Politics Apart – Putting Government Under Immediate Performance Pressure, By ‘Tope Fasua
If I could get the thinking around our budgeting to change, and also affect our economic ideology – in terms of a much-faster, and more inclusive growth, with a thinning down of the debilitating inequality in the land, truly, I would have ‘won’. The lives of our most-vulnerable people should never remain the same again…
I hope we are checking the news and the changing rhetoric of the runners of our economy? I should gladly claim that somehow, some of the branch-out efforts I have been humbly putting in, to ensure this country changes for the better because we got involved at this time, are paying off. I have, in particular, mounted some campaigns that are somehow gaining traction in the policy sphere, even if nobody acknowledges this. I don’t expect anyone to actually, because this will amount to them giving me prominence at this point (something they cannot afford in a political season). I repeat that I am running for presidency for positive impact, not self-aggrandisation. I was clear about my quest from day one. And this assignment I have embarked upon, will continue to be alive even after the elections are over. The job of rescuing Nigeria is a task that must be done. In fact for me, this is a more urgent and important task than any other thing on the political scene today.
The campaigns I would want to highlight include the one in which I have emphasised that the Nigerian budget is too low (and has been for many years now). At half of what 25 million people in Angola enjoy, or a sixth of what is budgeted for 60 million South Africans, our national – and by extension state – budgets are a big disgrace to governance – not only in terms of the massive corruption that bastardises the entire budget, but even in terms of volume and the lack of imagination that underpins the appropriation act. We slept on governance for too long, feeling ghetto-fabulous, with our leaders spending corrupt money freely, while manufacturing poverty en masse. By some luck, I happened on this fact and have since weaponised it to cause a change in the motherland. Another matter of concern, among the many unique issues I have raised, is that the Nigerian economy should by now be growing at double digits. I am talking of between 15 per cent and 20 per cent. I do not believe we should be targeting single digit inflation or even single-digit lending rates for now, but rather should be growing in leaps and bounds (high inflation and interest rates are corollaries of fast growth). This is equivalent to saying that we all should be so busy being productive, building our country, because this is an unbuilt space. This is equivalent to saying we should be pressing to service our idle, unskilled labour, and should be providing public goods like health services, education, environmental services, subsidised and integrated mass transit, security and generally organising society in ways that add value to our human capital and wake us all up to a new revolution and renaissance.
No one knows it all. But I believe that after four protests, and several articles, Facebook posts, tweets and hundreds of TV, radio and newspaper interviews, we are beginning to see the germination of some of the ideas I have been humbly espousing.
In the January 13, 2019 edition of ThisDay newspapers, minister for Budget and Planning, Senator Udo Udoma was reported as saying:
“(Some commentators are asking for a higher budget)… We all want a larger budget. Indeed, Nigeria deserves a much bigger budget. Our budget is too small for our needs. However, we have to find the money. But there is no point having a large budget that you can’t fund. This is a budget that I believe we can fund… I believe that as we get more revenue, we would continue to increase the size of our budget.”
We are unable to fund budgets simply because of the ingrained madness called corruption. 95 per cent of state funds are cornered by mafias that we are all forced to worship in order to survive. If government wakes up, gets honest, develops some spine, this economy will grow properly and our people will enjoy their citizenships.
This is all we need actually. But his statement is too futuristic and seeks to kick the can down the road. We are saying that we can begin to move the needle on this country immediately. We want those at the helms of affairs to begin to see things differently and shall continue to engage with them. I will take up the matter of this budget with the National Assembly where it is at presently. The budget must be reviewed upwards significantly. And who says we cannot fund a higher budget? How are Angola, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Kenya, able to fund budgets that are far larger than ours, we the so-called Giant of Africa? We are unable to fund budgets simply because of the ingrained madness called corruption. 95 per cent of state funds are cornered by mafias that we are all forced to worship in order to survive. If government wakes up, gets honest, develops some spine, this economy will grow properly and our people will enjoy their citizenships. The mafias holding down this economy also basically dump our commonwealth abroad. The biggest issue with Nigeria’s corruption is that even the corrupt funds don’t stay here. They are dumped in Dubai, USA, Europe, Saudi Arabia, and anywhere but here. Our leaders hate this country, they detest the people. This trend must be reversed.
Let us hear what Mr. Ben Akabueze, the director-general (DG) of the Budget Office had to say on the issue of our growth rates. The January 17, 2019 edition of PUNCH newspapers reported him as saying:
“…We are projecting a 3.01 per cent growth (in GDP). Often times, I hear Nigerians asking whether we can meet this growth. This is the minimum level of growth we should be aiming (at), going by the rate which our population was growing. If we are growing at anything below the rate the population is growing, it will not be felt and that is why a lot of people do not feel the economy is growing. It is not surprising that you don’t feel it, because last quarter, the economy grew by 1.8 per cent and population was growing significantly higher than that. So until we restore growth to seven per cent or preferably double digit, the vast majority of Nigerians are not going to feel any growth. So that’s the debate we should be having.”
In the December 19, 2018 edition of ThisDay newspapers, Akabueze also read a riot act to some government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), especially as it pertains to their nonchalant attitude to revenue generation, remittance and accountability. He promised that the current reporting requirement will be enhanced, and that CEOs of MDAs will now be benchmarked with performance contracts:
“We have not made the required progress in revenue generation, and (economic diversification through the ERGP is being constrained by)… continuous underperformance of the GOEs, (which has) made it difficult to achieve enhanced domestic revenue mobilisation from operating surpluses of the GOEs…Despite an investment of about N40 trillion in the Government Owned Enterprises (GOEs) over the years, they had only been able to pay an “insignificant” amount as operating surpluses into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF)…. Annual GOE capital budget may be mainstreamed into the Federal Government capital budget in order to ensure that they are subjected to the same level of scrutiny, procurement and monitoring processes…. It shall be mandated for all GOEs to use the Treasury Single Account for all financial transactions, the accounts of GOEs shall henceforth be audited within five months after the end of each financial year.”
The present government is actually waking up too late. But we appreciate they are trying to wake up at all. Now the ball is in the courts of the Nigerian people to step up pressure in this direction.
There are some low-hanging fruits in our economy which I believe, politics apart, we should be able to pluck almost immediately. I and a few colleagues have promised to keep an eye on the 2019 budget to ensure it doesn’t go the route that others passed. There is way too much suffering, wastage, cheating, fraud, impunity, vandalism, gluttony in our country…
Also quite interesting is the statement by the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yusuf Lasun when the 2019 budget was debated on January 23, 2019. His words were music to my tired ears and totally echoed my major war in this season. He said:
“In contributing to this debate on this 2019 budget, the question is whether we have a budget that can sustain the size of the population we have. The answer is, no…. We are not what we think we are as a nation. We can deduct it from the figures the executive arm of government has always sent to us. We think we are a rich country but from the figures, we are very poor… The 2019 budget says the proposal is N8.7 trillion, of which if we do a direct conversion, that is just merely $28.5 billion. What does that mean? It means the totality of the Nigerian budget for 2019 is just $29 billion. Apple alone declared a profit of almost $100 billion after tax. So, if for 160 million people, it shows that for 2019, the total money that is due for one head is just $178.52 in a year. And so we all have the duty as Nigerians to begin to think outside the box of how we can develop our country.”
Earlier on, and as reported in the November 11, 2018 edition of the PUNCH newspaper, the minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udo Udoma had issued a fiscal paper to the MDAs, in which he promised not to accommodate the usual frivolous purchase of official cars in the 2019 budget. The document read in part:
“Only expenditures on programmes/projects that are truly of a capital-nature, and which align with government priorities will be admitted into MDAs’ capital budget proposals… Except where absolutely critical to the functioning of respective MDAs, proposals such as expenditure on vehicles, furnishing, construction or purchase of office or residential buildings and equipping of non-critical offices will not be accommodated in the 2019 budget…. MDAs are reminded not to provide for recurrent expenditure in their capital budget. The Budget Office shall reallocate any such provisions to Capital Projects within/outside the MDAs as it deems.”
There are some low-hanging fruits in our economy which I believe, politics apart, we should be able to pluck almost immediately. I and a few colleagues have promised to keep an eye on the 2019 budget to ensure it doesn’t go the route that others passed. There is way too much suffering, wastage, cheating, fraud, impunity, vandalism, gluttony in our country and especially on the part of those who are put in charge of the commonwealth, and now is the time to totally put a stop to it. I have always stated that my platform as a presidential candidate is to push these issues at a very high level. If I could get the thinking around our budgeting to change, and also affect our economic ideology – in terms of a much-faster, and more inclusive growth, with a thinning down of the debilitating inequality in the land, truly, I would have ‘won’. The lives of our most-vulnerable people should never remain the same again because we got involved in the leadership of Nigeria. This quest must never be all about our own self-worship. For this reasons, the statements of these government functionaries above must be taken serious, and pursued to its limits by all of us. Now is the time to mount pressure. Empirical evidence and reasonability points to the fact that we can do a whole lot better than this.