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2019: Still On The Budget Of Continuity

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President Muhammadu Buhari presented a jumbo budget proposal for 2019 to the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 19th, 2018. My observation, like that of other discerning Nigerians, is that its size is a reflection of the huge ambition he has for the growth of Nigeria.

At a feasible N8. 82 trillion, it is the second largest budget proposal in the history of Federal Government budgets in the country, second only to the record-setting 2018 budget of N9.12 trillion Naira, which  is the largest.

The 2018 budget sets so many other records: checks show that it is so far the largest in terms of the amount appropriated at N9.12 trillion and achieved a very highrate of implementation at 67 per cent.

While reviewing the 2018 budget during the presentation of the 2019 budget proposals, the President said that it recorded several successes in economic management: “Real Gross Domestic Product growth stood at 1.81percent in the third quarter of 2018 compared to 1.17 percent in the third quarter of 2017. We have had a sustained accretion to foreign exchange reserves from a low of $28.57 billion in May 2015 to $42.92 billion by mid-December 2018. This has contributed to exchange rate stability and will provide a buffer against any unanticipated external shocks. Inflation has also declined from a peak of 18.72 per cent in January 2017 to 11.28 per cent in November this year.

“Of the total appropriation of N9.12 trillion, N4.59 trillionhad been spent by 30th September, 2018 against the prorated expenditure target of N6.84 trillion. This represents 67 per cent performance,” Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma reported during a public briefing on the 2019 budget proposal.

The 2018 budget, despite meeting less than 52 per cent of its revenue target, recorded capital releases totallingN820. 57. The Minister of Finance, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed assured that it would reach above N1 trillion by the end of December 2018, as more money is injected into ongoing capital projects across the country.  This high release for capital projects was achieved in less than six months. The 2018 budget was signed on June 20, 2018 after months of delay at the National Assembly.

The capital releases financed vital infrastructure projects, including the Second Niger Bridge, the reconstruction and expansion of the dilapidated Zuba-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano and Ibadan-Lagos super highways. In the same year 1,531 kilometres of roads were reconstructed, while 1008 kilometres are being rehabilitated in parts of the country, including the remaining parts of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Road and the Enugu-Onitsha expressway.

“In the South East, a critical section of Umunya linking Awka to Onitsha, a stretch of 18 kilometers, is being constructed now and one side of it should be ready for use before June 2019. Roads like Arochukwu – Ohafia – Bende are also receiving our attention,” the President said.

Additionally, work on the Lagos-Kano segment of the Lagos-Kano rail line is making steady progress, while the Itakpe-Warri line, which was abandoned for decades, has been completed and is being readied for commercial operations.

Part of the capital releases went into the procurement of hardware for the armed forces and other security agencies to facilitate the total defeat of the diminishing Boko Haram insurgency, check banditry, end kidnapping, minimise communal clashes and prevent pockets of farmer-herders clashes that constitute insecurity in parts of the country.

More capital spending in the 2018 budget was on revitalizing the power sector as part of the comprehensive effort to ensure that the country generates and distributes more electricity to support more economic activities.

The President said, “In power, we are working on over 90 transmission projects across the country. Major power transmission stations like Mayo Belwa in Adamawa State, Ejigbo and Odugunyan in Lagos, Apo in Abuja, Ikot-Ekpene and switching stations in Maiduguri, Borno state and Damaturu in Yobe state have been completed to support electricity distribution.”

Another portion of the capital releases was devoted to completing nine major water supply projects, dams and associated irrigation infrastructure to support the expansion of agricultural production in our national quest to end rice importation, achieve national food security and provide raw materials for domestic agro-industries.

Readers may recall that the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is the launch pad and main policy guide that gives strong focus to the three cardinal promises of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration on fighting corruption, enhancing national security, diversification of the economy and the provisionof infrastructure.

The 2019 budget, through which the President promised to sustain continuity in completing vital projects and the implementation of the elements of the ERGP to achieve its laudable objectives, has a provision of N500 billion for the Social Investment Programme (SIP). It is part of the inclusive and safety net touch of the administration.

It is unfortunate that some members of the National Assembly for partisan reasons, in a non-partisan matter that is central to the economic and social wellbeing of millions of the electorates, attempted to downplay the significance of the presentation of the budget proposals. Fortunately, the presentation was acclaimed by mostNigerians.

The unpleasant delay of the 2018 budget by the National Assembly caused a consequential hold-up in its implementation, and that hurt the economy.  The National Assembly should avoid inflicting a similar delay on the 2019 budget.

Given the promise of national development and  improvement in the wellbeing of the citizenry in the continuity budget proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari for 2019, I am appealing to the Senator representing Kano North and the Member of the House of Representatives for Dambatta/Makoda constituencywhere I vote consistently, and indeed all patriotic members of the National Assembly, to speedily work on the budget proposals without padding or mutilating it.

They should simply do what is relevant and useful to the draft budget and pass it into an Appropriation Act for robust implementation by the executive arm for our collective benefit.

 

– Dambatta, a senior journalist and former director in the Ministry of Finance, writes from Abuja.


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