We won’t pay fraudulent subsidy claims – Okonjo-Iweala

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The Federal Government appears ready for a fresh showdown with oil importers over subsidy payment, which has grounded the nation for several days now.

Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Saturday accused them of submitting to government suspicious payment claims to the tune of N159billion in exchange rate differentials.

She told reporters at a farewell meeting in Abuja that she would not approve payment of the claims unless verified by the relevant authorities, stating that the claims reek of fraud.

“Marketers were asking for N159 billion for exchange rate differentials from the outstanding N200 billion. There has been so much fraud and scam so I have refused to sign for that money but have agreed that a committee be set up involving the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to verify marketers’ claims,” she said. Marketers just want to make Nigerians suffer,” she added.

The minister also slammed the marketers for allegedly blackmailing Nigerians and asked the people to resist.

Insisting that the current fuel scarcity has nothing to do with paying the marketers, she said: “They are making a lot of money from black market activities, people should rise up against the blackmail of oil marketers.

“I will not pay the N159 billion without verification, Nigerians should not allow themselves to be blackmailed.”

The minister said there was something curious about the supply of and payment for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS).

“I cannot say that the problem is due to not paying marketers, the process of paying marketers is always a rolling process and there has never been a time government reduced its financial obligation to marketers to zero.

“In a year where so much effort has been made to pay marketers including prioritizing their payment as subsidy claims in favour of other financial obligation like paying contractors, yet fuel scarcity still persists at this particular point in time suggests that something suspicious is happening.”

She responded to the claim by Vice President-elect, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, that the Jonathan administration will be leaving a $60 billion debt burden for the in-coming government.

She said that Nigeria’s total debt indeed stands at $63.7 billion but it is the totality of all the debts incurred by successive governments since 1960.

“No $60 billion was accumulated under the Jonathan administration.

“Current debt stock includes both federal and state governments debts made up of $9.7 billion external debt or 15 per cent of total debt stock and $54 billion or 85 per cent domestic debt stock.

“Nigeria is still repaying the multilateral loans it collected on concessionary terms with as long as 40 years maturity periods.”

The breakdown of the accumulated domestic stock is $18.575 billion outstanding by 2007, $17.3 billion accumulated between 2008 and 2011 and $18 billion accumulated between 2012 and 2015.

“This is so because of something that happened in 2010 because of the salary increment under Yar’Adua administration which increased civil servants salaries by 53 per cent.

“Those bonds have been rolled over and government had to weather the difficulties because resources to fund such increase were not there,” she said.

She described Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio as one of the lowest in the world.

On the domestic debt stock, she said 20 per cent is owed by state governments with Lagos state having an external debt burden of N1.169 trillion while the balance of 80 per cent belongs to the federal government.

Reviewing her tenure, Okonjo-Iweala said she has no regrets in serving the country and declared that anyone called upon to serve Nigeria should consider it a privilege.

“Some people criticise from afar but some came home in spite of challenges to serve,” she said.

She faulted suggestions that the economy was mismanaged, saying: “The economy is reacting to the forces of demand and supply but there is hope for the country. Only that people will have to make sacrifices.

“The out-going government, she said, achieved a lot but she lamented that “there are very serious attempts to rewrite history.”

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