Uche Usim, Abuja
Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning now has a lot on her plate as she is to oversee the two hitherto separate ministries (Finance and Budget) now fused into one.
She is to be assisted by a Minister of State, Budget, Mr Clement Ike.
Ahmed, by this development, fully in charge of the nation’s economy and will be responsible for designing and implementing the budget, which has largely been a controversial issue since 2015.
Economic watchers expect her to hit the ground running as the year if fast spent.
She is expected to quickly initiate the 2020 budget process to ensure Nigeria realizes a predictable budget year that will run from January 1-December 31, 2020.
To achieve that, she needs to prepare and ensure the budget is approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and sent to the national assembly latest by October this year, to give the lawmakers sufficient time to deliberate and pass it before the year winds down.
Topmost on the card is how the Minister can evolve and supervise a creative strategy that will swell government’s revenue and reduce the temptation of borrowing massively to finance the budget.
Analysts have asked her to beam her searchlight on various revenue generating agencies to see ways of using the latest technology to track and collect higher revenues for the government.
The advice is coming at a time Nigeria recorded a revenue shortfall of N2.22 trillion (January 2015 and December 2018), from independent revenue from it’s agencies captured under the Fiscal Responsibility Act. The Act stipulates that any government agency that generates revenue must remit 80 per cent of their operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund account. Some of these agencies are the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, Securities and Exchange Commission, Nigeria Shippers Council, Nigeria Export Promotion Council, National Health Insurance Scheme, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, and Nigeria Communication Commission among others.
Over the years, many of these agencies have been underpaying revenue into the coffers of government. The development had made it difficult for the Federal Government to achieve its revenue target based on the annual budget approved for these agencies. Between the 2015 and 2018 fiscal periods, the revenue target set by the government could not be achieved. The cumulative revenue target for the four-year period was estimated at N3.64 trillion.
However, during the period the cumulative actual amount generated by these agencies was just N1.42 trillion, resulting in a shortfall of N2.22 trillion.
According to experts, Ahmed should, as a matter of urgency, evolve better ways of running the economy without adding to the debt of N24.947 trillion currently choking the nation.
They reckon that developing nations like Nigeria are usually baited with various offshore debts that box them into a debt trap, leaving them at the mercy of their creditors.
Another area is to analyse the successes and pitfalls of the Nigerian Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan (NIIMP). The project, which is being coordinated by the budget ministry was approved by the Federal Executive Council in September 2014 as a blueprint for accelerated infrastructure development over a period of 30 years covering 2014 to 2043.
The policy is expected to unlock about $3 trillion worth of investments in energy, transport, ICT, agriculture, water and mining, housing, social and security.
The NIIMP is to be implemented under a five-year operational plan that would allow for periodic review.
A top government consultant told Daily Sun that the Minister must assemble a strong team that will run the economy efficiently by thinking outside the box and walking the talk about economic diversification, rather than sermonising on it.
He also advised against over-taxing the poor and non-productive segment of the country as that was tantamount to economic murder.
He said: “This much-talked about diversification is just rhetoric. As we speak today, we’re still a mono-economy. We’re running and relying solely on crude sales receipts.
“Even the recession we exited was because crude oil prices improved at the international market and we earned more revenue.
“If crude oil price goes down sharply as we had before, then we will find ourselves in the same pit. We’re not walking the talk on diversification.
“States are still relying heavily on FAAC allocation from the centre. They are lazy about growing their IGR despite the enormous economic potential of each state.
“Again, the issue of increasing taxes should be done intelligently. The poor should not be over-taxed. Only tax the productive sectors. The focus should be on progressive taxation. We should have more efficient ways of collecting taxes and growing the tax base.
“The issue of borrowing should also be looked into. We’re heavily burdened with debt. Our debt to GDP ratio is growing. Our debt to revenue also calls for concern. Make no mistake about these”, he said.
Another area experts want the Minister to urgently look into is economic planning by exhaustively reviewing the 2017-2020 Economic Development and Growth Plan (ERGP), which expires next year and then release another policy document of 2020-2023.
The move has become expedient since she is now in charge of economic planning, which was hitherto not under her watch.