2017 BUDGET: IS IT REALLY A ‘RECOVERY AND GROWTH PLAN’? By Ezenwaka Macdonald Chijioke

After the infamous and rather ridiculous drama that characterized the 2016 Budget, President Muhammandu Buhari presented the 2017 Budget Proposals, tagged‘Budget of Recovery and Growth’ to the joint session of the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 14, 2016. The proposed total was N7.3 trillion, of which N5.06 trillion was for recurrent expenditure, while N2.24 trillion was for capital expenditure; representing 69.31 percent and 30.69 percent respectively. In the words of the President, “We propose that the implementation of the Budget will be based on our Economic Recovery and Growth Strategy. The Plan… provides a clear road map of policy actions and steps designed to bring the economy out of recession and to a path of steady growth and prosperity.”
A glance at the Budget Proposals would make one adjudge it a fantastic one! For instance, there’s an increase of 4.6 percent of the Capital Expenditure from the 2016 Appropriation Bill. That is, from 26.12 percent in 2016 to 30.69 percent in 2017. I think this is the first time we’re having Capital Expenditure up to 30 percent since 1999. Because it’s the capital projects that have direct impact on the masses. Kudos to the president!
Another take-away from the 2017 Budget is that proceeds from oil revenue will be used to resuscitate agriculture and industries. Hear him: “You may recall that oil itself was exploited by investment from agricultural surpluses. We will now use oil revenues to revive our agriculture and industries.”This, in my opinion, is a fantastic idea!I’ve always asked, “Why can’t we use money from our oil boom to develop other sectors of our economy?” To this end, I think Mr. President was on point! However, the implementation is a different ball-game altogether.
Again, the President acknowledged the bureaucratic bottle-necks thatusually hamper the speedy execution of projects and the ease of doing business. Consequently, he declared, “I will be issuing some Executive Orders to ensure the facilitation and speeding up of government procurements and approvals. Facilitation of business and commerce must be the major objective of government agencies.” This promise has already being fulfilled with the recent signing of three Executive Orders (the Ease of Business, Budget Submissions and Made in Nigeria Products)by the Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo.
But having gone through some key areas of the budget with the lens of unbiased analysis, juxtaposing it with the inconsistent economic policies of the present administration, and the realities on ground, one is tempted to ask, “Is the 2017 Budget really a Recovery and Growth Plan? I mean, even if I’m not an economist or a financial expert; I’ve some reservations about the budget: perhaps uncle Chris Mmeje will tell better.
According to Mr. President, the 2017 Appropriation Bill is a Recovery and Growth Plan ‘designed to bring the economy out of recession and to a path of steady growth and prosperity.’ But will this be realized with the present crop ministers in his cabinet?
Another area is in the financing of the N2.36trillion Budget Deficit through borrowings. But will the borrowings be done for capital expenditure or recurrent expenditure or for both? Where the borrowings will be channeled to wasn’t spelt out in the budget. If the borrowings are to finance recurrent expenditure, it’ll be an unwise economic decision. Because borrowing should be done to invest in ventures (capital projects) that’d bring returns, and not the other way round. Robert Kiyosaki, a financial guru opined that if money is borrowed for Consumption, it’s a Bad Debt, while the one borrowed for Production is a Good Debt.
Again, the disparity between the Budget Deficit and the Capital Expenditure is another area of concern to me: N2.36 trillion was budgeted for the Deficit while Capital Expenditure is 2.24trillion, representing 32.34 percent and 30.69 percent respectively. I’ve no problem with the deficit per se, because it has become an incurable disease in Nigerian budgetary system. But why should the deficit be 1.65 percent higher than the capital expenditure?
Also, Mr. President, in his Budget Presentation said, “We have increased the budgetary allocation to the Judiciary from N70 billion to N100 billion. This increase in funding is further meant to enhance the independence of the judiciary and enable them to perform their functions effectively.”Good! But do the actions of the Executive through the DSS and EFCC in congruence with the President’s claim ‘to enhance the independence of the judiciary’?I doubt!
Still on the President’s Budget Presentation, he said, “We will increasingly grow and process our own food, we will manufacture what we can and refine our own petroleum products.” I’m attracted to the phrase, ‘refine our own petroleum products.’ At what capacity are the four refineries working? According to the NNPC, as at January, 2017, thecapacity utilization of the four refineries was 36.73 per cent. Again, Does Mr. President has the political will to clip the wings of the ‘oil cabal’ that’re bent on perpetual importation of petroleum products?
In the 2017 budget, the total allocation for the Ministry of Petroleum Resources was N69.55 billion. Out this amount, N62.46 billion is to be used for recurrent expenditure, representing 89.8 percent of the total, while N7.093 billion was earmarked for capital expenditure, representing 10.2 per cent of the total allocation.And of course, it’s practically impossible to build a new standard refinery even with the total budget of N69.55billion; let alone with a paltry sum of N7.093billion of capital expenditure! So, how do we ‘refine our own petroleum products’ with the present (almost moribund) four refineries? At present, Nigeria is importing about 80 percent of petroleum products. And so long as we continue to import, the pressure will be on the naira. This will make economic recovery and growth somewhat difficult since the budget is based largely on oil revenue.
Furthermore, the 2017 Budget Proposals still retain the allocation of N500 billion to the Special Intervention programme consisting of the Home-grown School Feeding Programme, Government Economic Empowerment programme, N-Power Job Creation Programme,Conditional Cash Transfers to the poorest families and the new Family Homes Fund.The N-Power programme is laudable, but I’ve problem with the School Feedingprogramme and the Conditional Cash Transfers to the poorest of families! We need to ask some pertinent questions here: is feeding of the pupils a top priority? Will it eradicate poverty from their families? What criteria will they use to determine the poorest families in Nigeria to ‘transfer cash’ to them? Who are those that’d carry out this task and what would be the criteria to choose them?
In the light of above, I’d say that the 2017 Budget Proposals may not, after all, be a ‘Budget of Recovery and Growth’. If we must recover from the recession and expedite growth in the economy, then, Mr. President must appoint the right people into positions. We need seasoned technocrats to drive the economy. Unfortunately, the flagrant display of nepotism by President Buhari,as evidenced in his lopsided appointments is a fertile soil forthe unprecedented rapid growth of MEDIOCRITY!To this end, I’m afraid that the Recovery and Growth Plan would be tilted toward only one region of the country, and not the entire country. “Except the Philosopher-kings rule”, said Plato, “The society will not progress.” Nigeria is in dire need of philosopher-kings(technocrats) more than ever before in this present economic crunch!
As I said earlier, the Government Economic Empowerment programme (GEEP) and the N-Power Job Creation programmes are good. On Democracy Day, May 29, 2017, I listened to the live broadcast on radio, the Score Card of the Social Investment Programme; and I heard the testimonies of those who have benefited from the programme. The Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Programme, Mrs. Mayam Uwais gave a detailed step-by-step process on how they selected the contractors and the beneficiaries of the programme. Also, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, the Honourable Minister for Information and Culture, said that about twelve thousand cooks were empowered, twenty-five million meals served for over one million pupils, and so on.
However, I’m still not convinced of the Home-grown School Feeding programme and the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme. What the government would’ve done is to economically empower the parents of the pupils so they can cater to the needs of their children. By so doing, for instance, the children can eat their fill. This conforms to the Chinese proverb which says, “If you give a man fish, you feed him for a day. But if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for life.” Also, the money allottedto the two programmes would’ve been used to build more factories or revive the moribund industries, and increase the Agricultural sector allocation. This, of course, would create more jobs and boost food security. Because, according to Mr. President, “the proposed allocation to the [agricultural] sector this year is at a historic high of N92billion.” 
So, the 2017 Appropriation Bill by Mr. President isn’t really a ‘Recovery and Growth Plan’! We’re now 24 months into the administration, and there are no indicatorsof economic recovery, soon. Though they said the moment the 2017 Budget is signed into law by the president, we’d witness massive developments. And that the economy will come out of the recession by the third quarter of this year. Well, as a positive-minded Nigerian with an unbiased but open-mind, I look forward to seeing the realization of the ‘Recovery and Growth Plan’.
Ezenwaka Macdonald Chijioke
Faculty of Law
University of Nigeria
Enugu Campus
2017 BUDGET: IS IT REALLY A ‘RECOVERY AND GROWTH PLAN’? By Ezenwaka Macdonald Chijioke 2017 BUDGET: IS IT REALLY A ‘RECOVERY AND GROWTH PLAN’? By Ezenwaka Macdonald Chijioke Reviewed by Odogwu Emeka Odogwu on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 Rating: 5

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