The Senate on Wednesday commenced debate on the 2020 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, with a preponderance of criticisms on the N10.33 trillion estimate for the coming year 2020.
Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, bemoaned the amount allocated for the implementation of capital projects in the 2020 budget.
According to him, the figure of N2.14 trillion proposed as capital expenditure was rather too insufficient to stimulate the Nigerian economy along a trajectory that guarantees growth.
Abdullahi said, “The capital budget is too small. When you look at it in terms of investment, it’s a mere drop in the ocean, and therefore incapable of stimulating the economy to a higher growth trajectory.
“This has been the problem of the national economy for more than 30 years. We have been tethering on the edge; any small disturbance, either in the domestic or international scene will mean the economy crashing.
“When we realise the need to diversify the economy away from oil, we also refuse to accept the fact that we have to change our approach to planning, revenue generation and even budgeting.”
Speaking at the Senate plenary on Wednesday, senator representing Abia-South Senatorial District of Abia State in the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe said the budget proposal as a pen full of sound and fury signifying nothing.
His words: “In every budget speech, what we normally see is that they will give it a name. Last year, it was budget of consolidation. So this year, I was waiting to see what was going to be the nitty-gritty of the budget and I saw that there were many things that were jumbled together.
“They call it a budget of fiscal consolidation, investing in critical infrastructure, incentivising the private sector, enhancing and so forth. In other words, putting everything together like that reminds us of what Shakespeare said, ‘a pen full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’”
“I want to suggest the name to those who wrote this that this is nothing but a budget of taxation. It is based on 7.5 per cent increase on VAT and several other increases.”
But Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, took on Abaribe stating the budget presentation was brilliant, though it was
“laced with so many inaccurate statistical information but again, you are entitled to your opinion.”
A former Governor of Benue State Senator Gabriel Suswam (PDP, Benue North-East) said, “I commend Mr. President for bringing an ambitious budget; the deficit worries me, there is a correspondending borrowing increase; we need to do something in this Chamber by way of legislation to address borrowing.”
He feared that the increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) proposed in an attached bkll to the 2020 Appropriation Bill will further contract the economy.
Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central) commended both the executive and legislative arms of government for ensuring that the 2020 Appropriation Bill was laid before the National Assembly in such a manner that shows it will not be business as usual.
The lawmaker while drawing the attention of the upper chamber to legal concerns expressed by some Nigerians over the conflict likely to arise as a result of a clash in the budget cycle for 2019 and 2020, said the yet-to-be implemented aspects for the 2019 fiscal year will be collapsed into the 2020 budget.
Speaking on the loan component of the budgetary proposal, Senator Bamidele cautioned the Federal Government against securing domestic loans as proposed.
“Mr. President made it clear that the N1.7 trillion out of N2.4 trillion that would be borrowed to finance budget deficit this year will come from domestic loan, while about N700 billion will come from foreign loan.
“If we add this to what has already being borrowed from domestic sources, it means a growing figure.
“My concern is that much as government needs to borrow money from domestic sources, I fear that if care is not taken government might become a major competitor in a way that might stifle the capacity or ability of the private sector to be able to draw the necessary loan facility from the local banks. This is a call for concern and something government needs to look into,” Bamidele said.
He added that the decision of the Federal government to increase budgetary allocation for the National Human Rights Commission from N1.5 billion to N2.5 billion is a gesture which finally debunks insinuations that the government of Nigeria had annually starved the commission from having access to funding.
He called for increased funding for the Judiciary, added that the federal government must consider addressing aspects that have to do with remuneration of Judges.