Friday 15 May 2015

Federal Govt accuses oil marketers of blackmail

Fears that the prolonged fuel scarcity in the country may yet linger were confirmed yesterday when the federal government failed to agree with the major oil marketers over how much is owed the marketers.

While the federal government believes that the marketers are owed N131 billion, the marketers insist that the debt is N200 billion.

Findings have shown that the difference between the claims of both parties is essentially based on foreign exchange differentials.

The marketers are insisting that they be paid the foreign exchange differentials (when the Naira depreciated against the Dollar) which amounts to about 25 per cent of the said debt.

But analysts are worried that the marketers are holding government to ransom, asking: When the marketers enjoyed foreign exchange gains in the past, did they refund the gain to government coffers? Why do they now want government to bear their losses?

Even then, the federal government had also paid N37 billion to help marketers defray the foreign exchange differentials.

Government believes that it amounts to blackmail for the marketers to insist on being paid for all foreign exchange losses.

In addition, government also believes that the payment of the outstanding debt to the marketers can be continued by the incoming government, since government is a continuum.

The failure of government and the marketers to agree on these issues has led to a stalemate as the marketers insist that no full payment, no more importation.

Stating the position of the marketers the Executive Secretary of the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN), Mr. Obafemi Olawore, said: “The last time we met, I insisted on N200 billion and she insisted on N131 billion but the only way to reconcile the figures was the timing. She was probably using an old cut off date but we were using the current cut off date that we had as at that time. She decided to set up a small committee made up of PPPRA, CBN and DMO to verify and we were of the opinion that there was no need to re-verify what has been verified by the PPPRA. Let me be straightforward, we thought it was just a ploy to delay payment. It was just delay tactics,” he said.
Olawore said the rates used by the PPPRA to arrive at the N200 billion claims were provided by the CBN and not the marketers and wondered why the claims should be re-verified.

“We felt that since the rate that emanated from the CBN was used by the PPPRA, what is the reason behind going back to say, I want to re-verify what has been verified?” he queried.
Also speaking, the Executive Secretary of DAPPMA, Mr. Olufemi Adewole, noted that only six out of the 24 DAPPMA members involved in the Petroleum Support Fund scheme had received the interest portion of the N154 billion earlier paid by the government.

They also queried why the federal government is planning to re-verify their N200 billion subsidy claims, which had been verified, alleging that it is a ploy to delay payment.

The insistence of the marketers to suspend importation will mean that the country will depend on the inadequate supplies from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and consequently there is the likelihood that the queues for petroleum products at the filling stations will not end soon.

Asked when the fuel queues would likely end, Olawore, stated that the scarcity would end when there is product but added that the product would only be available if the marketers are paid their claims.

“If you revise it, you will say that scarcity will disappear if there is product and product will come in if we import and we can only import if banks help us and the banks will help us only if we pay back our loans,” he declared.
He noted that an average of 6,000 tankers that come to Apapa daily do not find products and have to cause traffic congestion, stressing also that other depots outside Lagos do not have products.

In a bid to find solutions to the current fuel crisis, officials of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, recently met with oil marketers, led by Olawore.

The Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, led other top officials of the apex bank to the meeting held in Abuja.

However, both parties could not agree on the exact amount outstanding after the government had earlier paid N154 billion.

While Okonjo-Iweala said the outstanding figure was N131 billion, Olawore put the balance at over N200 billion, which led to the setting up of a verification committee by Okonjo-Iweala.

But Olawore told journalists yesterday in Lagos in a joint briefing with DAPPMA that the setting up of the committee to re-verify already verified claims was a unilateral decision of the government to delay payment, adding that the marketers did not support the decision.

He however stated that almost all the DAPPMA members received the subsidy portion.

Of the N191 billion paid to marketers as subsidy in 2015, N98 billion was actual subsidy claims, N56 billion was the interest on delayed payment, while N37 billion was foreign exchange differentials.

Credit: Ejiofor Alike/ThisDay

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