Business Leaders Upbeat about Better Economy as Buhari Signs 2020 Birthday Budget

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President Muhammadu Buhari signing the 2019 budget.

•President preaches patience, patriotism at 77
•Pledges free, fair, credible 2023 polls
•APC govs, Gbajabiamila, Tinubu greet celebrant

Omololu Ogunmade, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos

Business leaders have hailed the return to the January-December budget cycle, which was heralded yesterday with President Muhammadu Buhari assenting to the 2020 Appropriation Bill on his 77th birthday.

In separate interviews with THISDAY while reacting to the president signing the 2020 budget, they said the new budget cycle would impact positively on the economy by ensuring delivery of the expected outcomes from the budget and facilitate planning by both the private and the public sectors.

Besides signing the budget into law yesterday, the president, on the occasion of his 77th birthday anniversary, also promised to deliver free and fair elections in the next election cycle, just as he preached patience and patriotism.

While signing the 2020 budget into law, Buhari said he had instructed the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, to ensure its effective implementation.

The budget signing ceremony was witnessed in the State House by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan; the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; Ahmed and Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Babajide Omoworare.

Yesterday’s ceremony marked the first time the president would sign an annual budget into law since 2016 without any controversy and sharp disagreement between the executive and the National Assembly.

Previous ceremonies were accompanied by the resolve of the presidency to send in amendment bills to the National Assembly to correct such disagreements. But the president was yesterday satisfied with the entire legislation done by the federal legislature on the budget.

Buhari, who described the Appropriation Act as a deficit budget, promised to send the 2020 borrowing plan for the funding of the budget to the National Assembly with a plea to the heads of the federal legislature to ensure its speedy consideration.

The president, who also said the passage of the budget by the National Assembly on December 5, marked the fourth time that budget was passed before the new year, described this as the earliest.

He praised the National Assembly for what he described as its patriotic zeal, which resulted in the quick passage of the budget within two months and consequently guaranteed the return of the country to the January-December budget cycle.

Buhari said the expected passage of the Finance Bill in the next few days would also serve as another landmark achievement because it would complement the implementation of the budget.

“I am very pleased that the National Assembly worked uncommonly long hours in the interest of our people and the national economy to ensure detailed legislative review and passage of the budget within two months.

“This patriotic zeal adopted by the Ninth National Assembly has restored our budget cycle to a predictable January to December fiscal year.
“Furthermore, in the 20 years since the return to civilian democracy, this will be just the fourth time that the federal budget was passed before the end of the previous year, and this is the earliest.

“The passage of the Finance Bill, which I am told will be done in the coming days, will also be a landmark achievement worthy of recognition, being the first time, this has been done in the last twenty years,” he said.

According to him, with the quick passage and assent to the budget, the federal government is now well positioned to effectively implement it and simultaneously fulfill its promises to Nigerians.

He also pledged to sustain a working relationship with the National Assembly.
Buhari who said he had instructed relevant agencies and authorities to ensure the presentation of the 2021 budget in September next year, also promised to promote constitutional moves aimed at addressing challenges associated with budgeting.

The president gave brief highlights of the budget and directed the finance minister to make details of the budget public later.

He said he was optimistic that the government would be able to fund the budget with the revenue target already designed.

“Now, we are well positioned to effectively implement the budget and deliver our promises to Nigerians. Businesses will also benefit as they are now in a position to plan more effectively.

“We have to sustain this harmonious working relationship. I expect that, going forward, this will be the norm. I have directed that efforts be made to ensure the presentation of the 2021 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly in September 2020. I am confident that all federal ministries, departments and agencies will cooperate with the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to keep to this timeline.

“I will work with the Ninth National Assembly to give effect to the constitutional, legislative and other actions that may be necessary to address the various challenges currently associated with our federal budgeting process, including the enactment of an Organic Budget Bill

“The 2020 Budget passed by the National Assembly provides for aggregate expenditures of Ten-point-Five-Nine-Four Trillion Naira (N10.594 trillion), an increase of Two Hundred and Sixty-Three-point-Nine-Five Billion Naira (N263.95 billion) over the executive’s proposal that was submitted in October 2019. We have examined the adjustments and may revert to the National Assembly with a request for a virement or other relevant amendments.

“The honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning will make a public presentation of the details of the approved budget. With today’s global oil market outlook and our strategic approach to revenue growth, we are optimistic that we will be able to finance the 2020 Budget.

“However, being a deficit budget, an appropriate 2020–2022 Borrowing Plan will be forwarded to the National Assembly, in due course,” he added.

Answering questions from reporters after the signing ceremony, Lawan thanked his colleagues whom he said worked hard to make the passage a reality.

He, however, said what would be the tragedy of the budget would be the inability to realise revenues targeted to fund it.

But he expressed the hope that funding the budget would be easier with the passage of the Finance Bill as well as the implementation of the Production Sharing Contract Act, which would give the country extra $2 billion in the 2020 fiscal year.

“I think the tragedy of the past was not the budget being passed in good time. The tragedy of the past, and could be the tragedy of tomorrow, is for us not to be able to get the revenues. That is very important. But this time around, we have passed the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill will provide more revenues to government.

“We have also passed an amendment to the Production Sharing Contract. That will also provide more revenues. We all know that the production sharing contract was never available to fund our budget properly. In fact, in 2019, N350 billion was earmarked but we couldn’t get anything. Next year, by the grace of God, because of the amendment, we are going to get close to $2 billion and that is going to be a marked difference from what it used to be,” Lawan stated.

On his part, Gbajabiamila said monitoring implementation of the budget would not be difficult because various committees of the National Assembly saddled with oversight functions would discharge their responsibilities accordingly.

The N10.59 trillion budget is made up of N4.84 trillion recurrent expenditure, N2.46 trillion capital expenditure, N2.72 trillion for debt servicing, fiscal deficit of N2.28 trillion and deficit to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio of 1.52 per cent.

The Appropriation Act was predicated on a crude oil production volume of 2.18 million barrel per day, oil benchmark of $57 and N305/$ exchange rate.
Other components of the Act include the GDP growth rate projection of 2.93 per cent and inflation rate of 10.81 per cent and statutory transfer of N556.7 billion

Business Leaders Upbeat on Budget Implementation

Reacting to the signing of the budget, the Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr. Muda Yusuf, told THISDAY yesterday that the timely signing of the budget was laudable.

According to him, it would impact positively on budget implementation and the timely delivery of the expected outcomes.

“Secondly, it will reduce uncertainty, which in the past has been experienced by the stakeholders impacted directly by the budget. Thirdly, it makes planning easier for relevant private sector and public sector stakeholders in the budget process. It is hoped that the return to the January-December budget cycle will be sustained. However, revenue constraint remains a major factor in the implementation,” Yusuf explained.

In its reaction, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA) commended the executive and legislative arms of the federal government on the swift passage of the 2020 budget, which it said was in line with the promises of the ninth National Assembly to revert the budget cycle to a January to December period.

The association told THISDAY that the GDP growth projection of 2.93 per cent highly “optimistic” but achievable.
NACCIMA, however, raised concerns over what it described as rising budget deficit and foreign debts.

Director General of NACCIMA, Ambassador Ayoola Olukannni, said: “We note that the budget deficit continues to rise (N1.9 trillion in 2019, N2.8 trillion proposed in 2020). Foreign Debt is estimated to increase by 64 per cent based on the 2019 Budget and 180 per cent based on the 2018 budget. Capital expenditure is two per cent higher than the 2019 budget and 34 per cent lower than the 2018 budget. Recurrent expenditure continues to rise (possibly due to the implementation of the proposed minimum wage).

“We appreciate that the federal government has recognised at various fora that the performance of Value Added Tax is dependent on the level of economic activity. As such, we re-emphasise our position that government’s policy focus should be on increasing the level of economic activity as a way to generate revenue from taxes.

“NACCIMA notes that the government has adopted oil price benchmark of $57 per barrel, a daily oil production estimate of 2.18 million barrels per day (mbpd) and an exchange rate of N305 per US Dollar for 2020.

“However, this statement appears at odds with Nigeria’s current crude oil output (1.69 million barrels per day) and statements credited to Minister of State for Petroleum, which assure the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) of Nigeria’s commitment to comply with OPEC’s new production quota of 1.774 million barrels per day. This raises some concern on the revenue projections expected to fund the budget.”

On the Finance Bill being considered by the National Assembly, NACCIMA said it acknowledged the federal government’s need to fund the implementation of the budget, especially, in line with the new minimum wage structure.

“Our association counsels that expanding the tax net, implementing tax reform and ensuring robust tax administration while promoting and facilitating productive economic activity will contribute greatly to increasing government revenues with less negative impact on the economy,” NACCIMA added.

Buhari, at 77, Promises Free, Fair Elections in 2023

Also yesterday, the president while marking his 77th birthday promised to deliver free and fair polls in the next general election just as he called upon Nigerians to be patient and patriotic.

Buhari described Nigeria as ‘a terrific country,’ where nobody can unilaterally have his way.
According to him, he has resolved to live with the reality of the country’s characteristics as no matter what is done, some individuals will always find fault with it.
The president spoke at the State House, Abuja, while answering questions from reporters on the occasion of his 77th birthday.

The president’s aides, including the SGF, had visited him in his residence to wish him a happy birthday and present him with a congratulatory card. The president also cut his birthday cake before the aides.

He told reporters after the event that he could only make some efforts, noting that Nigeria, being a ‘terrific country,’ is a place where people always go to the press to find fault with his actions.

“I think I come to accept the realities of leadership in Nigeria. You can only try. It is a terrific country. No matter what you do, there are people on a daily basis that look for your faults and go to the press. So, you have to learn to live by that,” he said.

Asked what would be his birthday gifts to Nigerians, Buhari said the gifts would be patience and patriotism, adding that the truth has to be accepted about Nigeria that nobody could have his way in the country because “we are one Nigeria.”

He stated that patience needed to be exhibited in the drive to explore the resources that Nigeria is endowed with, with a view to bestowing meaningful legacies to future generations.

He said: “Patience and patriotism, that is what we see as a rule. Nobody can have his own way. We better accept the truth that we are one Nigeria. We ‘ll keep on building. God has blessed us with land and people and resources. We must have the patience to exploit them and leave something for our future generations.”

Buhari also repeated the promise he made before the 2019 general election that he would work hard to deliver free and fair polls in 2023, asking those seeking to be elected into the presidency and the National Assembly to work hard because he would not condone malpractices.

“What I want to promise Nigerians that I will work very hard on free and fair election. All those that are going to succeed in the National Assembly and the presidency, they better work very hard because I will make sure, using the law enforcement agencies, that elections are free and fair; nobody uses his office or his resources to force himself on his constituency,” he added.

The president lamented that unlike his first coming as a military leader when he acted without restraint, the current civil administration that he leads is too slow and antithetical to his desire.

“So, under this system which is supposed to be more accountable, but it is too slow for my liking, but I have to follow it,” he said.
Asked how he felt at 77, Buhari said he felt well, adding that whereas there are many people on crutches at the same age of 77, his case is different because he could walk unaided.

APC Govs, Gbajabiamila, Tinubu Felicitate with Buhari

Meanwhile, the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF), Gbajabiamila and a leader of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu, have congratulated the president on his 77th birthday.
The APC governors, the speaker and Tinubu, in their statements, described the president as a role model and an example of incorrigible leadership to this generation.

The Chairman of the forum and Kebbi State Governor, Atiku Bagudu, who issued the statement on behalf of the APC governors, commended Buhari for his selfless service to Nigeria.
He said: “The Progressive Governors Forum wishes President Muhammadu Buhari, a happy birthday and also say a big thank you for your selfless service to our dear country.

“We are very proud of you and your brave and fearless leadership. You have been a role model and an example of incorrigible leadership to this generation. We proudly hold you as someone worthy of emulation.”

Also, the speaker, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Lanre Lasisi, wished the President continued good health, wisdom and God’s protection.
“Mr. President Sir, your journey on earth has been full of blessings not only to the members of your immediate family but to Nigeria and Nigerians as a whole,” he said.
On his part, Tinubu said Buhari had done much to place Nigeria on the pathway to better future.

In a statement by his Media Adviser, Tunde Rahman, the former Lagos State governor said: “You have exhibited that rare combination of a simple and modest lifestyle coupled with an ambitious and grand vision for our nation.

“Your administration has been one of momentous achievements and the realisation of hope and progress for our country and our party, the All Progressives Congress.”

“A man of political courage, you have taken bold decisions that those before you knew were needed but avoided taking. You have made Nigeria safer by making the violent terrorists and wrongdoers so much weaker that they will ultimately fall due to your efforts protecting our national security.”