A civil society group, Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ in their annual summit organized for an extensive review of the budget, its macroeconomic framework and sectoral strategies. As usual, they called on Civil Society Organizations working on the budget together for an expansive review of the 2019 proposed budget in Abuja.

The summit is aimed at reviewing the entire purview of the 2019 budget proposals, its underlying assumptions, the key projections relating to economic growth, sectoral analysis and interrogate whether the provisions will achieve the desired goals stated in various government policies and standards.

In his opening remarks, the Lead Director – Centre for Social Justice, Barr Eze Onyekpere relayed “We intend to engage both the executive and legislature as well as the Nigerian citizen who is the ultimate sovereign. Beyond the interrogations, we intend to recommend alternative causes of action, project ideas, new sources of revenue, greater revenue realization from existing sources, enhanced transparency and accountability and giving every Nigerian a sense of belonging which is imperative for popular participation in nation building.”

Given the importance of the CSOs in the budget processes, this summit, over the years have provided salient and considerable points to the agencies of government tasked with the preparation of the annual budget. It was therefore important for the Director General, Budget Office of the Federation to give his review of the whole cycle and to explain the rudiments of the how the Agency drew the Budget.

Ben Akabueze explained that “the 2019 Budget is proposed to build on the 2018 Budget of Consolidation and advance delivery of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) goals. The budget encapsulates the fiscal plan to restore the economy to a higher, diversified, sustainable and inclusive growth path. It goes without saying that the budget proposal is beyond the set of revenue and expenditure numbers.”

He further reiterated that “Nigerian economy, with a GDP of $404.65 billion remains Africa’s largest.”

Going by previous budget proposals, it was observed that some line items have been immersed in frivolities, something which the Lead Director of CENSOJ said this summit will combat headlong, he buttressed “Yes, the frivolities have started reducing compared to previous years. But we still have carry-overs of projects that are crafted in a way that only the budget maker can interpret what he intends to spend public resources on. We still have perennial demands for computers, software, cars, repairs of buildings, etc. Again, the budget is not crafted in a such way as to give a proper understanding of how much has been spent in previous years in ongoing projects.”

Reviewing the MacroEconomic Framework of the 2019 Budget proposals, Dr Uzochukwu Amakom speaking at the Summit, revealed that the Budget “is an important document in every economy that dictates the decision, of not only the public sector, but also the private sector.” He noted further that In Nigeria, budget, since the return to democracy have reflected a tussle between politics and economics with the former prevailing over the later.

With the myriad of challenges attacking the economy, it is therefore pertinent to understand how the Federal Government plans to fund the proposed Budget, Dr. Amakon revealed that the “Total federal retained revenue is projected at N6.97 trillion (which is 3 percent lower than the 2018 estimate of N7.17 trillion), consisting of Oil revenue projected at N3.73 trillion while non-oil revenue is estimated at N1.39 trillion.”

Since the summit has been adopted to review the proposed 2019 Budget, CSOs working in different States of the Federation had converged to analyze the current Proposed Budget as against the 2018 budget, juxtaposing performance against allocations.

While reviewing the 2019 Proposed Budget, keeping the Health Sector in Focus, David Onyinyechi Agu of Development Strategy Centre, Enugu outlined that “Nigeria has been depending on donor community for effective funding of greater proportion of its Healthcare over the years.”.

In a different intervention projects Basic Rights Watch have commissioned in various rural communities using our Tracking Needs arm, seeing how treacherous it could be to access basic health amenities, more significantly to pregnant women and children, what therefore is the fate of over 180 Million people having issues accessing basic healthcare services? Agu noted that many healthcare donors have planned their gradual exit from Nigeria.

Nigeria is yet to adopt innovative ways to protect the poor and vulnerable populations against financial risk of ill health. It is therefore left for Nigerian governments to develop plans for gradual increase of healthcare funds in order to replace the withdrawn healthcare aids, said Agu.

Agu however recommends that there should be a revision of the proposed budget to make every unit of spending count for the wellbeing of Nigerians in 2019. Also the Federal Government must “Identify and pluck out all wasteful, frivolous, unclear and inappropriate line items and channel the recovered funds to the already identified priority items in the CSOs’ memorandum on Health Sector MTSS 2019-2021.”

Reviewing the 2019 Budget proposal of the Power, Works and Housing Ministry, Fidelis Toochukwu Onyejegbu;  Public Finance Manager and Programme Officer at CENSOJ detailed some sectoral statistical facts. On Power,  only about 60% of Nigerians are without access to electricity. He said “The proposed FGN 2019 allocation of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing is a total sum of N441.559 billion, a 5% of the overall 2019 proposed budget. The ministry’s allocation to the overall 2019 budget is also a 2.84% decrease from the 2018 approved allocation.”

As usual with previous Budgets, this year’s PWH Budget proposal is not devoid of frivolities as there are cases of unclear line items in the proposed 2019 allocation of the Ministry that are deemed inappropriate and some wasteful.

The  Ministry however requires some frantic efforts by the Government as regards proper funding. With the current state of infrastructure in the country (power outage, bad road network and slowly developing rail network etc) “reflating the economy” requires significant investment in critical sectors like Power, Works and Housing; Education; Health; Agriculture etc. One way to do achieve this is to enthrone the principles of prudence, probity and value for money in expending the available resources. Fidelis says.

Lastly, having gone through the Proposed Budget for 2019, CENSOJ recommends that: the Federal Government demerge the sub ministries that make up this broad ministry. These sub ministries are very crucial and too broad to be merged as one to be manned by one Minister.

Also, FG to eliminate every bottleneck associated with contributors’ accessing housing loan from the National Housing Fund. This is against the background that mainly estate developers (who are not part of the contributors) easily get funds from the fund. FG to make effort to ensure that capital releases are cash-backed in time to allow for full implementation of capital projects. This is in the light of the funds that were refunded last year.

From the CSOs standpoint, few recommendations emerged at the Summit that seeks to address the 2019 Budgets of different MDAs.  On the Budget Proposals of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, The Federal Government should upgrade the percentage of the total annual for the sector to at least 0.75% of the approved annual budget of each year and the capital expenditure of the sector should take at least 0.50% while recurrent should take 0.25% of the total budget for the sector.  The Federal Government should create avenues and enabling environments within the sector that will encourage public private partnership to attract both local and foreign investors into the sector.

 

Olusegun is the Communications Manager at Basic Rights Watch.

Tweet at him @mobolsgun

 

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