A civic group, Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action) has punctured some seeming channels of corruption in this year’s budget proposal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) administration.
The group is therefore calling on the Executive and the Legislative arms of the Federal Government to promptly review the 2019 budget with a view to eradicating what they described as ‘’the frivolous expenditure lines rife’’ in the budget.
Social Action is also tasking the authorities to ‘’plug leakages and eliminate waste by cutting down on security vote. It should importantly also work to cut down the huge shortfall in revenue and halt all external borrowing.’’
The group’s Head of Advocacy, Vivian Bellonwu-Okafor, who made these known in a statement in Abuja added, ‘’we are charging the government to come up with a plan on how the existing debt will be liquidated to put an end to the huge sum being accrued through loans and save present and upcoming generations from the insalubrious burden of debt trap.’’
Finance Minister Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, while giving an insight into the budget recently was quoted as saying that the federal government plans to “fund the 2019 budget through borrowing locally and internationally with spread of 50:50”.
For the protesting Social Action, ‘’the shocking reality of this appalling statement could simply be confirmed by taking a look at the content of the 2019 budget with a deficit of over N1.8 trillion.’’
Although the 2019 budget was tagged: Budget of Continuity with an expenditure line of N8.826 trillion. But the group is insisting that a close look at the budget raises many red flags, aside from being allegedly laden with frivolous expenditures.
According to Bellonwu-Okafor, ‘’N3.00 billion is budgeted for clothing and uniforms for MDAs, N125 billion to the National Assembly, N95.19 billion to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) among several others amorphous lump allocations, all with no breakdown of how these monies will be utilized, thereby make it impossible for citizens or groups to monitor.’’
Continuing, she said the fact that the recently approved minimum wage of N30,000 was not captured in the budget will contribute to a serious revenue shortfall.
‘’Although the proposed 2019 budget was based on the benchmark of $60 per barrel, considering the underperformance oil revenue source in the past years, the estimated bench mark might not be practical. All this leads to the serious apprehension of how the budget will be financed’’, she added.
Upon further closer look, she pointed out that the 2019 budget proposal has a 24.29 percent of the total expenditure allocated for debt servicing. ‘’This is against a 23.02 percent earmarked for capital expenditure.’’
‘’Over the years’’, she went on, ‘’we have seen an increased variation between debt serving and capital expenditure, and while the present administration had at the onset of its lifespan, had committed to closing this gap, it is distressing to see that the 2019 budget continue to follow the same pattern as the preceding budgets.
‘’This means that, for over four years, Nigeria has been spending more money servicing debt than expending on its capital infrastructure. Placed comparatively, from 2015 to 2018, about N 6.036 trillion was spent on debt serving while about N3.983 was spent on capital projects, how can a country serious with development maintain such budgetary cum expenditure pattern?
‘’Just as with the previous budget with similar flaws and dependent on loan, we do not see how the 2019 budget marks a departure from loan-dependency and budget-failures to bring about any significant growth to the economy, boost capital projects and thus grow the GDP.
‘’Rather, we see the country further hemmed by a crippling debt trap. This is simply unfortunate. As at September 2018, data provided by the Debt Management Office (DMO) shows that the country’s external debt alone rose by $11.77 billion in just three years.
‘’This exponential growth attracted wide criticism and condemnation from bodies that are ordinarily pro-loans; the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which strongly urged the government to exercise caution and restraint in borrowing.
‘’To all intent and purposes and, going by the proposed 2019 budget, this wise counsel was thrown to the winds as displayed by this fervid desire by the government to borrow even much more with no forethought to the sustainability or the burden of debt costs.
‘’In simple terms, the meaning and implication of this budget proposal is that, with the cost of serving debt surpassing capital expenditure, capital projects will suffer while and the over-dependence on loans to finance budget deficits will only lead to more debts.’’