TambuwalAmid sharp disagreement, the Joint House Committee on Finance, Appropriation, Loans and debts yesterday pegged the benchmark for 2014 Budget at $76.5 per barrel

But members of the House immediately retired into caucuses for talks on how to jack up the figure to $79.

The battle over benchmark will however shift to the Plenary of the House today, where a wider debate as to the suitability of the $76.5 rate to the states is expected to hold sway.

According to findings by our correspondent, members of the Joint Committee who held a session at Meeting Room 019, were divided over the benchmark. It was however gathered that a simple majority succeeded in having their way to reduce the benchmark to $76.5 per barrel.

A source at the session said: “Although those for $76.5 benchmark had slim advantage over those against, there is no way states and local governments can survive with this peg.

“We believe that the House should insist on $79 per barrel benchmark. This is what we are going to push.”

Another source at the session said: “The battle has shifted to the Plenary. We will present the framework on Thursday for discussion. It appears the 2014 budget is designed to limit funds available to states.

“Some of us have started reading political meanings into the $76.5 benchmark. We are suspecting that the Federal Government does not want enough money at the state level because of 2015 election. We should not because of ambition cripple our states and local governments.”

A third source at the meeting said: “We have gone back to our various caucuses on the implications of $76.5 benchmark for the nation’s development.

“The benchmark is unrealistic in view of the infrastructural challenges facing the nation. We need to fix our roads, create employment and revive our ailing industries. We cannot go far with $76.5 per barrel.

“It is left to our members to rise above sentiments and opt for $79 benchmark.”

The Joint Senate Committee on Finance and Appropriation had last week also pegged the benchmark at $76.50 per barrel and fixed exchange rate for 2014 at N160 to $1.

Its decision was in the report of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) for 2014-2016 which was presented to the Senate for consideration and adoption.

The MTEF and FSP are statutory requirements that must be submitted to the National Assembly for its consideration and approval prior to the presentation of the National Budget to the National Assembly by the Federal Government as mandated by Section 11 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.

[The Nation]