By Chesa Chesa
Recent national budgets and fiscal appropriations in Nigeria have now been overshadowed and overburdened by politics more than economic considerations, to the detriment of the nation and long-suffering citizens.
This is the assertion of development expert and Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, a lawyer with specialization in development law, fiscal governance and human rights.
He made the point on Tuesday in Abuja while delivering a paper on ‘Legal Issues About National Budget’ at a training workshop organised for journalists by The Daily Trust Foundation, with the theme – ‘Understanding National and State Budgets’.
Noting that a budget is a key instrument in achieving fundamental human rights of citizens, Onyekpere lamented that Nigerian administrations have allowed politics to override the economic essence of the budgeting process.
To this end, some important infrastructure projects in the country are either left uncompleted or badly sited and mismanaged, even when huge sums of public monies are sunk into them, he stated.
He gave example with the Abuja-Kaduna rail line for which the Federal Government borrowed up to $500 million from China; and has been subsidising the fares for passenger traffic, with a long period of repayment.
Onyekpere argued that a shorter and cheaper rail line along the Abuja-Keffi corridor to nearby Nasarawa State where a huge percentage of Abuja workers live, would generate quicker revenue to repay the loan while serving a more desperate workforce for the nation’s capital.
He stressed that the economic benefit of such a rail line and similar projects can actually make better cases for the massive borrowings made for them than mere seeking to secure political advantages.
The development expert also lamented the curious silence in 2021 budget explanation about revenues from stamp duty charges projected to be up to N200 million in 2020 budget year.
Equally worrisome he observed, is the huge percentage of tax revenues lost by government in granting unnecessary and suspicious waivers to firms, yet government ends up seeking foreign and domestic loans.
In this instance, Onyekpere wondered why government will project tax revenues of up to N4.1 trillion in a budget year but ends up giving away N3.1 trillion in waivers and exemptions.
Other speakers at the workshop included the Director-General of the Budget Office in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning, Dr. Ben Akabueze, who stated that a budget is not just a technical document but a moral document that reflects the fundamental values of a government.
“It is arguably the most important economic policy tool of a government”, which outlines its views of socio-economic state of the nation and translates overall policies and priorities, he said.
Another presenter at the event, Mr. Atiku Samuel, a data analyst and Technical Coordinator of International Budget Partnership, enjoined journalists to endeavour to be able to analyse budgets from developmental perspectives, to make better meaning to the citizens the documents are meant to serve.