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$49.8bn Unremitted Oil Funds: Senate Rejects Subsidy Removal, Says There Is No Missing Fund

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The Senate on Thursday rejected the recommendation of its Committee on Finance, which advised the Federal Government to remove the subsidy on petroleum products because of the alleged misapplication of the billions of dollars voted annually for it.

fuelThey also confirmed that there was no $49.8bn missing in the oil fund as alleged by the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi.

The resolution was sequel to the adoption of the report of its Committee on Finance chaired by Senator Ahmed Makarfi (PDP, Kaduna).

Notwithstanding, the Senators approved the committee’s recommendation directing that NNPC should refund to the Federation Account, the total sum of $218,069,354.32 being the balance of the gross lifting under the third party financing.

It however, directed that inter-agencies reconciliation meetings between institutions such as the Ministry of Finance, NNPC, CBN and the Federal Inland Revenue Service should be done on regular basis.

Such regular meetings among those sensitive economic institutions, they contended, would prevent a recurrence of the confusing allegations and ensure that all revenues were properly and legally accounted for.

However, the Senate rejected the committee’s proposal to accept the N813.8bn subsidy deductions by the NNPC from January 2012 to July 2013, since it was certified by the PPPRA and appropriated for by the National Assembly.

It instead accepted the subsidy deducted by NNPC in the sum of N180bn for the fourth quarter of 2011 which was also certified by the PPPRA and appropriated by the National Assembly.

NNPC was advised not to pay their operational expenditures direct from the Federation Fund without appropriation by the National Assembly.

The senators in the same vein asked the oil corporation to strictly adhere to international best practices in keeping records, but cautioned that NNPC should not control the revenue account of Nigerian Petroleum Development Company so as not to undermine its separate legal status and make accountability more difficult.

NNPC was also advised to ensure due process and due diligence in its operations, even as it accepted the advise to urgently pass the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law so as avoid the mistakes of the past.

In his remarks, President of the Senate, David Mark, commended the committee for presenting a courageous report based on the facts that were presented to it, adding that members were forthright by paying attention to details in the course of their assignment

“At the inception of the 7th Senate, I did say emphatically that there is no issue in this country that we cannot discuss as respected and distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if we have the courage to set up a committee , nothing will stop us from taking the report of that committee and nothing will be swept under the carpet in this red chamber.

“I think what is common glaringly from this report is that we are all guilty. If the committees expected to carry out oversight functions on the NNPC were doing their job very well, we wouldn’t have needed the Governor of Central Bank to ring an alarm bell before reacting.

“Whether the alarm is genuine or not, is another matter. The Executive may have good reasons but the legislature obviously do not have reasons not to find out. Let me appeal to the various committees to endeavour to do their work.

“Facts are different from rumours and what we have before us are the facts based on the interview conducted by the committee on public hearing and on all the documents that they could put together.

“One thing is very obvious, due process has not been followed and they have stated so very clearly.”

On resolution of the senate not being adhered to, Mark said the blame will come to the legislature.

“We would have to be supported by 2/3 majority. If we have to do so, we have to enact a law that would make resolution binding it is not something that could be done by voice vote.

“Whether it is funds yet to be remitted, funds yet to be reconciled or funds yet unaccounted for or missing, I think we should not play politics with it. Because if we described it as missing or unaccounted for, the issue is that there is a reconciliation going on.

“When you outrightly said it is missing, then you have concluded. The point I am trying to make is that we should not conclude when the process of reconciliation is still ongoing,” he said.

On the issue of subsidy, Mark appealed to his members not to pitch themselves against the public opinion.

He said, “If subsidy has to be removed, there must be public enlightenment and education so that facts would be made available to the people and then public opinion at the end of the day will count.

“If we sit here now and said remove subsidy, I think those who are benefitting from subsidy are very powerful and tomorrow they would influence media report and twist it to create an impression that senate is anti-people.

“If the subsidy has to go, I don’t have problems with that but let us sensitise the people over a very long period of time so that everybody will be carried along and everybody will come on board and then we can take a final decision on the issue of subsidy because the recommendations are far reaching,” he added.

Earlier in his contribution, Senator Ayogu Eze, commended the committee for the professional work carried out by them especially when they decided to hire professional auditors which made it possible for them to come up with such a discreet report.

He said it was highly amazing that the Governor of Central Bank then, who was supposed to know the facts was misleading the country by giving conflicting reports.

He stressed the need for cooperation of all agencies who are in charge of resources accruable to the country from the petroleum sub-sector and noted that they were working at cross purposes and there was lack of adequate communication among them.

He suggested that the country should do away with subsidy and that those who had been found to have enriched themselves illegally through the proceeds from oil sales, should be punished.

Senator Ahmed Lawan, described the development as a wake-up call not only for the executive but for the legislature.

He noted that the lawmakers saddled with the responsibility of carrying out oversight on the activities of the NNPC seemed to have gone to sleep while government appointees were busy spending public funds without seeking the approval of the National Assembly.

He demanded more time for the members to study the report properly and take adequate actions.

Senator Heineken Lopobiri, disagreed with Lawan and noted that the report was simple and clear enough hence the senators should consider the recommendation.

He said subsidy is a hard nut to crack because it encourages corruption and called on the executive arm of government to probe the subsidy regime. He said the report that established that no $49.8bn was missing and that the amount discovered not to have fully reconciled would be taken care of in the forensic audit report still being carried out.

Senator Abdul Ningi, said his spirit was dampened by the report because it revealed how the NNPC spent money without appropriation.

He disagreed with Senators Eze, and Lopobiri, who called for the scrapping the subsidy regime because more people in the rural areas will suffer.

Senator Smart Adeyemi said the allegations of missing funds was made to score some political points and called for a synergy among the agencies handling the oil funds.

He said there are abuses in the way and manner that proceeds from oil sales are being managed.

According to him, the disbursement and application of money not appropriated for is a breach of the constitution and anyone caught in the act should be disciplined.

He said, “On the issue of subsidy, it is the only thing that is left for the country, those who had been accused of abusing the subsidy should be prosecuted because I will not support the subsidy removal.

“At the same time, the nation’s refinery because those behind the continued non-functional state of the refineries are those who were implementing the subsidy regime. We need to know the names of the directors of companies who are enjoying subsidy.”

He also said the executive should implement the report of the National Assembly probe on oil subsidy.

Senator Kabiru Marafa, suggested that the report be further studied by the members, stressing that the report was perfectly carried out without political bias.

He however said those indicted by the report should be sanctioned in line with the Transformation Agenda of President Goodluck Jonathan.

He said, “Justice must be uniform. Since the leadership of the Central Bank of Nigeria was asked to stay aside, those of the NNPC and the Ministry of Finance were not sanctioned.”

Senator Hellen Esuene, said the joint venture in Nigeria oil and gas was counter productive. She said private operative should be allowed to work while government collects royalties.

She equally wondered why Nigerians could not build refineries in Nigeria but had to be travelling abroad. She said the country should rather subsidise production of the product instead of subsidising the finished product.

Senator Mohammed Tukur, said the committee should be allowed to do further work and recommend and that the agencies managing the money should be made to face the music

Senator Solomon Ewuga, suggested the immediate passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill in order to address the rot in the industry.

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