By Dele Sobowale
The Senate is not satisfied with the budget performance, and neither is the minister himself satisfied with the budget performance because in some places the performance is as low as 15 per cent, in some places 27, and in some places 30 something —Senator Ayogu Eze, chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, November 4, 2009.

THE story appeared in The Punch. A sub-story also informed us that “Yar’Adua to present 2010 Appropriation bill on November 19.” And on November 6, 2009, the same paper filed this story. “Budget: Yar’Adua agrees with Senate, admits failure.”

For those who might not immediately grasp the import of those reports let me explain in the usual layman’s language what is the fate of our nation in economic and social terms of what you have read. But, first let us take a step backwards.

Let us return to the beginning. The 2009 budget was sent late to the National Assembly, as late as November although the president knew there were three important public holidays in front of us – Sallah, Christmas and New Year. He also knew that the National Assembly went on break from middle of December – meaning that no work gets done until the first week in January.

The result was a budget signed in April; and even then, both the president and the National Assembly were dissatisfied with it. Yet, they went about trying to implement a budget which was very defective.

Economic meltdown

As for me, I pronounced the budget dead from the start. Many of the revenue projections were simply unrealistic. The $500 million bond to be denominated in naira for instance amounted to whistling past a graveyard given global economic meltdown; similarly the $200 million to be sourced from the African Development Bank.

Obviously, the performance was bound to be poor because failure was written all over the document. Thus for Senator Eze to be lamenting in November, a disaster foretold in April demonstrates that our lawmakers are no better than the president who has no grasp of economics at all.

Even while admitting that the performance was poor, the executive branch was still trying to be clever by half by arguing about values – of which the government knows very little. What for instance has been achieved on roads and how does government assign value to roads that deduct from our GDP, when goods produced are destroyed on those roads before they reach the final consumer? It is all balderdash.

A more useful argument from the standpoint of the Executive branch will ask the National Assembly, which has the power of the purse, if it had appropriated enough and  ensured that the funds allocated can be raised. As it is, the 2009 budget was an exercise in arithmetical gimmickry involving both the executive and the legislative branches. None of them discharged their duties with the sense of responsibility required.

So the blame should be shared for the failure. At the moment there is a rumour, because it has to be, that the House of Representatives, has warned that ministries and agencies of the federal government which failed to implement the 2009 budget will get zero allocation in 2010. If it is not a rumour, then it must be the biggest joke of the new millennium.

The truth is no Ministry or agency of government, not even the Presidency, has implemented the 2009 budget. That threat, if carried out would amount to shutting down the government – including the National Assembly itself. I doubt if that is what will move the nation forward in 2010.

As it is, the 2010 budget already suffers two major setbacks. First, it is building on a failed predecessor. It is like building on a crumbling foundation. More importantly, nobody knows or has a rough projection of what the final figures for 2009 will be.

Yar’Adua has the worst set of economic policy managers the nation has had since independence. Yet, he is reluctant to replace them with more competent hands.

Second, the 2010 budget, like its predecessors is late; meaning that almost three years into this Presidency, the nation’s chief executive officer has learnt nothing about economic management. Even someone who has never flown before knows that when the pilot fails to exercise control, the passengers are endangered. If fiscal policy is in disarray, what about monetary policy?

There is a former helmsman who led many to believe that all was well. We now know better. Now we have a new monetary policy chief. What can we make of his policies, so early in the day? The first thing we must understand is that banking reform does not constitute all of monetary policy –despite all the attention it has been receiving in the media.

But, sound monetary policy cannot be achieved without a sound banking sector because banks are the agents specifically created to help create wealth. And, within reason, a nation’s economy is as healthy as its banks.
To be continued

Adventures in prophecy (2)

In times of victory, prophets are unnecessary distractions —Trevor Roper,  in The Last Days Of Hitler.

PROPHECIES can almost get you  slapped silly. On June 16, 1993, after the counting of the June 12, 1993 elections had been suspended with Chief M.K.O. Abiola leading Alhaji Tofa by a wide margin and the rest of the results already known, I told a group of Yoruba people at a beer parlour near my house that they should stop jubilating because Abiola would never become president.

One fellow, who had been shouting loudest about what a wonderful president Abiola would be, immediately jumped up. Addressing me, he threatened, “If you repeat that statement, I will slap you silly.” Others held him back. But, as an Area Boy, though not one for violence, I calmly told him. “The day Abiola is sworn in as president, we will meet at this joint, with all these people present and you can slap me until you are tired.” The rest is history. But not quite.

Abiola at first fled Nigeria. Then he was persuaded to return and claim his mandate. In one of my Sunday Vanguard columns I warned the chief that if he wzs ever captured by the military, he should forget the mandate because he would not live long enough to claim it. Again, the rest is history.

Prophecies can also get you into detention. On Monday, June 27,1994, General Sani Abacha had opened the Constitutional Conference, later called “Confab” (but which in my column I called the ship of fools) pretending it to be the first step towards return to civil rule after the military had annulled the June 12, 1993 elections. Said Abacha at the confab, “As you all know, we in the present government in Nigeria are committed to ensuring that there is speedy and unimpeded transition to a civil democratic rule in which we shall not be participants”.

In my Sunday Vanguard column of July 3, 1994, I wrote the following: “If you believe that bit, i.e ‘we shall not be participants’ then you will believe anything.” I went on to say that every other candidate should accept Abacha as his main opponent. By Monday afternoon on June 4, 1994, I was in detention for two days for wanting to incite the people against Abacha. Still, I did not stop.


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