2020: Another budget of profligacy

WHILE the Buhari administration likes to posture that, morally and philosophically, it symbolizes a break from the past, its actions consistently show that it is cut from the same fabric as those previous dispensations it regularly distances itself from. The latest testament to this poignant mismatch between rhetoric and action is the just released proposed 2020 budget. If a budget is a codification of a vision, signalling in what direction those who have drafted it would like to take the country, the proposed 2020 budget shows that the Buhari administration has no grand developmental plans, and would rather wallow in the same old economic and political mediocrity.

For all you care, the proposed 2020 budget might as well have been concocted in 1979. Take for instance that, per usual, the Federal Government will continue to commit close to 90 per cent of its net spend on recurrent expenditure, meaning that for every naira that the Federal Government spends, only 10 kobo will go towards any kind of capital expenditure. At any rate, more money will have to be committed to running costs and salaries because last week, with very little warning, the Federal Government went ahead and created five new federal ministries, increasing the total number to 44. The new ministries are: Power, Police Affairs, Aviation, Special Duties and International Affairs, and Humanitarian Affairs/Disaster Management and Social Development. While a total of N2.45 trillion was allocated for recurrent expenditure in the 2019 budget, well over N3 trillion is allocated towards the same purpose in the proposed 2020 budget.

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Logically, an increase in recurrent expenditure translates into a decrease in capital expenditure. In the proposed 2020 budget, capital expenditure is slashed by almost 30 per cent — from N3.18 trillion in 2019 to N2.05 trillion in 2020. What all this boils down to, as indicated earlier, is that between basically servicing its humongous foreign and local debts (currently estimated at nearly N17 trillion), paying salaries and other associated running costs, the government has little wiggle room for long-term planning and vital developmental projects.

What makes it particularly frustrating is that the Buhari administration appears either to have no clue as to how to revive the economy, or fails to understand how its actions actually end up creating more damage. For instance, what is the point of creating five new ministries when, at its inception in 2015, this same administration conceded that the federal bureaucracy was bloated and slashed the number of existing ministries to 37? And even if you have to create new ministries, why not at least try and save cost by transferring staff from existing ministries or agencies instead of, as the Federal Government plans, embarking on new recruitment?

Some might object that, at this stage, the 2020 budget is merely a proposal, and who is to say that something will not change before the implementation stage. In any case, isn’t the National Assembly still going to comb through it, i.e. the budget, with a view to purging it of irregularities? In theory, both of those things are possible, but we’ve seen enough of this particular administration and the National Assembly not to get our hopes up.

We hate to be pessimistic, but based on the proposed 2020 budget and related economic indices, things do not bode well for the Nigerian economy in the foreseeable future.

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