N24.38 trn debt stock sustainable ― FG

As FEC okays digitalised initiative for prison decongestion

The Federal Government on Wednesday allayed fears on the escalating debt stock which rose from N21.12 trillion in 2015 to N24.38 trillion in 2018, saying that there is no cause for alarm as the debt is sustainable.

Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udoma, who gave this position at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja said the government is doing everything to widen its sources of income.

The main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had last Monday accused the government of unwholesome borrowings leading to the escalation in debt.

The party had argued that since President Buhari assumed office in 2015, there has been a culture of unexplained borrowings leading to a steep rise in the debt stock from N17.5 trillion in 2016 to N21.72 trillion in 2017 and a huge N24.387 trillion in 2018.

“It is shocking and completely insupportable that our nation’s debt had risen from N21.72 trillion in December 2017 to N24.387 trillion in December 2018, showing an accumulation of a whopping N2.66 trillion in a space of one year,” the PDP had argued.

When asked to respond to the situation, Udoma conceded that the nation has revenue challenges but was hopeful that if the government’s attempts to widen tax net succeed, the situation of debt will change.

The Minister said: “With regards to our debts, our debts are sustainable. We do have a revenue challenge and we are focusing on that. Once the revenues come up, it will be obvious that we don’t have a debt problem at all.

“We are working on a number of initiatives to increase our revenues. We are looking at initiatives to widening the tax base. We are looking at initiatives to increase efficiency in collections. We are looking at a single window, which will help to increase efficiency, custom collections. We are looking at many different ways to improve revenues.

“The debts are sustainable, every nation borrows. We are working on increasing our revenues.”

Udoma revealed that FEC approved two contracts under the National Social Investment Programme, both of which are under N-Power Built programme.

He explained that the N-Power Built programme is a non-graduate programme that seeks to deliver accelerated training and certification skills to 75,000 Nigerians between ages of 18-35 years old.

It is aimed at building a high crop of highly competent and skilled workforce of technicians, artisans and service professionals, who will be trained and tooled and transitioned annually to take up jobs as electrical installation technicians, plumbing and pipe fitting installers, mason, carpentry and gentry experts, welders, fabricators, professional painters, built technicians and so on, he explained.

Udoma said the focus has so far been zone by zone, adding; “Today, the contract for the south-east zone of Nigeria was awarded to Hitech Investment Ltd at the sum of N122,800,000 million. It covers all the states in the north-east.

“The one for the north-west zone was awarded to Noble Ventures Limited in the sum of N145,106,107 and it covers all the state in the north-west.”

ALSO READ: Buhari inaugurates State Legislature, Judiciary Autonomy implementation committee

Also speaking, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, disclosed that FEC has approved a web-based automated inter-connectivity system, which is a digitalised way of decongesting the prisons.

Speaking on prisons decongestion, he said: “At a point, it was said 70 percent of prison inmates across the prison formations in the country were awaiting trials. Arising from these concerns, the federal government has been working to come up with policies, legislation and associated programmes that are targeted at decongestant the prisons.

“One of the policies put in place was the legislation of the criminal justice act, which has partially succeeded in addressing decongestion to an extent.

“Recall that Mr. President had put in place an ad-hoc committee under the chairmanship of FCT Chief Judge, Justice Ishaq Bello, to move around the prisons in the country, look at the conditions and come up with a suggestion.

“So, you are also aware that by the constitution, Mr. President is vested with the prerogative of mercy targeted at setting free inmates that satisfies certain conditions.

“Arising from this, the office of the Attorney General presented a memo today, which is web-based automated inter-connectivity system, which is a digitalized way of decongesting the prisons.

“The idea is to digitally connect all the prison formations to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, the police, prison service and indeed selected courts.

“The essence is to have an idea on the daily basis what obtains at our prisons across the nation. So, at a glance at a click of the button, one can access what obtains at the prisons across the country.

“For instance, who is going to court today, who is being released today, those who have been in prison longer than their years of the sentence, who is in prison that is not meant to be there.

“This will aid stakeholders in decision-making on a daily basis through the digital process of inter-networking. This is against an ad-hoc committee moving across the country to have a physical presence in prisons.”

He said the contract for the initiative has been awarded at the cost of N2.8billion.

On his part, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Bello, said FEC approved the award of contract for the supply of water and field for the Abuja Water Board at the sum of N368 million including five percent VAT as well as the contract for the supply of 500 fire men suits under the FCT Fire Services for the management agency of the FCT at the cost of N226 million including five percent VAT.

The Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, also said that FEC approved N291,731,485 for the procurement of Memory Access Retrieval System to enhance safety as according to him, safety and security is the main trust of President Muhammadu Buhari government in aviation.

He said It will enhanced the nation’s laboratory in accident investigation, adding: “It is a requirement of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in their standard practices and applicable by local laws.”