I was misquoted, Okonjo-Iweala says; denies attempt to pitch lawmakers against Jonathan

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The Finance Minister reiterated the need to resolve the budget impasse.

The Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Wednesday denied statements credited to her on the 2013 budget crisis, saying she has no intention to pitch the National Assembly against either President Goodluck Jonathan or the executive arm of government.

The embattled minister drew the anger of the two Chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday following reports that she had warned, while appearing on an Abuja-based radio programme on Monday, that the country would shutdown if the impasse on the 2013 budget was not resolved.

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, however, told State House correspondents on Wednesday in Abuja that at no time during the radio programme did she say that the government or country was going to shutdown if the contentious issues in the budget were not resolved.

She said she drew attention to the challenges the country’s economy was facing and pointed out that these are short term problems that are being addressed; insisting that that does not in any way imply that the economy or the country was going to shutdown.

“At no point in time did I say that the government or the country is going to shut down,” the minister said. “The economy is strong; we are robust; we have our short-term challenges. As you know, we are dealing with reduced revenue due to the issue of oil theft, which Mr. President is focusing on and is solving.”

The government, she said, has already constituted a committee of governors, with the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, as Chairman, to try and deal with the issue of crude oil theft in the Niger Delta, pointing out that government is confident that the problem would soon be resolved, to bring down the incidence of pipeline vandalism in the region.

“What I did say was that we will not be able to pay salaries, and that is a very different situation we are talking about. So this was a misleading headline from a newspaper and we should not spend the time of national debate on non-issues. At no time did I say the country is going to shutdown. I said we will not be able to pay salaries and that remains the fact; that is factual,” she said.

On the allegation by Senators that she was trying to pitch them against President Goodluck Jonathan, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala said the executive has a good working relationship with the legislative arm of government, adding that the two arms of government would at all times work in a collegial manner to ensure that problems over the 2013 budget are resolved.

“It is absolutely untrue; we are not pitching anyone against anyone. We have been working with Senators and House of Reps members in a very collegial manner. We are working with them. This headline was put out mischievously. That was not the headline,” she said.

During the controversial interview the minister had said: “The country has been running from January up until now, and we have been implementing the budget that was passed. But, we have got to a point where some amendments have to be made, and this is why Mr. President sent this amendment to the National Assembly.

“We can continue for a little while longer, but at some point, we need the amendment to pass, because come September/October we may not be able to pay salaries, because we would need to restore about N32 billion for salaries that were moved around.

The Senate and the House of Representatives, which considered the statement as calculated to blackmail the lawmakers and incite Nigerians against them, showed their anger by warning the minister to desist from statements capable of putting the legislature and executive on a collision course.

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