LATENT WEALTH WITH DEBT SEEKING MINDSET
BY HENRY BOYO
The 2016 Appropriation Bill, has probably generated wider public interest and debate than any other annual budget in recent memory. The projected spending of over N6Trillion is by far the highest ever, but we will also require an exceptionally heavy loan of almost N2Tn to fund this budget, in which capital expenditure is allocated an unusually high, though still modest, provision of 30 percent of government's total spending.
It is clearly a mark of tardiness that we have continued to struggle with the discipline required to effectively commence budget implementation, as from the first day of each accounting year; furthermore, the recent mind boggling revelations of levity and unbridled self interest in the present budgeting process is even more disturbing.
It is no wonder that our social infrastructure and welfare continue to be degraded, despite decades of steady increases in government spending; while the Political and Civil Service elite suffocate themselves with opulent consumption, even when more Nigerians barely manage to survive on below $2/day. The 2016 Appropriation Bill is clearly in tatters and it would certainly take much longer time to enact, if issues relating to deliberate budget padding and the controversial N2Trillion projected borrowing plans are to be responsibly addressed.
In these circumstances, particularly after several inconsistencies observed in the preliminary legislative screening sessions, the Appropriation Bill may just be ready for passage between March/April; meanwhile, the respective Legislative committees have directed MDAs to come back with realistic budgets which are more appropriate and defensible, after full consideration of the trend in the various line items of expenditure and revenue, in the preceding three years' budgets.
Consequently, the implementation of 2016's Capital budget may at best only span about nine months, and this reality should therefore recommend a minimum 25 percent reduction in the celebrated capital budget of N1.8Tn in 2016; with this reduction, the bloated projected loan of N2Tn will invariably also shrink by over N400bn to restrain our already oppressive debt burden and the extremely high related service charges.
Furthermore, the informed assessments by credible Civil Society Advocacy Groups suggest that, the huge deficit in the 2016 budget can be sensibly reduced by up to N1Trillion, if the observed inconsistencies and obvious padding in the widely condemned expenditure plan are eliminated.
Fortunately, also, according to President Buhari, the recent implementation of the Treasury Single Account has captured and frozen about N2.2Tn unspent MDA funds as at the closure of budget Account on 31st December, 2015. It is not clear if the unspent funds were actually surplus and idle or already committed and awaiting disbursement after project completion.
Nevertheless, this incredibly huge credit balance cannot be ascribed to unspent remnants from a recurrent budget which should have expectedly been effectively completely drawn down by 31st December, 2015. Curiously also, if last year's total Capital provision was just N387bn, then we may rightly wonder where the residual frozen balance of N2.2Tn came from after the recurrent provision was drawn down. Inexplicably, as at December 31st, the unspent funds was N1.8Tn more than the total value allocated for capital expenditure, and this alarmingly, suggests that there was no disbursement for capital projects, and therefore no meaningful addition to infrastructure in 2015! Tragically, despite the apparent cash surplus, the Debt Management (read as Debt creation) Office still borrowed over N1Trillion to fund a deliberately overstated budget deficit in 2015. Notwithstanding this loan commitment, over $3bn (N600bn) consolidated from a deliberately understated 2015 crude benchmark was also spent!! Regrettably, this odious culture was sustained without any question for several years.
Indeed, in the course of a recent interaction with Nigerian residents, in London earlier this year, President Buhari insinuated that top civil servants in MDAs had deliberately conserved the stupendous year end balance of N2.2Tn so that the moneys can be clandestinely diverted into private Accounts as payments against fraudulent commercial invoices and waybills submitted from their own registered companies and from other companies belonging to their collaborators. The recent revelations of a similar scam in the management of NIMASA, probably suggests that this odious anti social culture which robs our people of the dignity of a better life may have become an abiding tradition in public administration.
Recently, Femi Falana, the well known irrepressible social activist and Senior Advocate, patriotically highlighted other potential latent public wealth that could be quickly activated to preempt the projected $3.5bn external loans from the World Bank and African Development Banks respectively. In his letter to the Finance Minister, Falana reported that "from the information at our disposal, the federal government is owed not less than $42billion, which ought to be recovered without further delay"; the potential receivables listed apparently include:
$20.2bn from underpayment/ under assessment of taxes,royalties levies and rents, captured in five cycles of audit report by NEITI;
$7bn (part of external reserves) that former CBN Governor Soludo apportioned to 14 Nigerian banks to manage;
the $4bn (N600bn) injected into commercial banks by CBN in the wake of the global financial meltdown in 2008;
the recovery of $9.6bn reported by NNPC in August 2015 as over deducted tax benefits from joint venture partners.
Additionally, the sum of $750milllion recovered in January 2016 from the Abacha loot is also identified as a potential revenue source that could eliminate further debt accumulation which could invariably trigger a spiral in debt service charges beyond the precarious level of 50 percent of total generated revenue annually.
Nonetheless, the usually low interest rates (often below 4 percent) and the longer moratorium and tenor should recommend the World Bank/ADB loans, if there is a clear commitment to dedicate these funds to major infrastructural projects which would add more value to our lives; such expenditure should be deployed to visible priority projects, such as the completion of a structured intercity railway system, the second Niger Bridge, the East West Road, High capacity Hydro Electric plants and a realistic and committed plan to recover thousands of square miles of land lost to desert encroachment .
Advisedly, the World Bank/ADB loans could supplement the $42bn outstanding government revenue detailed in Falana's letter to the Finance Minister, to radically transform and facilitate the enhancement of public infrastructure with increasing access also to qualitative education for less privileged children.
Furthermore, it is necessary to interrogate why we should even contemplate external loans when our own CBN still sits on almost $30bn of idle reserves. What indeed stops a smart portfolio investor borrowing at modest cost from J.P Morgan and other International bankers who warehouse Nigeria's reserves and then to quickly turn around and invest the same funds in higher yield federal government of Nigeria bonds; in otherwords, we may ultimately end up actually borrowing back our own money at a higher cost than the yield on our reserves. In the light of the preceding, it would clearly be reckless to pursue any external loan with a predicted cost from the international credit market as recently suggested by the Finance Minister!
Similarly, it is also worrisome that the 2016 budget has a domestic borrowing plan of N984bn, when, ironically, the CBN simultaneously sits comfortably on Trillions of idle Naira deposits, mopped up to reduce the threat of surplus Naira, notwithstanding the inappropriately high interest rate paid on these funds.
It is bewildering and Nigerians require urgent explanation why we borrowed trillions of Naira over the years to fund projected overstated budget deficits despite the billions of dollars that concurrently accrued into a so called Excess Crude Account, which was also consumed in the budget year. Curiously, it would seem that the serial failure of our fiscal plans is deliberately predetermined from the get go!
SAVE THE NAIRA,SAVE NIGERIANS!!