Hope rises for 2020 budget as Buhari submits MTEF, FSP to Senate

President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday submitted the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP), for consideration of the Senate, dispelling the worry that the 2020 budget may suffer delay.

On Tuesday, the Senate said it was yet to receive a draft copy of the MTEF from the presidency, despite provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act mandating the president to submit the document four months to the end of the year.

The Act requires that the MTEF shall be the basis for the preparation of the estimates of revenue and expenditure to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly under Section 81 (1) of the constitution.

The announcement, which was made by Senate President Ahmad Lawan, as lawmakers resumed from their end-of-session recess, raised fears that the ‘delay bug’ could cripple the fiscal document as in previous years. After an executive session that lasted over an hour, Lawan announced that the Senate had resolved to wait for the submission of the document by the president, who yesterday forwarded the MTEF and FSP in a letter addressed to Lawan.

The document showed that the Federal Government budgeted some N9.12 trillions in 2020. But the document also indicated that the total revenue available to it is N7.17 trillion.

“The Federal Government’s expenditure budget is estimated at N9.12 trillion (this includes grants and donor funds of N36.39 billion). This is slightly higher than in 2019 of N8.92 trillion.

“Interest payments on debt is estimated at N245 billion while provision for Sinking Fund to retire mature bonds to local contractors is N296 billion. The provisions for personnel cost and pension costs are estimated at N267 billion and N536.72 billion.

“In addition, N40.17 billion (representing 1% of the consolidated revenue fund) has been earmarked for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF), N22.73 billion for GAVI/Routine immunization in the service-wide votes (SWV), and N89.44 billion for the power sector reform programme,” the government stated.

In the letter read by Lawan at the plenary yesterday, President Buhari said the 2020 to 2022 MTEF/FSP was prepared, taking into account key developments in the global and domestic environments. He said the timely consideration of the MTEF would facilitate the 2020 budget proposal preparations by the executive.

Buhari thanked the National Assembly for the much-improved partnership between it and the executive, noting that the preparation for the 2020 budget proposal was progressing well. He said the executive was committed to returning the budget implementation to a predictable January to December cycle.

According to a News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report, the senate also inaugurated the 69 standing committees. Lawan, in his remarks after the event, said the occasion was a departure from previous ways of inaugurating committees.

“We have resorted to this in order to save precious time. The senate received the MTEF this morning. As the preparations for the Appropriation 2020 is on top gear and could be received soon, our committees need to be ready to perform their functions. Time, therefore, is of the essence.” He said the committees were the engine rooms of the activities of the National Assembly.

The decision of the Federal Government to close the Nigerian land borders came under severe attack yesterday in the chamber as the senators opposed the policy, which they said had subjected the citizens to serious hardship.

To many of them, the closure is a temporal solution to a permanent problem.

Contributing to a motion sponsored by Adamu Aliero and tagged: “The impact of border closure on the Nigerian economy”, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Abba Moro, Gabriel Suswan, Ibikunle Amosun, and Solomon Adeola, among others, opposed the total closure, even as they urged President Buhari to reconsider his stance.

Abaribe said the closure of the borders had affected the prices of food and services which were predominantly ferried through land borders. According to him, farmers and other small business owners have resorted to struggling to ply their legitimate trade across the borders. “Why has the government decided to punish Nigerians? Maybe it is a temporary policy meant for the people to suffer temporarily”

He urged the government to give a time frame for the closure, cautioning that leaving it open in the present circumstance would be counterproductive.

Moro said: “The closure has affected Nigerians who carry out legitimate trades along the borders, while those who are engaged in smuggling are still plying their trade through the illegal borders. The government should come up with a permanent solution that will serve the interest of Nigerians. The current policy is counterproductive. I think that we are administering the wrong dose of medicine for a sickness that seeks to kill us. As I speak to you, we have about 87 legitimate routes into Nigeria. On the contrary, we have 1097 illegal routes into Nigeria. When we close the legitimate routes, the problem of our people is compounded by the fact that those who do legitimate businesses become stranded as they are caught in the crossfire.

“Now, our legitimate importers of goods are stranded at the borders. Some of the goods are perishables. They will waste. Even those who have paid their duties are not allowed to cross the borders. It will interest us to know that we are more of a consuming country than a manufacturing country. Most of the items that we consume here are imported through our borders. When we close our borders, the impact is more on our people than even the solution we tried to find to it.

“The reason is insecurity and the proliferation of light arms. Today, the light weapons that are being produced in this country are even more than those that come from across the borders. As we close our borders, the revenues that accrue to us through legitimate business is not coming in again. It means that activities of the borders will be stunted and stagnant for this period that they are closed.”

Suswan wondered why agencies responsible for policing the borders failed to carry out their duties. He urged his colleagues to assist President Buhari by appropriating more funds to the Border Commission and others to buy aircraft and provide aerial surveillance.

Amosun said that while he supported the security benefits of the closure, he was opposed to the hardship it had brought to Nigerians living along the borders. Adeola said the local production of food items could not meet the demand of Nigerians.

Other senators, who spoke, called for a review of the policy. They said based on the current protocol of ECOWAS, there should be free movement of goods and people within the West African sub-region.