By Dele Sobowale
“The most obstinate illusions are ultimately broken by facts” — Trevor Roper, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 100.
“Budget of Continuity was based on a benchmark oil price of $60 per barrel, oil production of 2.3mbpd. Government projected a deficit of N1.91t. The revenue performance is only 58 per cent of the 2019 budget’s target due to the underperformance of both oil and non-oil revenue sources. Specifically, oil revenues were below target by 49 per cent as at June 2019.”
President Buhari, Budget 2020 presentation to the NASS, October 8, 2019.
My first annual budget review for VANGUARD was done in 1989. That was 30 years ago and during the Babangida administration. If there is one thing I find remarkable, it is the penchant by Nigerian governments – military or civilian – to treat the annual budget, not as tool for economic and social development, but primarily as propaganda piece for their own political agenda.
Invariably, they have around them individuals who, if they were not in government, would be among the first to spot the fallacies underlying the budgets they publicly endorse. Reading the comments made by leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, about Buhari’s budget, one wonders if they would say the same thing if it was Atiku who released it. That shows how uniformly unpatriotic our politicians are!!
How often have we heard the statement “the budget is good, we only have to worry about implementation” as if a sound budget can ever be divorced from the plans to execute it. Highly respected pillars of Nigerian society have uttered that drivel so many times even with demonstrably unsound budgets one wonders if they wish Nigeria well.
To be quite candid, in all those 30 years, I have never read a single budget which was good waiting only for equally great execution to move Nigeria forward. Nigerians have been subjected to varying degrees of failed budgets leading us nowhere; or, worse still, leading us to ruin.
Incidentally, budgets under military regimes – Gowon, Murtala, Obasanjo, Babangida, Abacha and Abubakar – were better prepared and more faithfully executed than what we have experienced under President Shehu Shagari and since 1999. All our men in uniform, without exception, were certainly running corrupt governments.
But, they implemented their budgets better and were actually less corrupt than the civilians we have elected. Invariably, they started with a series of Budget Thrusts for the year in question, thereby providing keen observers criteria for monitoring implementation.
By contrast, Buhari’s budgets have been nothing more than tropes of words without clearly stated objectives and so no handle for assessment of performance. It cannot be otherwise. Just take a look at the people preparing the budgets and you must shed tears for Nigeria.
The 2016 to 2020 budgets under President Buhari have been the worst formulated and the worst executed. In fact, this is the first government lasting more than four years which had racked up such a dismal record of managing budgets. Buhari’s statements, which were rendered in “cut-and-paste fashion” above, regarding the performance of the 2019 budget, represent a summary of the four annual budgets he had presented to the National Assembly, NASS, and which had actually been passed with only slight amendments but which had got us nowhere.
They have all failed because the President does not realise that a budget is a promise to the people which he must keep. Revenue shortfall of 49 per cent amounts to betrayal of hope and trust.
STARTING ON THE WRONG FOOT; STAYING ON THE WRONG TRACK
“Morning shows the day” according to an old adage.
The disaster of the 2020 Budget actually had its origins in 2015. The first three appointments every modern Head of Government makes in today’s global village are: the Ministers for Defence, Finance and External Affairs. Those are the people other countries appraise most critically. And, the appointments are made very quickly after elections are over.
Bearing in mind that “a week is a long time in politics” (Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister 1970s), Buhari waiting for five months to make those key appointments had already sent a signal to the global community; and not a good one.
To then turn around and hand the economy to people totally unknown in global financial institutions for the five months sent another signal; a worse one. When he finally made the selection of Minister of Finance, the choice could not have been endorsed by the international financial community. Mrs Adeosun might be a good accountant; but, she is not and cannot be an excellent Finance Minister. The results showed very quickly. A recession followed in 2016.
That was not the first time Buhari would hand the economy to a novice. In 1984, he appointed Dr Onaolapo Soleye, a protégé of former General Olusegun Obasanjo, as Finance Minister. A recession followed. He has again appointed someone unknown as Minister of Finance and Budget. What will follow?
The government started on the wrong foot in 2015. The economy was handed to an Economic Management Team, EMT, with no known economist in their midst. We know what followed.
THE 2019 BUDGET FAILURE PREDICTED
“[Government] promises, like pie-crusts, are made to be broken” –
Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745, VBQ, p 203.
Buhari spoke as if the dismal performance this year came as surprise instead of another annual accident waiting to happen. The 2019 Budget is only the latest in a string of four budgets based entirely on deceit of Nigerians and self-delusion by this government.
If ever there was a Nigerian government which had operated on fantasy instead of facts in its preparation of annual budgets, the Buhari administration is it. Below are comments made on the 2019 Budget when it was first released by the FG. In an article titled BUDGET 2019 DEAD BEFORE ARRIVAL, the following observations were made.
“I was getting ready to throw in the towel on writing about the Buhari administration and the absolute neglect of all the measures that would make Nigeria a great economic power and reverse the trend towards deeper poverty and deprivation for our people. Make no mistake about it, the average Nigerian would continue to get poorer as long as we have Buhari and his economic advisers in government.”
It was clear that the FG had again repeated the same mistake made when preparing the first three budgets. They just never seem to learn from their past errors. Crude oil revenue was based on exporting 2.3 million barrels per day.
That is a figure Nigeria had not achieved in more than seven years. Furthermore, the turbulence in the global crude oil markets precluded any possibility that Nigeria would produce and sell that quantity to the world. Yet, the FG went ahead and based the 2019 Budget on it. The NASS, increasingly a collection of jesters, actually sat, considered and passed a budget based on that travesty. Buhari has now admitted that his government was absolutely wrong in its quantity estimates for 2019.
“There is a sucker [fool] born every minute- PT Barnum, 1810-1891.
America’s original circus master was the first to realise that even in God’s own country, a fool is born every 60 seconds. If it takes a whole minute to bring a fool into the world in the US, then Nigeria must be producing them at one per second. And some of them are in the NASS. Otherwise, it is incomprehensible how the lawmakers could annually waste their time and ours considering one atrocious budget after another. This is the fourth one. Let us start by asking a simple question.
What has the government done to correct the recurrent error in the 2020 Budget? Something worse happened as a matter of fact. On October 1, President Buhari announced to the world that he had ordered the release of N600bn for capital projects for 2019 in the next three months. That sum represents only 22 per cent of the capital budget for the entire year. It also means that 78 per cent of capital appropriation for this year will not be forthcoming.
That was bad enough. What made the announcement worse was the fact that the Nigerian President had pronounced a major tragedy as if it was an outstanding triumph. Only in Africa in general and Nigeria in particular can a President make such a statement and remain unruffled. Buhari needs not worry. He rules the most docile and the largest bunch of suckers in the world – including the NASS.
The 2020 Budget is worse in all respects than the 2019 Budget which is already a disaster. One must wonder what Buhari and his advisers are thinking of and what the leaders of the NASS are doing. All the evidence required for this budget to be tossed into the garbage can is there. Granted, the Buhari administration is one in which the right hand does not often know what the left is doing. But, can that excuse the absurdities we are witnessing?
It is incomprehensible why Buhari, a former Minister of Petroleum Resources in the early days of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, could forget that the cartel establishes production quotas for members from time to time.
He cannot possibly pretend to have forgotten that the members frown at any member exceeding its quota. He certainly must be aware that OPEC had already signalled the intention to impose fresh quotas which will start soon and continue for a good part of 2020. Last week, OPEC announced new quotas under which Nigeria is allowed only 1.77mbpd pf crude oil. Even if the budget was already prepared based on 2.18mbpd before the announcement, the situation has changed significantly and the budget is no longer tenable. Instead of stubbornly going forward to present a budget fit only for the dust bin, Buhari should have asked for more time to present a more realistic budget for 2020.
On at least two different occasions during this year, I have made the point that the 2019 Budget will never be implemented. Buhari has finally agreed with me in more ways than one. Space does not permit me to reveal more. But, two recent developments call for mention.
“Every government is run by liars and nothing they say should be believed” – I. F. Stone, US Journalist: 1907-1989, VBQ, p 80.
The Social Investment or Intervention Programme, SIP, introduced by Buhari and advertised as his legacy project was designed to alleviate poverty. The objective was clear and noble. But, it suffered from the same malady as every aspect of Buhari’s economic programme.
As most readers would recollect, SIP was allocated N500bn in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 budgets; the figure was reduced to N350bn in the 2019 Budget. Suddenly, the SIP has been slashed to N30bn in the 2020 Budget. Obviously, the poor have now been abandoned – because N30bn cannot cover the administrative costs.
Gone now are the School Feeding Programme and the N5, 000 per month promised to 5 million Nigerians in the quixotic effort to reduce poverty in Nigeria by giving N5, 000 per month to the poor. The programme could not have made any impact for two cardinal reasons.
First, the programme was based on wrong arithmetic. Even a good primary five pupil should have been able to figure out that N5, 000, at official rate of N300/US$1, comes to 16 dollars per month and just a little over half a dollar a day. That is clearly less than the $2 per day which is the global benchmark for poverty. It would have been bad enough if the poor received the money regularly. There is ample evidence that most of the intended recipients never got them; or, at least not monthly.
The same can be said about the School Feeding Programme – which was scandalous. Poverty was certainly not being eliminated. And in 2018, Nigerians were jolted by several reports from global study groups which declared Nigeria the poverty capital of the world.
Second the N500bn allocation to SIP in the first three years and N350bn in the fourth year was ill-advised. No government anywhere in the world allocates more funds to an untested programme than to security, power, infrastructure, health and transport combined. The sectors that grow the economy were under-funded while a new project was over-funded. It was an emotional not a rational allocation of our resources.
Unfortunately for Nigerians, neither the Executive branch nor the NASS that inadequate funding of programmes will result in low Gross Domestic Product, GDP, growth. And as long as the GDP grows less than the population Nigeria will increase the number of people living in poverty. Buhari was allowed to reduce capital expenditure to the barest minimum in the four years, 2016 to 2019, and the results have been: 2016 (-1.4%), 2017 (0.8%), 2018 (1.98%); projections for 2019 hover around 1.9%. Each year had brought its own harvest of people dropping below the poverty line.
“A man cannot gradually [or suddenly] enlarge his mind as he does his house” – Alexis De Tocqueville, 1805-1859.
SIP was a colossal waste of funds. That it took Buhari four years to realise that he had been wasting our resources should frighten us. The President who admitted failure on October 1 and made it appear as success; who should know that OPEC has pegged our crude oil output to 1.77mbpd but still goes ahead to present a budget based on 2.1mbpd cannot lead us anywhere else but into economic disaster.
Like all the previous Buhari administration budgets, this one will also never be implemented. Nations are not run on fairy tales read by their leaders.
The Presidential Economic Advisory Council, PEAC, members might as well go home. They will get nothing but brief from their assignment. President Buhati wants advisers who will launder the government’s image; not real advisers. Any man who evades the obvious truth and seeks shelter under false estimates does not need honest people advising him.