Even if you disregarded the rude heckling of cacophonous National Assembly choir boys led by a voice that sounds like that of Senator Dino “Cedric The Entertainer” Melaye, you will still discern that Budget 2019 was a poor job.
The stiff delivery of the budget address probably reflects the agony that President Muhammadu Buhari felt in admitting that the revenue projection for 2018 wasn’t met; crude oil production dipped from the projected 2.3 million to a low of 1.9 million bpd.
The President admitted: “We have (even) reduced our expectations from independent revenue to N624.58 billion.” Ben Akabueze, Director-General of the Budget Office, says Nigeria has “serious revenue challenge.”
He adds: “The continuous underperformance of Government-Owned Enterprises has made it difficult to achieve enhanced domestic revenue mobilisation from (the) operating surplus of (the) GOEs.”
The GOEs that should statutorily remit 80 per cent of their operating surpluses to the Consolidated Revenue Fund, remitted only N1.27 trillion, instead of N3.65 trillion between January 2015 and August 2018.
The Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance, Mahmood Isa-Dutse, told the Federal Allocation Account Committee that “The gross statutory revenue of N649.6 billion for (November 2018), was (N32.5 billion) lower than the N682.1 billion received in (October 2018).
Isa-Dutse revealed that the balance in the strategic Excess Crude Account now stands at a niggardly $631 million, after the Federal Government withdrew more than $2.246 billion, and shared to states as part of the Paris Club refunds.
Isa-Dutse’s Minister, Zainab Ahmed, however reminds Nigerians of the $1 billion approved by the National Economic Council to buy Tocano helicopters and other military hardware.
As President Buhari expresses hope to raise Gross Domestic Product growth rate from 1.8 in 2018, to 3.01 per cent in 2019, he admits that recurrent expenditure will gulp N4.04 trillion of the N8.83 trillion budget.
Add that to the N2.14 trillion plus for debt servicing, and find that the N2.031 trillion allocated to infrastructure is less than 25 per cent of the 2019 budget, lower than the 30 per cent allocated to the same in the failed 2018 Budget.
Despite the low revenue recorded in 2018, the Federal Government still subsidised petrol, and still plans to spend another “N305 billion (or $1 billion in 2019), for under-recoveries, (he actually meant subsidies) to reduce some of the burden on Nigerians.” So very kind.
As if he felt guilty for using good money to prop up the inefficient Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, the President pledged, “We will continue to bring the under-recovery downwards, so that such resources are freed to meet the developmental needs of our people.”
The President deployed other news: About 500,000 N-Power jobs were created for graduates; 297,973 poor folks have received the N5000 Conditional Cash Transfer stipend; and interest free loans were granted to 1,378,804 small businesses and farm holdings.
Others are the 9,300,892 school pupil beneficiaries of the National Home-Grown daily feeding programme, and the 96,972 cooks who prepare the meals. Not to forget the roads, railway lines, and power plant projects, that had been implemented in the last three and half years.
The only problem is that these are the same statistics that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Minister of Power, Works, and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had been force-feeding Nigerians within the past few months.
When you consider the abysmal failure of 2018 Budget to raise revenue to implement its plans, you would doubt the futuristic claims of Budget 2019. If Budget 2019 is not a House of Cards that can unravel at the slightest hiccup, it would be Wakanda, the mythical country of the Black Panther.
The long term visions of the Buhari administration are to diversify Nigeria’s production and revenue bases, build an inclusive and stable economy, and encourage small businesses through improved access to funding and infrastructure.
Others are, to create jobs, especially for the youth, continue the social investment and intervention programmes, improve healthcare delivery, and teach functional education to Nigerian students by emphasising instructions in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and the arts.
The challenge to all this moonshine is in the implementation. Whereas John Bull says, if wishes were horses, the lame would ride, American economist, Milton Friedman, said, “One of the great mistakes (that people make) is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions, rather than results.”
The scepticism that trails Budget 2019 is informed by the perennial failure of Nigerian governments -military or civilian- to deliver on budget proposals, which economists and accountants regard as mere statement of intentions, anyway.
President Buhari admitted that as of September ending, the 2018 Budget was 67 per cent implemented. At that time, only about N4.59 trillion of the budget had been expended.
Because the expected revenue just didn’t come as expected, government could not achieve all it promised. It has even pruned projected revenue for 2019 to N6.97 trillion; about N220 billion lower than the N7.17 billion projected for 2018.
Accordingly, budget deficit for 2019 therefore nosedived to N1.86 trillion; about N90 billion lower than the N1.95 trillion proposed for fiscal 2018. No one can tell that 2019 Budget will deliver on its promises.
The $60 price benchmark and the 2.3 million barrels of expected production per day, that Budget 2019 assumes, are Iffy at best. In the face of reduced demand for Nigeria’s crude, increasing demand for America’s shale oil and other sources of energy, Budget 2019 understandably reeks of caution.
It will be sheer happenstance if government receives the revenue projected in Budget 2019. As you can see, the President is even unable to make any categorical affirmation that the Federal Government will pay, and recommend, the N30,000 minimum wage that the tripartite committee that he set up proposed.
He is only now going to send “a bill to the National Assembly on this.” And he figures that “In order to avoid fiscal crisis for the federal… (and) state (governments) it is important to devise ways to ensure that its implementation does not lead to an increase in the level of borrowing.”
Recall that in early 2016, former Minister for Finance, Kemi Adeosun, informed Nigerians that the Federal Government was borrowing as much as N165 billion to pay workers’ salaries every month.
Now that Organised Labour has given an ultimatum of December 31, 2018 for the President to submit his minimum wage bill to the National Assembly, it won’t take too long to know exactly what the tea leaves portend for labour in 2019. The matter may become an election issue, and it should be.
For good reasons, Organised Labour is not too amused that the President suggested that another technical committee will review the job that the Ama Pepple-led Technical Committee on Industrial Relations Matters in the Federal Public Service has more or less concluded.
The doubts that the likely paucity of funds casts on the integrity of Budget 2019 require voters to consider the capability of every presidential candidate who offers to manage an economy that will deliver their basic existential needs.
As you know, a budget should forge a direction for a nation’s economic well-being. It should indeed be the catalyst, as well as the barometer to measure a nation’s economic progress.
As someone said, the naira sign is the bottomline. The Yoruba put it this way, “Owo ni koko,” money is essential.