NASS leadership expresses worry over high debt burden

•Tinubu lists security, employment, others as 2024 budget priority areas 

The Senate President, Godswil Akpabio and the Speaker of the House of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, yesterday, expressed concerns over the country’s high debt burden.

The duo, who spoke at the at the presentation of the 2024 Appropriation Bill, by President Bola Tinubu, to a joint session of the National Assembly, said efforts must be made to address the high debt burden.

They also charged the government to priorities education, poverty reduction, youth employment, as well as infrastructural development.

Akpabio and Abbas, who told President Tinubu that Nigerians were facing hard times, especially in the aftermath of the removal of subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), expressed hope that the 2024 budget would help ameliorate the difficulties confronting the people.

The Senate president, in a welcome address, specifically tasked President Tinubu to take steps to reduce the debt burden. He stated that though the president was not responsible for the debt burden it behooves on him to fix it.

Akpabio, who lauded the removal of the fuel subsidy, noted that “we have also taken note that these bold decisions taken so far by this government have created some measures of economic discomfort for some Nigerians. We plead for continued support for the government to actualize the long-term benefits of these policies. The pain of today is like the pain of childbirth, when the result (the baby) manifests, we will rejoice and forget the pains. However, we hope these budgetary estimates contain provisions to ameliorate the sufferings that the economic measures have exacted on our fellow citizens whom we represent here.”

Furthermore, he stated that the country has depended on crude oil, as its major source of revenue, stressing that there was need for diversification to other sources of revenue. 

“We deem it necessary for our country to go back to agriculture as a way of stopping the over-dependence on crude oil. A mono-economy is putting all our eggs in one basket. It is a risk we have taken for too long and we cannot continue to tempt providence. We also believe that education should be prioritized, and something done to stop frequent closures.  If we do not checkmate the brain drain, the drain will numb our brains. This is why we must open the door of education, because when you open the door of education you close the door of the prison.

“We also want to plead with the government to do all within its powers to reduce our high debt profile. We know that Mr. President inherited this worrisome burden. But then the mark of a great leader is that he fixes the problems wherever they exist

“Mr. President, as we embark on this budget presentation, let us reaffirm our commitment to responsible governance, fiscal prudence, and the efficient allocation of resources for the benefit of all Nigerians. Together, with the spirit of unity and collaboration, we can overcome challenges and usher in an era of unprecedented development through reinvigorated revenue generation and fiscal prudence.

“We will continue to support the war against corruption and collaborate with anti-graft agencies to ensure that we do not continue to lose money that could be used to develop our people. The Tenth Assembly will always stand with the people, protect their constitutional rights and fight for their welfare.”

Akpabio stated that while the parliament is desirous to according to priority to the 2024 budget, the president should mandate ministers and heads of departments and agencies to avoid any travelling engagements that would prevent them from appearing before relevant committees to defend their budget estimates.

Similarly, Abbas, said millions of Nigerians were going through difficult times, noting that they expect the administration to provide quick and sustainable solutions.

Consequently, he said in order to stimulate economic growth and development, the 2024 budget should priorities poverty reduction, job creation, investment in health and education, as well as infrastructural development.

Abbas noted that in view of the high level of public debt, National Assembly would ensure the 2024 budget includes measures for sustainable debt management, including increasing revenue and controlling expenditure.

“Mr. President, it is a well-known fact that millions of our constituents are living through incredibly difficult times. For this reason, they also look to the Tinubu-led government to provide quick and sustainable solutions…

“In order to promote economic growth and development, the 2024 Budget should priorities social welfare programmes to help reduce poverty and inequality. Equally important is job creation and youth empowerment in view of the large and ever-growing youth population. Failure to do this means failure to invest in our future.

“This budget must also priorities investment in education and healthcare, which is critical to human capital development and a more productive workforce. Infrastructure development is another critical area of importance, which is crucial for economic growth. The biggest challenge, however, is balancing these priorities within the constraints of available resources.

“In view of this and the related challenge of a high level of public debt, the National Assembly will ensure that the 2024 budget includes concrete strategies for sustainable debt management, including measures to increase revenue and control expenditure.

“Specifically, the focus should be on raising more revenue through tax reform, fiscal reform, subsidy reform, foreign exchange convergence, and centralized revenue collection. In our recent engagement with MDAs on the MTEF, we emphasized the need for revenue-generating agencies to double their targets to meet the N18 trillion revenue projected in the budget.”

He added that the 2024 budget “should not be seen as a mere financial document but a reflection of our collective resolve to address the most critical needs of our long-suffering citizens.”

He promised that the parliament would prioritize the Appropriation Bill, noting that “while we would give it accelerated consideration, we will diligently scrutinize it alongside Nigerians to ensure that when it is passed, it will be a budget that best addresses the most critical needs of our people.”

•Jan-Dec budget circle slippery

Meanwhile, unless both chambers of the National Assembly are able to pass the 2024 budget before they embark on their Christmas break in another three weeks, President Tinubu-led Federal Government may falter in its January to December budget circle.

Prior to the administration of President Tinubu, the 9th National Assembly, headed by Ahmad Lawan as President of the Senate, and Femi Gbajabiamila as Speaker of the House of Representatives, the country’s annual budget circle was operated between January to December.

To keep with the trend, annual budgets were submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari two months before the end of the year. Lawmakers on the other hand worked round the clock to pass the budget before embarking on their Christmas breaks.

However, that trend appears to have been jettisoned with the late presentation of the national budget by President Tinubu and a difficult possibility that the Godswill Akpabio-led National Assembly can beat the odds and pass the budget in another three weeks.

•Tinubu lists priority

President Tinubu has said national defense and internal security, local job creation, macro-economic stability, investment environment optimization, human capital development, poverty reduction, and social security will top the list of core priorities in the 2024 ‘Budget of Renewed Hope.’

Tinubu said Nigeria’s internal security architecture would be overhauled to enhance law enforcement capabilities. He said this will be done to safeguard lives, property, and investments across the country.

He said the proposed budget identifies human capital development, especially children. He said human capital remains the most critical resource for national development.

“To improve the effectiveness of our budget performance, the government will focus on ensuring value for money, greater transparency, and accountability. In this regard, we will work more closely with development partners and the private sector.

“To address long-standing issues in the education sector, a more sustainable model of funding tertiary education will be implemented, including the Student Loan Scheme scheduled to become operational by January 2024.”

President Tinubu said a stable macro-economic environment is crucial in his administration’s bid to encourage private investment and accelerate economic growth.

He said his government will continue to implement business and investment friendly measures for sustainable growth.

“We expect the economy to grow by a minimum of 3.76 percent, above the forecasted world average. Inflation is expected to moderate to 21.4 percent in 2024. In preparing the 2024 Budget, our primary objective has been to sustain our robust foundation for sustainable economic development. A critical focus of this budget and the medium-term expenditure framework is Nigeria’s commitment to a greener future.

“Emphasizing public-private partnerships, we have strategically made provisions to leverage private capital for big-ticket infrastructure projects in energy, transportation, and other sectors. This marks a critical step towards diversifying our energy mix, enhancing efficiency, and fostering the development of renewable energy sources. By allocating resources to support innovative and environmentally conscious initiatives, we aim to position Nigeria as a regional leader in the global movement towards clean and sustainable energy.

“As we approach the COP28 climate summit, a pivotal moment for global climate action, I have directed relevant government agencies to diligently work towards securing substantial funding commitments that will bolster Nigeria’s energy transition. It is imperative that we seize this opportunity to attract international partnerships and investments that align with our national goals. I call upon our representatives to engage proactively to showcase the strides we have made in the quest to create an enabling environment for sustainable energy projects.

“Together, we will strive for Nigeria to emerge from COP28 with tangible commitments, reinforcing our dedication to a future where energy is not only a catalyst for development but also a driver of environmental stewardship.”

President Tinubu said a conservative oil price benchmark of 77.96 U.S. Dollars per barrel and a daily oil production estimate of 1.78 million barrels per day were adopted after a careful review of global oil market trends, and that a Naira to U.S. Dollar exchange rate of N750 per U.S. Dollar was adopted for 2024 as well.

Giving a breakdown of the 2024 Appropriation Bill, the President said: “Accordingly, an aggregate expenditure of 27.5 trillion naira is proposed for the Federal Government in 2024, of which the non-debt recurrent expenditure is 9.92 trillion naira while debt service is projected to be 8.25 trillion naira and capital expenditure is 8.7 trillion naira. Nigeria remains committed to meeting its debt obligations. Projected debt service is 45% of the expected total revenue.

“The budget deficit is projected at N9.18 trillion in 2024 or 3.88 percent of GDP. This is lower than the N13.78 trillion deficit recorded in 2023, which represented 6.11 percent of GDP. The deficit will be financed by new borrowings totaling N7.83 trillion, N298.49 billion from privatization proceeds, and N1.05 trillion draw down on multilateral and bilateral loans secured for specific development projects.”

He said his administration remains committed to broad-based and shared economic prosperity, adding: “We are reviewing social investment programmes to enhance their implementation and effectiveness. In particular, the National Social Safety Net project will be expanded to provide targeted cash transfers to poor and vulnerable households.”

He also said efforts will be made to further contain financial leakages through the effective implementation of key public financial management reforms.

The president commended the patriotic resolve of the 10th National Assembly to collaborate with the Executive on the mission to renew the hope of Nigerians and deliver on the promises made to Africa’s largest population.

“As you consider the 2024 Budget estimates, we trust that the legislative review process will be conducted with a view to sustaining our desired return to a predictable January-December fiscal year. I have no doubt that you will be guided by the interest of all Nigerians.

“We must ensure that only projects and programs with equitable benefits are allowed into the 2024 Budget. Additionally, only projects and programs that are in line with the sectoral mandates of MDAs and those which are capable of realizing the vision of our administration should be included in the budget,” he declared.

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