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Budgetwatch 2011 —1

Dele Sobowale

The 2011 Budget is certainly the most bizarre in the history of budgeting in this country. First, the president delivered a budget address to the joint session of the National Assembly, NASS, proposing a BUDGET OF CONSOLIDATION without spelling out precisely what is being consolidated.

Second, while the total estimates represent 18 per cent shortfall from the 2010 estimates, the only allocation that went up was that of the Presidency when, indeed, virtually all financial experts have agreed on only one thing –the cost of running government is too high and it is inhibiting growth and development leading to job creation.

In plain language, the recurrent expenditure of the executive branch, headed by Jonathan, is one of the chief causes of our intractable under-development. Instead of reducing this, the 2011 Budget proposes to slash allocations to sectors having direct impact on the lives of the people. We shall soon return to this.

Third, the disclosures are being made in batches. There can be only one conclusion from this. The 2011 Budget was not thoroughly considered and there is no discernible rationale for the sectoral disbursements. Certainly, some time in 2011, another Supplementary Appropriation Bill will be placed before the NASS, as has been the practice in the last four years.

In that regard, both the executive branch and the NASS have conspired to treat budget making as a hollow ritual which none of them takes serious and other stakeholders are expected to disregard as well.

For 2011, N14 billion has  been
allocated to local contractors; this is about half of the N27 billion in the current year. Local contractors, as everybody knows, are among the largest employers of labour. How a 50 per cent drop in their expected income will increase employment is a mystery which the president and his economic policy managers have not bothered to explain.

The fate of four ministries, formerly two joint ministries, is not much better. In fact, because these ministries have direct impact on the Human Development Index, HDI, on which Nigeria ranks amongst the worst 30 nations, the slashes made are, at best, baffling.

The former Ministry of Agriculture; Rural Development and Water Resources were allocated almost N150 billion in 2010. Next year, they collectively will receive about N55 billion. Will that mean less water for a growing population as well as less food? And if so, how does that improve the nation’s low standing on the HDI?

Lower allocation to water, agriculture and rural development is bad enough. But, reduced allocation to former Ministry of Works and Land/Housing (an unwieldy combination to begin with) from N211 billion in 2010 to N154 billion, while splitting the former behemoth into two manageable ministries – Works and Land/Housing – means less money for road maintenance, development of infrastructure and certainly few housing starts. Yet, this is a power house of job creation.

As at the time of writing this, we don’t have the budget allocation for education yet. But, given the recent announcement that the Federal Government plans to start 18 new universities nationwide, it will be interesting to find out if this administration intends to put its money where its mouth is.


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