Jonathan Faces Rebellion by PDP Lawmakers Over 2013 Budget

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The presidency is seeking the support of PDP governors to break the impasse over the appropriate oil benchmark on which to base revenue projections for the 2013 budget.As the face-off between the executive and the legislature over the oil benchmark that

 

should be adopted for next year’s budget continues, President Goodluck Jonathan has appealed to Governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to bring pressure to bear on House Reps and Senators from their States to avoid gridlock over the appropriation bill which he submitted to Parliament on October 10.

Both the executive and the legislative arms of government have been at loggerheads over the oil benchmark with the presidency insisting on $75 per barrel benchmark; while the House of Representatives has refused to bulged on the $80 per barrel, as contained in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper the lower legislature passed on Oct. 9.

Before reaching the $75 figure, the executive had consulted with the governors leading to a shift from $72 to $75 as demanded by the governors. On its part, the Senate, which passed the MTEF on October 16, fixed the oil benchmark at $78 per barrel.

The stand-off has been made worse with the barrage of attacks and inflammatory statements made by some aides of the President, who have been swiping at House Reps and Senators for trying to block the President’s budget: “We do not believe that President Goodluck Jonathan has sent anybody to cast aspersion against the Senate or the House of Representatives…our believe actually is that those individuals speak for themselves and they are not doing the President any good…And for those who go all out to want to foment problems between the executive and the National Assembly, I do not think they are serving the President well,” noted Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs.

Amid the simmering disagreement between the two arms of government, Huhuonline.com learnt from Presidential sources in Aso Rock that Jonathan is personally calling out PDP governors to persuade the House to implement their pre-budget agreement of $75 per barrel. Sources told Huhuonline.com that Jonathan has been pleading with the PDP governors to use their influence with the lawmakers from their states to shift position in the interest of the nation’s economy.

A lawmaker who vehemently opposes the President’s budget told Huhuonline.com on condition of anonymity that the governor of his state used the opportunity of the Sallah break to discuss with him and his colleagues on the possibility of back-pedaling on the benchmark and for them to back Jonathan’s viewpoint. “Some of us considered as arrowheads of the $80 benchmark have been reported to our governors so that they will call us to order; so that we will toe the line of the presidency on the budget.

During the Sallah break, my governor met three of us from the National Assembly and implored us on the need to cooperate with the presidency in the quick passage of the budget and the need to avoid further acrimony,” the source said, adding “But we made it clear to him that whatever position taken by the National Assembly was not personal, but a decision taken of which we are part and parcel.”

Huhuonline.com also learnt from sources that before the Sallah break, some senior officials of the presidency hosted some lawmakers at a secret meeting at the behest of the President during which envelopes changed hands as part of efforts to convince the lawmakers on the need to approve the $75 oil benchmark for the budget.

According to the source, “The aides of the president informed the meeting of the National Assembly that the benchmark of $75 for the budget was in the overall interest of the economy because of the perilous nature of the global economy and unstable nature of the price of the crude oil.”

The source however refused to see the secret meeting as an attempt by the Presidency to arm-twist and hoodwink lawmakers into voting a budget they don’t believe in. “The PDP is in the majority in the House of Representatives and the Senate. So the President should use this as an advantage…this is why the presidency is using all avenues to ensure that the matter is resolved and hence the involvement of the PDP governors to talk to some members of the National Assembly from their states,” the source said

The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in defending the executive’s position, had contended that the benchmark was based on “an econometric module that estimates five and 10-year moving averages”.

She cited the budget benchmarks of some countries, including Algeria, which is pegged at $37; Venezuela, $50; Qatar, $55; Kuwait, $60; Saudi Arabia, $60; Oman, $75; and Angola, $77, saying, “We don’t see any country with $80 benchmark.” However, the House had countered her position; saying by leaving the oil benchmark at $80 per barrel, more money would be realized that would enable the Federal Government to reduce the 2013 budget deficit.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday restated its commitment to the quick passage of the 2013 budget proposal, which is receiving accelerated hearing, and has scaled second reading in the upper chamber.