Some lawmakers criticised the budget and its timing
After sniping at the president for hours and rebuking his timing, federal lawmakers on Thursday gave a crucial approval to President Goodluck Jonathan’s last minute request for extra N161.6 billion petrol subsidy funds.
The supplementary budget passed the third reading at the senate, while it was given a second reading at the House of Representatives.
A committee consideration and a final reading are expected at the House, before a harmonization by the two chambers to qualify the proposal for a presidential assent.
In his request to the lawmakers, Mr. Jonathan said the amount is to offset a backlog of money owed to fuel importers, and will help ensure a hitch-free Christmas and New Year after nearly two months of low intensity fuel scarcity.
An initial estimate of N888.3 billion was “underestimated”, the president said.
The request, coming barely three weeks before the year ending, and raising subsidy spending for the year to more than a trillion naira, triggered criticisms with calls made for its rejection.
Civil rights lawyer, Femi Falana, said the figure submitted by the president was not consistent with monthly subsidy payments since January.
Mr. Falana cited the N679 billion given by the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency, Stanley Reginald, as payments from January – October, 2012; as showing an average of payments of N67.9 billion monthly.
“At an average of N67.9 billion per month the sum of N135 billion is required to settle the fuel subsidy bill for the months of November and December, 2012,” Mr. Falana said.
“If the said sum of N135.8 billion is deducted from the N208 billion in the fuel subsidy account there should be an outstanding balance of N72.2 billion in the account at the end of the year.”
At separate sittings on Thursday, legislators also picked holes in the new figure’s arithmetic, and raised even more concerns about the president’s claim that the amount was arrived at after a “forensic audit”.
“Who did the forensic audit, where was it done, where are the details of the audit,” House Minortiy Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, queried.
At a larger scale, lawmakers accused the president of submitting a late request as an attempt at “blackmail” should they fail to approve the spending for public use during the festive period.
“We sat here and agreed to be for the masses for this country, but that doesn’t mean we should be taken for a ride,” said another member, Jerry Manwe.
“They came with the first envelope of N888 billion and refused to allow us open the envelope, not they have come with another but what are the details,” he added.
Senators also criticized the timing of the request and, again, raised concerns about the endless corruption that has plagued the subsidy management for years.
“It is not a secret anymore that there is so much corruption in the fuel subsidy industry in whatever system they are adopting,” senate president, David Mark, said.
“The nation must make a decision now, whether to continue this or to stop it.
“If they can’t eliminate and stop the corruption in the system, then, the other alternative will be to stop the whole exercise of the fuel subsidy,” he added.