By James Emejo
Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, has assured Nigerians that the revision of the 2020 budget by the federal government was not intended to impose austerity measures on them.
Agba said that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration was looking at measures that would make economic recovery faster, in the aftermath of the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming global recession.
He said the major concern of government was how to ensure the retention of existing jobs and creation of new ones, adding that “we looked basically at how to save lives; how to keep our economy off the ravages of the pandemic by reducing the impact of vulnerabilities.”
According to him, “worldwide, economies, even the ones that were strong, were going into recession. We did not have enough fiscal buffers, this time round, as we had, as a nation, in 2015.
“So, the concern was how to keep our recession short-lived and shallow; how to stimulate growth in order to ensure quick recovery, not just a U-shaped recovery but a V-shaped recovery, and how to build resilience going forward after learning some lessons.
“What were the foundational things that we needed to put in place? It was necessary to have some kind of stimulus-both fiscal and monetary- and also try as much as possible to deal with the real sector and the issue of implementation so that we can stimulate growth in the economy.”
The minister spoke as one of the discussants of the “Impact of COVID-19 on the Economy particularly on the 2020 and 2021 Budgets” during a live discussion programme- “Radio Link”- monitored on Radio Nigeria’s Capital FM 92.9 at the weekend in Abuja.
According to him, “The revision of the budget was not to come up with austerity measures. It was to move resources to areas that would give us more impact such as health, agriculture, works and maintenance of our highways, job creation for our youths and women, artisanal miners, support for MSMEs, providing bailouts to critical sectors of the economy, among others.”
He explained that contrary to claims in some quarters that the revision of the 2020 budget had resulted in massive reductions in budgetary allocations, “we have actually put in a lot more funds into the budget than in the original budget; hence we are talking about stimulus.”
According to him, “It is not about budget reduction. The health sector, for instance, got $186 billion more than in the original budget.”
He said government’s priority also included giving support to the social, health and education sectors and building capacity through trainings for youths and women.
Agba pointed out that the restructuring and renaming of the Ministry of Communications in July, last year, to function as Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy reflected the new priority of government.
He said that, in addition to the Crisis Management Committee, under the chair of the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) under the chair of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), there was the Economic Sustainability Committee headed by the Vice President with focus on diverse economic sustainability programmes.