•Osinbajo committee meets with EAC tomorrow
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The federal government is considering reviewing upwards the proposed N500 billion economic stimulus package meant to cushion the debilitating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Besides, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo-led Economic Sustainability Committee is also putting forward another proposal for a gradual relaxation of the current lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun States in order to ease economic activities grounded by efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had locked down FCT, Lagos and Ogun States since March 30, 2020, a decision that is due for review today.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, had at a meeting with the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, had proposed an establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.
The fund, she said, would be sourced from mopping up resources from various special accounts of the federal government.
The minister had also stated that in addition to the identified special accounts from where the money would be drawn as loans, the fund would also be sourced from grants being expected and loans from multilateral institutions.
THISDAY investigations, however, revealed that the Osinbajo committee, which came up with the proposals to relax the lockdown and increase the N500 billion fund, is scheduled to hold a teleconference meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Advisory Council to harmonise positions on various aspects of their recommendations before submitting a report to the president.
A source confided in THISDAY that “the committee has received reports from its various sub-committees on finance and stimulus package headed by the Minister of Finance, Ahmed; the one on job creation headed by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige; sub-committee on easing of COVID-19 lockdown headed by the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola.”
On lockdown, the source said the Fashola’s sub-committee had proposed the easing of the present lockdown in some states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). “The committee has recommended that the government should implement a gradual unlocking of movements and activities in the affected areas and to only continue the measures where necessary,” the source said.
He said Osinbajo would preside over another meeting of the committee tomorrow where the reports would be deliberated and harmonised with the economic advisory team before the final recommendations would be forwarded to the president.
“The recommendation is to dwell on measures to be taken on COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 era. The committee will conclude this with the Presidential Economic Advisory Council via a teleconference on Tuesday before sending its harmonised report to Mr. President,” the source added.
On what may form part of the key recommendations by the economic team, the source said: ” What they are looking at is that the N500 billion as announced would be expanded. In the interim, the committee will be working with the N500 billion but it has resolved that an increase will be recommended, which will be significantly above N500 billion.”
The source explained that although no ceiling had been put on the expanded stimulus package, the committee is pushing for a significant increase in the amount.
“The committee is also working assiduously to stem job losses through so many innovations. The target is to first protect the existing jobs and then find ways to create more jobs to take care of the depleting effect of the post-COVID-19 era,” he stated.
The Osinbajo committee comprises Ministers of Finance, Budget and Planning; Industry, Trade and Investment; Labour and Employment; Minister of State Petroleum Resources; CBN governor; NNPC Group Managing Director and Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, who serves as secretary of the committee.