Senators on Tuesday commenced debate on the general principles of the 2021 budget estimates, presented to the Joint session of the National Assembly last Thursday by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Senators from the ruling All Progressives Congress commended the Buhari regime for coming up with the N10.08trn fiscal document tagged, “Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience”. But their Peoples Democratic Party counterparts described the budget as unrealistic for implementation. The Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, who started the debate, said the proposed budget deficit of N5.19tn represented 3.64 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, which was above the threshold set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007.
He said, “Even though the deficit is covered by N4.28trn of new borrowing and funds obtainable from privatisation proceeds and multilateral and bilateral sources, it is important for our Committee on Finance to raise the matter for the National Assembly to permit this increase, as specified in the extant law, particularly given the special circumstances which made this necessary.
“It is important to point out that issues of revenue shortfall and meeting unexpected emergencies can only be tackled either by borrowing, cutting expenditure, shrinking the economy, reducing government and social services, rationalisation, and job cut, among others.”
However, the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said the budget did not show that the Buhari regime understood that the world had changed and that the country’s problems had intensified.
He said, “The oil era is fading out, but the government retains an attitude of business-as-usual. This is not a time for tokenistic ideas. Nigeria needs big ideas. This 2021 budget proposal failed to deliver on that point.”
However, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, pointed out that the budget proposal was an estimate and assumption.
“Concentrate on those things you think we can do to make this budget perform optimally,” Lawan told Abaribe.
However, the Deputy Chief Whip, Sabi Abdullahi, said Abaribe was merely playing to the gallery.
He listed the various interventions provided in the budget, particularly in the health sector, social security and support for the small and medium scale industries, as a genuine attempt to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians.
Joining the debate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu pointed out that this was the first time that Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio would be above over 3 per cent.
He said, “I want the Committee on Finance and Appropriation to find a solution to this. I have been very worried about the way we are going in terms of borrowing. I am concerned on the loans being given by China. They will not let you go off any of the debt because all the money is for specific projects and if they are not done they take over..”
Meanwhile, the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, urged the Senate not to pander to the secession agitation around the country, stressing that constitutional amendment underway would address the widespread agitation for restructuring the country.
He said, “The constitutional reform process is there in the National Assembly to satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians for restructuring and reshaping our federation to make it an inclusive and an all-embracing polity.”
Also, members of the House of Representatives on Tuesday debated the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill, raising concerns over deficit and borrowing plan to finance the budget.
Several members also criticised the rising recurrent expenditure by the Federal Government at the detriment of capital projects.
Leading debates on the budget, the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, noted that the Federal Government in 2020 had been was able to achieve between 50 to 60 per cent implementation rate.