Many Nigerian senators have described the country’s 2021 Appropriation Bil of N13.082 trillion as one that is unrealistic and unachievable.
On Tuesday the lawmakers commenced deliberation on the general principles of the Bill with the majority of lawmakers picking holes in the estimate.
The lawmakers were divided across party lines. While senators from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the bill as one based on unrealistic expectations their colleagues in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) made efforts to defend the proposed legislation.
President Buhari had last week presented the 2021 budget estimates which he named a budget of recovery and resilience. The budget is predicated on a benchmark oil price of $40/barrel; oil production of 1.86 Mb/day and an exchange rate of N379/$.
Buhari had said the budget is predicated on the assumption of an 11.95% inflation rate and a Gross Domestic Product(GDP) growth of 3% and a revenue projection of N7.89 trillion.
Senate Minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South) noted that there was nothing new about the budget estimates and based on unrealistic expectations.
“This budget is nothing but the same. We have a budget based on unrealistic expectations. We are not also so sure what the oil situation is going to be.
“If the budget is based on assumption, I agree but why are we not assuming properly. I want to go ahead and say it does not reflect the understanding of the fundamental challenges of today. This budget is nothing but old news, We have a budget based on unrealistic expectations,” Abaribe said tearing into the budget proposal.
“The major challenge, as with previous budgets, is with revenue and an overly optimistic revenue target. The 2021 budget hopes that the federal government will be able to generate almost eight trillion Naira. If history is anything to go by, this projection looks impossible.
“This overly optimistic position is not new in Nigeria but is part of a continuing pattern of false optimism that has put the federal government’s accounts in the deep red and the country in dire straits.
“In 2019 the revenue shortfall was 41 percent and so far in 2020, the shortfall is 38 percent. Here we are in 2021 and the submitted budget expects revenue to be N7.886 trillion. Based on the half-year numbers, Nigeria would be lucky to realise N3.3 trillion in revenue in 2020 by the end of the year. Yet the Executive expects revenue to increase by over 200 percent in 2021.
“When the executive announces a N13 trillion budget, the ministries and agencies take it as a signal that the largess can continue. A casual look at the Appropriation Bill contains items like SUVs for chief executives and fancy office buildings for agencies who really do not need them. All of these things will count as “capital expenditure” without adding much to the productive ability of the economy. At a time when the executive is on the verge of a serious fiscal crisis some of these proposed spending items are unnecessary. The budget betrays a lack of understanding of how modern economies function,” said Abaribe.
Senate’s Deputy Chief Whip Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, APC, Niger North however accused the Minority Leader of playing to the gallery and said the governing APC was ensuring it recovers the economy from the dead state previous PDP governments left it. According to Abdullahi, there was nothing wrong with borrowing.
There were more disagreements as former Senator Ike Ekweremadu expressed concerns over Nigeria’s growing debt.
“I am concerned about the loan being given by China, they will not let you go off any of the debt because all the monies are for specific projects and if they are not done they take over. The other issue is the issue of social intervention. We have spent a lot of money on it but we still have young men who are looking for jobs. We need to deal with the real issues by investing in ICT, modern Agriculture. We must create a lifestyle centered around Agriculture and in modern farms. Until we do that, it will remain unattractive to our young people,” said Ekweremadu.
Other APC lawmakers who contributed to the debate expressed confidence in the workability of the budget. Senate Chief Whip Orji Kalu called on the Senate to support the country’s president to ensure government achieves all the projections and puts the Nigerian economy on the path of growth again.
By Abel Ejikeme