Senators on Tuesday expressed divergent views on the 2018 budget estimates presented by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Mathew Uroghide, who spoke to newsmen said that the assumptions upon which the budget estimates were based were unrealistic.
He said that the National Assembly needed to complete work on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) to straighten the unrealistic aspects.
According to the Senator, the assumptions presented by the President confirmed the indication that there was no consultation between the legislature and the executive before the presentation.
He said: “So we really need to go back and work on both the MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper and again you heard in the response made by the Speaker of the House that there was no consultation between the legislature and the executive before the budget was presented. There ought to have been some background consultations do that all these facts and figures on revenue and expenditure would have been agreed upon before the presentation.
“As the President read in his speech, they expect that by January 1, 2018, the budget would have been passed. But how realistic is that expectation?
“I maintain that the assumption upon which this budget is based might not be realistic. For instance the benchmark of oil is pegged at $45 and certainly that is unacceptable to us. If oil price has reached $60, why would you take $45 as the benchmark?
“Last year, the assumption that was made was $45.50 and if course we had enough time to discuss and agree that it should be $45.50. That marginal increase in the benchmark we were able to appropriate the money to agencies where they were needed. For instance some money was given to the Amnesty Office and that was what helped to bring peace for us to be able to naximise the production of oil in the Niger Delta.
“So certainly we are not going to go on that marginal index because $45 is too low. We believe we can go to $60. With what is happening, we believe that oil price will hover around $48 to $50 and considering the projection of 2.3mbpd then we know that what we are going to get will still be for the development of other areas of the economy. “
The Senator representing Bayelsa West, Senator Forster Ogala said that the budget cannot bring emancipation to the people of Niger Delta.
He said: “The budget will not bring about emancipation to our people, we pray that God will intervene to enable us have a government that will take care of our needs. The behviour of the Federal Government is breeding
militants in the Niger Delta.”
The Senator representing Delta Central, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege said that the demonstrated that the President is up to the task of running the country.
He stated further: “He also demonstrated that he is capable of running another campaign and govern this country for another four years. We believe in his vision for this country. We are his foot soldiers.
“The increase funding for NDDC, I am excited about that. There is adequate funding for the Itakpe-Alaja rail line, the N150 billion set aside for the social intervention for direct cash transfer. I am excited about that even though I am not happy with the mode of implementation of the 2017 budget.
He commended the president for growing the sovereign wealth fund from $1 million $500 million.
He has fulfilled his constitutional obligation, it is now left for us to cross the Ts and dot the Is and in fact, right the budget as we see fit.
Senator Peter Nwaboshi, who also spoke on the budget stated: “I commend the president for his resilience the way he was able to speak for one hour five minutes. It is a good development that we are seeing our president well.
“I had expected the president in his speech to dwell on the achievements in the Niger Delta. This is where principally the revenue for this budget is coming from. He should have specific achievements in those areas.
“On the MTEF not being passed before the presentation of the budget, this is a condition precedent by the Fiscal responsibility Act we are supposed to pass the MTEF before the budget is presented, this is not done. This is another issue. This is wrong by the law.”
Deputy Senate Chief Whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena told reported: “The MTEF and the budget were presented to meet the January to December dateline. We will treat the MTEF first then we will treat the budget.”
The Senator representing Abia North, Senator Mao Ohunabunwa also said: “Ordinarily, there are things you must look into before you talk about the budget and these are constitutional issues.
“First and foremost, we have the MTEF which is supposed to come a few months before the budget is presented. We ought to discuss the Indices and the parameters of the budget during the discussion of the MTEF because those are the Indices the will use in preparing the budget.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Kabir Marafa, said that there was hope in the budget. He said that the benchmark was realistic and realisable.
He also commended the resolve to reduce reliance on oil.
The senator said: “The bench mark of oil and other indices are quite realistic considering the price of oil today. The resolve to move away from over-dependence on oil is a welcome development considering the inherent instability I the price of oil. I believe the budget will see us through a new Nigeria.
On annual increase in the size of the budget without corresponding improvement in the standard of living of the citizens, senator Marafa said the size of every budget depends on the parameters used in planning the budget, stressing however that things were bound to improve in the country.