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Sober reflections, blunt exchanges,  as senate resumes to tackle economy


The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo-Udoma

The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo-Udoma<br />

Charged atmosphere, blunt and frank exchanges are what to expect on floor of the Senate Chamber, when senators resume from their two-month holiday. As from Tuesday, it is expected that the senators, who are not unaware of the hardship in the country, will confront critical issues of the country’s economy, which have created serious crisis of confidence for the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

The Senate is challenged more than ever by the deteriorating economic environment, leaving the executive arm of government almost clueless and helpless. The menace of a galloping inflation and the unending fall in the value of the naira had not risen to this level when the Senate went on recess on July 21, 2016.

Judging from the mood of Senators, it is safe to surmise that the preparation and processing of the 2017 Budget Bill, devising best legislative strategies for exiting the economic recession, as well as, the conclusion of work on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) are key issues that would be given maximum attention.To that extent, the Upper Chamber would begin work on the 2017 to 2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), which the Federal Executive Council approved last month.The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had in August 2016, approved the 2017-2019 MTEF and FSP in which it pegged the crude oil benchmark for the 2017 budget at $42.5 per barrel.

According to the Budget and National Planning Minister, Udoma Udo Udoma, government intends to use $42.50 as a reference price in 2017, while projecting $45 in 2018 and $50 in 2019. He believed that these prices were the very conservative in terms of the reference price of crude oil, even though, “we are expecting it to go higher than this but we are keeping to an extremely conservative price scenario.”

Udoma had equally explained, “In terms of oil production, we are keeping to the same level of this year for 2017 and that is 2.2 million barrels per day. For 2018, 2.3 million barrels per day, for 2019, 2.4 million barrels per day,” he stated.On GDP growth, Udoma said government was targeting in 2017 a three per cent growth rate, in 2018, a 4.26 per cent growth rate and 2019, a 4.04 per cent. “The reason 2019 is slightly lower than 2018 is because that is an election year and usually in an election year there are uncertainties; we have also made provision for that.”

He also disclosed that government was going to adopt N290 to $1 dollar, adding that the N290 to $1 is a fair estimate from the Central Bank .But it was learnt that the Senate would in processing the MTEF document do a very serious comparison between the 2016 budget assumptions and the ones projected for 2017, and also determine how realistic the current assumptions could be before arriving at a workable figure.

Many are particularly worried about the projected exchange rate of N290 to the dollar for the 2017 budget, particularly with regards to the near impossibility of pushing the value of the naira from its present parallel market rate of N420 to dollar, to N290 to the dollar, by January 2017.It is the belief of lawmakers that getting a realistic budget for 2017 fiscal year would be the beginning of an honest approach at getting the country out of the present economic quagmire.

Also, the leadership of each of the çhambers, it was further learnt, has put lawmakers on the alert on the need to devise legislative strategies for combating the increasing economic challenges, which have worsened the living conditions of the people.

According to sources, the Senate chamber would be very busy, as it would immediately upon resumption initiate debate that would produce legislative actions or measures for getting the country out of the recession.‎Cabinet members and ministers suspected not to have performed to expectation, would be rebuked and recommended for sack, as many more would be invited to brief law makers, on what inputs they had made.

Signals from the upper chamber so far have shown that the Senate might not be favourably disposed to passing the reported executive Bill, seeking sweeping powers for the President to use presidential fiat, to cause serious overhaul in the system.

Instead, Senate might effect serious amendment to the Bill, to make it conform to democratic norms before passing it.Many Senators believe that passing the Bill in the form it is being speculated, would amount to using illegal and unconstitutional means, to solve problems in a democratic system.A cross section of Senators presented a picture of a Senate seriously unsatisfied with the performance of government.

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