Senators Split over 2021 budget proposals

*projections mere rituals, unrealistic-PDP

*it’s a budget of recovery- APC senators

As Senate debt fiscal proposals

By Ignatius Okorocha

There was rowdy session in the Senate on Tuesday following the disagreement between main opposition Senators and their ruling All Progressive Congress (APC)counterparts at the commencement of debate on the 2021 Appropriation Bill, which was laid before the two Chambers of the National Assembly last week Thursday by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Consequently, while most members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), described the proposals as mere annual ritual and unrealistic, members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), made desperate efforts to convince Nigerians that the budget was intended for their good.

The Leader of the Senate, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya, had after moving a motion for the Senate to commence debate on the general principles of the money bill, introduced and led the debate on the proposals.

Immediately he finished his lead debate, where he commented on the various projections and parameters used to prepare the budget, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, took the stage, pointing out the numerous defects in the budget.

He posited that the budget was nothing but mere repetition of previous years’ rituals based on unrealistic assumptions and expectations.

According to him, the budget did not take care of the global changes, whereby economies were shifting from oil to alternative sources of revenue.

He said: “Nigeria’s 2021 federal budget proposal reads like a template from yesteryears; just with different numbers. The budget does not reflect an understanding that the world has changed and that the nation’s problems have intensified.

“The oil era is fading out, but the government retains an attitude of business-as-usual. This is not a time for tokenistic ideas. Nigeria needs big ideas. This 2021 budget proposal failed to deliver on that point.

“While Nigeria postures as a capitalistic economy, Buhari’s 2021 federal budget deemphasises the role of the markets in addressing the challenges in the economy, and seeks to expand the size of government.

“While socialism has its values, the arguments are in favour of capitalism. Governments should never do that which the markets are better able to accomplish.

“This position is even more compelling in a country like Nigeria, where it is difficult to find a true believer in the fact that the government is more efficient and effective than the markets.

“For instance, the 2021 budget proposes the building of new healthcare centres, procurement and equipping of numerous primary healthcare centres. While this makes for a good political headline, it is not different from what was done in the past that resulted in a substandard healthcare system.

“The 2021 budget does not reflect an understanding of the fundamental challenges with providing healthcare services in Nigeria. The budget does not reflect any actions to encourage private sector investments in the health sector.

“Most Nigerians acknowledge that the bureaucracy is too big and unwieldy; yet, the Buhari administration is focused on expanding the bureaucracy. For instance, the 2021 budget proposes to establish five new Federal Science and Technology Centres.

“The budget does not reflect an understanding of why the education system has failed or what needs to be done to fix it. Building new centres when the old centres are substandard does not address the rot in the system. Throwing good money after bad ideas is what got Nigeria in this rot in the first place.

“Building Without Foundations The revenue and expenditure activities proposed by the 2021 budget do not provide any evidence that they are based on a well-considered development agenda. Indeed, the budget acknowledges that the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which was the Buhari administration’s development agenda”.

“So, this budget is nothing but what Fela called old news. Every time the same old news, nothing new.

However, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, challenged Abaribe, reminding him that the budget proposal was an estimate and assumption, adding that it was what every Government did since 1999 and would continue to be.

“Concentrate on those things you think we can do to make this budget perform optimally.

But Abaribe countered Lawan asking rhetorically that if the budget was based on assumption as he said, “why are you not assuming properly? We should not also be assuming the wrong things.’

“So we are also going to look at the assumptions so that we know what we are assuming about, so we want to go ahead as the 2021 budget do not reflect an understanding of the fundamental challenges that beset this country.

“How would you budget 100% when you know you are going to get 30%.

“Every year we have a budget in which the capital budget and the debt are almost equal what does that tell us, how do we go forward from there?

“This budget is nothing but what Fela had said ‘Old news, everytime the same old news, nothing new”

Also, in his contribution, the Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Abdullahi Sabi, tackled Abaribe, saying that the opposition leader playing to the gallery of the opposition.

Sabi stated that the current budget was that of recovery and that the government of the day was doing everything within its powers to destabilize the economy to the benefit of the citizenry.

He said: “This administration budget is that of recovery and resilience, I know what recovery means, as a Veterinary Doctor, I know what it means to being an animal back to recovery. This Government understands that the country is not all well.

He said that the Senate Leader in his presentation had given the history of where the country was comming from and why Nigeria found itself in the present mess.

“It is very clear and true to say that but for the good management of the economy by this administration, Nigeria would have been worse.

“We knew we were in recession in 2016; for us to have walked ourselves back alluded to good management of scarce resources.

“We know the challenges of our economy is infrastructural deficit. Today this Government is gradually walking back our infrastructural deficit.

Sabi insisted that there was nothing wrong with borrowing, arguing that as long as government borrowed and used the funds for productive ventures to yield more revenue, it was a right step in the right direction.

Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue), in his views, urged his colleagues to make their contributions beyond party dichotomy, saying that as the people’s representatives, the lawmakers should work for the good of the people.

Suswam expressed reservations on the ability of the Bubari administration to successfully implement the 2021 budget, stressing that the projections were unrealistic and not sustainable.

“The budget is themed economic recovery and resilience. It means something has gone wrong and you want to repair something that has gone wrong. This is not a partisan issue. This is about us Nigerians.

“Most of the time, when you do domestic borrowing, you crowd out the private sector. Mr President’s intention of creating jobs is not actualisable.

“We are literally violating the laws we have set out. The leader mentioned in page 4 that the budget is not sustainable. The deficit has gone beyond 3 percent.

For every N100 earned, N60 goes to debt servicing. When will borrowing end?

Also speaking, Senator Thompson Sekbio (PDP, Rivers), expressed concerns that the capital budget was meager while debt service was large, lamenting that the situation posed great danger for future Nigeria.

“The budget of 13.08 trillion has a deficit of 5.20 trillion. How can the capital project be lower than the deficit? I hope when we get the money, it is properly utilized.

Contributing, the former Deputy President of the Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), also observed that the budget would be difficult to implement.

He said: “For the first time, our debt to GDP Ratio is over 3%. I want the committee on Finance and Appropriations should find a solution to this.

“I have been very worried about the way we are going in terms of borrowing. I am concerned on the loan being given by China. They will not let you go off any of the debt because all the monies are for specific projects and if they are not done they take over.

“The other issue is the issue of social intervention. We have spent a lot of money on it but we still have young men who are looking for jobs. We need to deal with the real issues by investing in ICT, modern Agriculture. We must create lifestyle centre around Agriculture and in modern farms. Until we do that, it will remain unattractive to our young people.

“The last issue is on value to cost. The government is making certain expenditures on health centres but what has happened is that those health centres are not put to use because there are no doctors or nurses”.

Roots of our current economic challenges

Earlier in his lead debate, the Senator Yahaya tried to convince his colleagues that the present economic woes started before the current administration, and got aggravated by the corona virus pandemic.

He said: “Nigeria since 1973 oil shock, has been living on oil; selling crude petroleum to import almost all our survival and development requirements. Any drop in the price of oil therefore plunges this nation into fiscal and monetary turbulence.

“Add the corona virus (Covid-19) to this mix, and you have a crisis of monumental dimensions. Distinguished colleagues will recall that immediately after this government came to office on 29th May, 2015, oil prices plunged. Oil, which was selling at $110 in 2014 crashed to $30 in January 2016.

“Immediately afterwards, the economy went into a recession with GDP growth in negative territory of 2.06% in the 2nd quarter of 2016. The executive and the legislature then came together to salvage the recession in 2016/17”.

He however, appealed to his colleagues to jettison partisan politics and work towards improving on the budget.

“It is in this context that we should place the 2021 budget proposals submitted by the executive. It is important to note at the outset, that this proposal is not strange to the leadership of the National Assembly and the Committees of Finance and National Planning. All the parameters were discussed and agreed upon, at least in principle.

“What remains for us is to closely examine the contents and the details in order to sort things out and smoothen the rough edges.

He also admitted that some of the projections in the budget were not healthy for the development of the country, urging for the Senators intervention to make things better in terms of implementability.

“Nevertheless, it is also important to note that a budget deficit of this size requiring more indebtedness is not healthy for the long-term development of the country, but this must be tolerated now because of the challenges of the times.

“It is important, above all to note that this is a budget of recovery and perseverance. Indeed, the Buhari Administration since its inception on May 29th 2015 has been the most economically jinxed in the history of this nation.

“It started with having to manage 40-50% of the revenues accruing to previous administrations in spite of having larger and more interactable outlays of social, political and economic responsibilities to attend to. The performance of this administration should therefore be objectively measured taking these issues into Consideration.

“I therefore urge my colleagues to approve the second reading of this Appropriation Bill, 2021 for consideration by the Appropriations Committee and its Sub Committees”.

Other APC senators, who contributed to the debate, such as Adamu Aliero, Uba Sani, Ibikunle Amosun, among others, spoke in favour of the budget.

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