2016 Budget: Let The Work Begin! By Segun Tomori
Palpable anxiety enveloped the nation in the long wait for the resolution of the 2016 budget impasse. This is understandable as citizens grapple with hardship occasioned by economic meltdown – a resultant effect of slump in oil prices, plundering of the nation’s resources by the past administration and the slow pace of reforms of the President Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) government. The budget was in itself a subject of controversy right from its presentation to the National Assembly last December, by the President. “Budget Padding” hitherto unknown by Nigerians entered our national lexicon with blames traded by both the Executive and the legislature. When the budget was finally passed late March by the National Assembly, the President refused assent on the premise that key projects crucial to the Change agenda were either removed or funds for it, misapplied. All that was laid to rest on 6th May, 2016 as the President finally signed the appropriation bill into law to the relief of Nigerians.
Four months is already gone in the 2016 fiscal year. The administration has less than 8 months to implement its unarguably ambitious budget. It must now hit the ground running if it is to achieve most of the targets of the appropriation act. Efforts should be made to reduce bureaucratic bottlenecks that delay release of funds to Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs). The starting point should be the swift release of the N350b quarterly intervention fund to stimulate growth in the economy. Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun emphasized that “the money will be spent on things that will create jobs”, so we expect contractors handling stalled infrastructure projects across the country to be mobilized back to site. This will instantly create thousands of jobs for site workers that have been laid off.
One thing we will later appreciate about this administration is its knack for proper planning. The 34 priority projects approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for implementation in the 2016 budget will ensure we measure the administration’s performance based on deliverables. Diversification of the economy; creating support for the poor and vulnerable; reflecting the economy through investment; policy, governance and security are four major objectives of the projects. On Diversification of the economy, agriculture is a major focus. The government has set a 2016 deadline for self-sufficiency in tomato paste production. Dangote and other companies have since started production with fresh tomato sellers already attributing the high cost of tomatoes to the mop up of supplies by the companies. This might be a blessing in disguise as more farmers will be put to work in cultivating more tomatoes so as to meet increase in demand.
The administration also plans to attain self-sufficiency in rice production by 2018 and also increase local production of maize, soya beans, poultry and livestock. Kebbi State has already taken the lead in rice production. It has produced 10m metric tonnes of rice and has taken it a notch further by allocating 10,000 hectares to private investors for the take-off of mass production which is expected to generate 500,000 jobs. Lagos State, the largest consumer of food commodities in Nigeria by virtue of its over 21m population has signed an MOU with Kebbi State which is expected to culminate in the production of 70% of Nigeria’s annual rice requirements. All these have been adduced to the policy thrust of the Federal Government that Nigeria must feed herself and ultimately become a staple exporting country.
The agro-allied sector will also receive attention as plans to intensify local production of cassava, cashew nuts, fruits and sesame seeds have been mapped out by the Ministry of Agriculture. To make the agriculture revolution a success, 5,000 hectares of arable land in 12 River Basin Development Authorities have been earmarked for commercial farming by prospective investors and 22 dams for irrigation to ensure all- year round farming and productivity.
On social safety net for the poor and vulnerable, N500b will be expended on fulfilling 2 crucial promises of the APC manifesto. These include the “N5000 per month for the most vulnerable in the society” and the “free One meal per day for public primary school pupils”. I understand some States have been selected for the take-off of the pilot scheme for the monthly stipend for the most vulnerable. It is expected to kick-off in a few weeks. The school feeding programme will create jobs not only for farmers, but caterers and the entire value chain will be beneficial to local communities. According to Vice- President Osinbajo, it is expected to create an estimated 1.14m jobs; increase food production by 530,000 metric tonnes per annum as well as attract fresh investments of up to N980bn. The multiplier effect of this on the economy will be better seen than imagined.
It is instructive to note that this government has not deluded itself into promising uninterrupted power supply in the short term, it has instead planned towards incremental power that will see us increase our installed generating capacity from 5,000mw to 7,000mw this year. This would be achieved “through a mix of power sources”, Power, Works& Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola stated. 14 Solar power projects will be licensed and they are expected to contribute a cumulative of 1,286mw. The problem has been the capacity to transmit more power therefore focus is on the completion of 47 new transmission projects and conclusion of the privatization of National Integrated Power Projects (NIPP) plants amongst others. To underscore the seriousness of this administration, N99b was budgeted for Power (capital expenditure) as against N5b devoted for same in the 2015 budget.
On infrastructure, N268b will be spent on priority roads and rails construction. The strategy on roads is to finish uncompleted ones like the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the East-West road, 2nd Niger bridge amongst others. The Lagos-Calabar and Lagos-Kano standard guage modern rail is also a priority to which counterpart funding has been provided for in the 2016 budget. Chinese investors are partnering with government in this regard. On Housing, the government is designing a housing model that would not only take care of the problem of affordability, but also take into consideration, cultural stability in every part of the nation.
Also interesting to note is the plan to establish innovation technology hubs in Lagos and Abuja and the 6 geo-political zones this year. The hubs will be established in partnership with major technology companies and will be fully resourced with infrastructure and capacity building tools. Each hub will be designed to produce relevant innovative technology solutions to a wide range of business, commercial and government problems. In July, 65,000 young Nigerians will be trained in hardware and software services which would enhance our local capacity to build hardware and to write creative programs. “We intend to create a reservoir of human capacity in technology that can be exported internationally. Nigeria can lead India as a market for technology and innovation”, Vice-President Prof. Osinbajo stated recently in his address at a forum.
As lofty as this policies are, its bane in Nigeria is implementation. We have had fantastic plans in the past that succumbed to weak or half-hearted implementation, lack of strong political will and the absence of effective feedback and evaluation mechanism. I would suggest a robust Presidential monitoring and evaluation that can compose an inter-ministerial committee that will report back to FEC quarterly on progress made, constraints discovered and how to overcome them. The National Assembly also has an important role to play through its power of oversight. It must monitor the MDAs and ensure monies appropriated are judiciously used. It will be advisable for the President to give a quarterly State of the Nation address that will keep the populace abreast of government policies and progress made on budget implementation.
Time is already far spent, all hands must be on deck with sleeves rolled to deliver on the change agenda. Thankfully, we have a President a with strong political will and integrity. There will be no excuse for failure; it is not even an option!
Segun Tomori, is a legislative aide to a Member of the House of Representatives (MHR) and a Public Affairs Analyst based in Abuja. 08062672869,twitter: @seguntomori
Twitter : @seguntomori