the submissions of the DMO DG, representatives of the CBN Governor, petroleum marketers and Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, on why the marketers were yet to be paid the fuel subsidy approved in July by the National Assembly.
Marafa after consulting with other members of the committee at the meeting held at Senate Committee Room 231 said the Finance Minister should head the meeting of top government officials including CBN Governor, DMO DG and Executive Secretary of PPPRA and resolve in a week the contentious issue of outstanding fuel subsidy payments to petroleum marketers.
According to him, the top government officials must engage and agree with the petroleum products marketers on the matter within the stipulated time.
“The meeting is to look at all the problems vis a vis all the claims of the marketers and let’s know the way forward.”
Marafa said the outcome of the meeting will be presented before the committee in the next one week adding that “the Minister of Finance and CBN Governor must be on ground then so we must ensure that it did not fall on Wednesday which is Federal Executive Council meeting day usually attended by the Minister and CBN Governor.”
He also mandated the Finance Ministry to within two weeks harmonise the position on the balance to be paid to 19 petroleum marketers already paid 65 per cent of their claims.
The Chairman emphasised that once that is done, it will be forwarded to Debt Management Office, DMO for necessary action.
He announced that the Committee will engage the services of a Consultant to help in this regard “while one or two Committee members will work with the Finance Ministry to speed up work.”
“The issue at stake is a monster that can consume us all. Let’s do away with this problem before it consumes us all. We just can’t continue like this. I hope these steps we are taking will address the issue once and for all so that the issue of outstanding fuel subsidy payments can be put behind us for good.”
Earlier in her presentation, DMO DG, Mrs Patience Oniha, said approval was only gotten in September for payment of outstanding liabilities to the petroleum products marketers while the services of an international accounting firm will be engaged for this purpose.
She stated that by mid November “we should be able to communicate with the marketers and hold meeting with them on the next line of action.”
At this point, a member of the Committee, Senator Abdullahi Danbaba, interjected and expressed displeasure at how federal government was handling the fuel subsidy payments.
He said: “I’m disappointed that since June, 2017 nothing has happened. This should not be the case more than one and half years after. The way we are going the next three years we may not finish with the payment.”
On his part, the Executive Secretary of Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPPMAN), Olufemi Adewole, who spoke on behalf of petroleum products marketers, pleaded with government to order immediate payment of the outstanding fuel subsidy claims.
“We are at our wits end. Discounted treasury note being offered by DMO is like killing us twice. We needed the bank payments since over six months.”
He said assets of some petroleum products marketers were seized by banks based on National Assembly approval in July for the payment of the outstanding claims to the petroleum products marketers “despite the fact that the approval was yet to be implemented.”
Adewole also stated that the interest paid by oil marketers on the loans were usually increased at the beginning of every month.
Also speaking, Chairman of Integrated Oil and Gas Limited, Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, said over one trillion naira was currently being owed oil marketers by the federal government.
Iheanacho, a former Minister of Trade and Investment, wondered how Finance Ministry and DMO came about N469 billion being bandied as debts owed petroleum marketers adding “we must go to the original amount we computed and agreed upon earlier.”
The CBN governor who was represented by the Director of Banking and Payment Systems, Dipo Fatokun, could not answer why CBN failed to contact the commercial banks to halt the interest paid on the loans taken by the oil marketers as promised by Emefiele in 2017.
Fatokun only replied to the question put to him by Marafa saying “I willl take the message back to CBN governor who will hopefully get back to the committee very soon.”