Nigerian president delays budget on spending dispute -source

Reuters
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Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan arrives for the extraordinary session of the African Union's Assembly …

By Joe Brock and Tim Cocks

ABUJA/LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will not present the 2014 budget to the national assembly as planned on Tuesday because of a disagreement between his team and lawmakers over plans to curb spending.

A letter from Jonathan read out in the assembly by Senate president David Mark said: "It is infeasible for me to present the budget in the absence of a harmonised position," with executive, upper and lower house all disagreeing on spending.

He gave no new date, saying only that when lawmakers had agreed a position, then he would deliver the budget.

Lawmakers have indicated they wish to raise spending in the budget for next year, ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in 2015, but the houses disagree on by how much.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala proposed curbing spending in a 2014 budget framework paper after the government spent almost $6 billion of oil savings this year to cover budget revenue shortfalls. Oil makes up 80 percent of revenues.

Economists however had said she would struggle to get the budget passed in parliament.

A separate source in the national assembly said on Tuesday that lawmakers were unhappy with low capital expenditure, which they wanted to see increased to boost Africa's second-largest economy. He added that lawmakers were tired of hearing about the need for fiscal prudence when the government was so behind in implementing the 2013 budget.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have both said they want a higher benchmark oil price assumption in the budget to free up more money for spending.

An internal Senate Committee report on the preliminary budget plan obtained by Reuters on Tuesday is scathing about what it says is a lack of progress on infrastructure projects.

"The nation has not moved from the old practice of heavy recurrent and light capital (spending)," it said, complaining about the "the alarming rate of uncompleted projects."

"If these issues are not effectively looked into or controlled, the economic and infrastructural development aspirations of the nation will remain a mirage."

RED CARPET ROLLED UP

There were no state house security officials at the national assembly on Tuesday morning and a red carpet laid out for the president outside the house of representatives had been removed, a Reuters witness said.

In the budget framework, Ngozi allocated outgoings of 4.5 trillion naira for 2014, against 5 trillion in 2013, but lawmakers usually raise spending and ask the executive to cover costs with improved revenue collection.

Budget disagreements often centre around the oil benchmark price, over which Africa's biggest crude exporter saves revenues from oil sales into the excess crude account (ECA).

In the 2014 budget plan document, the finance ministry set the oil benchmark price $74 a barrel.

The House of Representatives and the Senate last week each proposed amendments that would inflate the benchmark to $79 and $76.5 a barrel, respectively. Both moves, by increasing the price, would boost budget spending but reduce savings meant to shield the economy from oil price and production shocks.

The Senate report criticises the "the continuous building up of the nation's external reserve above the internationally recognised standard of 3 months ... imports, at the expense of the provision of critical infrastructure."

The ECA only holds around $3.3 billion, compared with $9 billion in December last year.

Yet the report, somewhat inconsistently, also complains that spending down of 700 billion Nigerian naira from the ECA is built into the budget, which effectively, it says, raises the benchmark price to $80 anyway.

It goes on to bemoan Nigeria's rising debts.

Bismark Rewane, economist and CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives, said with oil prices likely to fall next year and oil theft to continue hurting production, a benchmark of $70 a barrel would be more prudent. (Additional reporting by Felix Onuah and Camillus Eboh in Abuja; editing by Ron Askew)

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