Debts, Oil Theft, Exchange Rate Priorities As Reps Debate 2023 Budget

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Senate
  • Adjourn Plenary To November 15 For Oversight, Budget Defense

Growing concerns posed by the rising debt profile, endemic theft of crude oil in the Niger Delta, as well as the unfavourable exchange rate of the Naira to other global currencies were the issues that headlined the debate on the general principles of the 2023 Appropriation Bill in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Arguments for and against the place of the Nigerian economy in 2023 relative to the huge budget deficit and government’s inability to mobilize resources to finance the same, as well as the sustainability or otherwise of the borrowing plan with regards to debt-to-GDP ratio were all advanced by lawmakers who took a turn to make their cases.

Leading the charge was the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Toby Okechukwu, (PDP, Enugu) raised concerns about the sustainability of the country’s expanding debts in the face of dwindling oil revenue and what the House should do through the budget to stem the slide toward possible insolvency.

“First and foremost, the benchmarks as established will be 435 Naira exchanged to the dollar. In the rear market, it is 740 Naira. It’s a complete distortion of reality and we have operated that way, running two parallel markets regarding to the exchange rate of this country.

“Mr. Speaker, the benchmark we have as per OPEC quota is 1.69 million barrels per day. Today, what we have set out to do is less than 1.8 million that we should be doing. Unfortunately, the insecurity situation in the Niger Delta, the level of theft and the heist that is going on in the oil industry has made this impossible. I do not know when you set out a goal to harvest 1.8 million barrels of oil per day and you come short of 50 percent.

“Today, we are doing 800,000bpd and if this economy is hemorrhaging, it is to the effect that we are not able to achieve what we are supposed to do and you begin to question who are these superintendents. Suddenly, we are discovering that a pipeline has been existing for the harvest of petroleum products and it is not official.

“They have a platform that is out there in the sea and we are supposed to have electronic security gadgets monitoring the sectors and suddenly, we are paying private security contractors to do our supervision in the oil sector, and they’re discovering shiploads of petroleum products. Mr. Speaker, Hon. Colleagues, it is quite unfortunate that we have people superintending this and it is happening in their very faces and nobody has been sacked.

“What is also sad is the level of borrowing that has been done; in the last budget we did 3.5, and today, we are going to borrow. The debt servicing we are going to do for the next budget is going to be from 3.6 we are going to 6.31 trillion. If you combine that with the recurring expenditure, what we are going to spend on overhead personnel is more than 70 percent of the budget. What is left for production? How can a country that is spending that amount of money be able to be productive?

“We need to take some steps back and let me remind you, the PIA that was done by this parliament presupposes that subsidy should have been withdrawn. Subsidizing petroleum products is a breach of that law. And we have continued to it when Mr. President when he was a candidate claimed that oil subsidizing is a scam. I am surprised that this scam has continued to run and it’s been amplified by this government. Time is of essence of we have to face our reality.

 

 

“I will suggest and advice this parliament to be courageous and do its job. Suddenly, we are reducing subsidy to 6 months, first half of the year because it’s been an election issue. The government had no courage to undertake that enterprise. The subsidy is coming off from the second half of next year. It has been political. It is not driven by patriotism. I think this House should be courageous to face the reality and ensure that we retool the budget so that it can be effective for Nigerians.

 

“The last budget of President Goodluck Jonathan budgeted 4.8 trillion. Now, we are budgeting 20 trillion. If you check the amount in dollars, they are of the same amount. It’s about 30 billion dollars and today you can see how the country has been run around.  Parliament will do its job and we will retool the budget accordingly,” Okechukwu argued.

 

 

However, his position on debt-to-GDP ratio was immediately countered by the House Majority Whip, Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno), saying that the current administration should be commended for keeping the debt profile within manageable threshold.

 

 

“Mr. Speaker, before I make my contribution, I want to take up the deputy leader of the opposition on some of the points that he raised. First, he alluded to the fact that our debt is no longer sustainable, that government is borrowing too much. I will like to counter him to the effect that our debt to GDP ratio is still within the sustainable range because it’s 40 percent while the international threshold or standard for debt to GDP ratio is 55 percent. Our own is still sustainable and there is no cause for alarm as raised by the deputy leader of the opposition. So, the government deserves a pat in the back for keeping our debt to GDP ratio within the sustainable limit allowed by the international threshold.

 

“I want to seize this opportunity to commend the government most especially with regards to budget implementation. In spite of the revenue shortfall, constraints, government has been meticulously and religiously implementing the budget to the extent that it has promised implementing budget 100 percent by the end of this budget year and so far about 70 percent implementation has been attained.

Government deserves a pat in the back for that.

 

“We are all witnesses to what happened in the past. We are all students of history to what happened in the past where some government implemented budget only to the level of 30 or 40 percent but this government since inception has been implementing budget 100 percent. This is a way of bringing dividends of democracy to the doorstep of the people, it is a way of catapulting the country’s economy to a more higher broad and sustainable development.

 

“Again, the observation I want to make is with regards to revenue generation. There is need for government to bring more Nigerians into the tax net so that there will be more tax for the purpose of implementing our budget. We have had a situation where we had some challenges in terms of revenue to implement the  budget. We are going to do that by way of focusing more searchlights on revenue generating agencies so that whatever revenue they generate, it will be brought to government coffers.

 

“Then, the issue of diversification of the economy. The economy should be diversified so that our source of revenue should not be mono. Our economy should not be a mono economy but there should be other sources of revenue like mining and agriculture of which Nigeria has a comparative advantage and has the potential of exploiting to the benefit of our people. I want to commend the government for taking the bold step by exiting the issue of subsidy because this is the scheme that has been taking trillions of naira that ordinarily should have been funding our much needed infrastructure needs.”

 

Hon. Sada Soli (APC, Katsina) in his contributions again reechoed Hon. Okechukwu’s argument regarding borrowing and crude oil sale. He also stressed the need to address the ever growing size the personnel cost on the side of the executive arm.

 

“The pathetic situation of the 2023 budget is underscored by sale of crude oil and foreign borrowing. This is the challenge or the situation of the 2023 budget. Mr Speaker, there’s one salient issue that we have not been addressing as a parliament, that’s the Personnel Cost. Mr Speaker, let me call the attention of the Committee Chairmen, every MDA (Ministries, Departments and Agencies) they have a surplus under Personnel Cost and it is now being investigated by the ICPC (Independent Corrupt Practices Commission). So, I have to draw your attention to this.

 

“There are a lot of things that are going wrong because we overlook the issue of Personnel Cost in our budget scrutiny. This is the time to scrutinize this Personnel Cost. A lot of shinanigans is going on with the issue of Personnel Cost. So, we must not shy away from scrutinizing it, cut if we need to because a lot is going wrong. Mr Speaker, the key assumption of this 2023 budget is the fact that devaluation of the naira remains a reality with the understanding that the naira will move to N435 per dollar. The end result will be that the naira will be devalued,” he said.

 

For Hon. Onofiok Luke, (PDP, Akwa Ibom), the security remains key to the attainment of any developmental objective a government sets, adding that Nigerians security in recent time has witnessed improvement and that the tempo should be sustained, just as the operatives and their agencies should be commended.

 

“Mr Speaker, we were not talking politics, because the true test of leadership is to commend and appreciate the things that we have seen that are good and then constructively make suggestions on the way forward by way of criticism. Mr Speaker, I will start my sub,is soon with by appreciating the efforts of the federal government in certain regards.

One is on top the issue of infrastructure; two is on the issue of social investment and three, is on the issue of power and security,” he said.

 

Other lawmakers also expressed concerns on the epileptic nature of the nation’s power grid and called for concrete measures aimed at correcting all anomalies in the industry.

 

 

The budget after the debate was read for the second time and referred to Appropriation Committee, just as the House adjourned plenary till November 15 to enable lawmakers round up their oversight of the MDAs and conduct budget defense sessions.

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