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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Dr. Okonjo-Iweala: Nigeria's Budget and Expenditure
Thursday, 07 July 2011 16:42

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala: Nigeria's Budget and Expenditure

Written by HENRY UMORU, CHARLES KUMOLU, INALEGWU SHAIBU& OGECHI OHAEGBULAM

"I strongly believe that we should try as a country as much as possible live within our means."

Dressed in a blue blouse and skirt made of African print with black spots and with her landmark headgear, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala entered the Senate chambers at precisely 12.10 p.m. and was let off at 1.15 p.m. for ministerial screening.

She was quizzed on several issues pertaining to the economy and for the first time was publicly made to disclose reasons for her unceremonious exit from the Olusegun Obasanjo cabinet.

Noting that Nigeria was eating out of what it should be using to develop itself, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said: "I am really worried about the issue of making sure our budget is not eaten up by recurrent expenditure. How can we invest in capital if we’re spending all our money on recurrent expenditures. Can we run a budget that is not negative? Absolutely. We can do it, we have done it. We have been able in the past.

Recurrent expenditure

"I strongly believe that we should try as a country as much as possible live within our means. Right now we need to work very hard because the budget that we have is such that the current expenditure is almost 74 per cent of the budget, therefore, there is not as much left for capital, so we need to work hard to put in place policy that will make it possible to continue to implement fiscal policies that will enable us to tackle the various challenges in the economy while at the same time living within our means."

She noted that the recurrent expenditure was crowding out other necessary investment in infrastructure especially power and as such solicited the help of senators to help the executive branch of government by giving the push to cut down recurrent spending.

Also noting the effect of unemployment on the economy, she said: "I think the main problems in the economy have to do with creating jobs. We have unemployment rate of about 14 to 16 per cent, but very large under-employment and the issue is how to make the economy growing in a way that it will create jobs, so those fiscal policies have to be supportive of sectors that are going to be job creating, because we now have growth, but we need to translate that growth into jobs, so those are the kinds of fiscal policies that we need to encourage. We should privatize sectors that are job creating."

Noting the declining performance of the federal budget, she said: "When I joined the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the budget implementation was 30 percent in 2003, we got up to 90 and 85 percent as at the time I was leaving. And that was a good for any country. As at now the implementation is at 53 percent. I don’t see any reason why the budget will not be fully implemented, if it is reasonable and delivered on time. Budget will be fully implemented if the revenue is coming with less expenditure."

Expressing concern that the country was not maximally exploiting its oil revenues, she said: "We are losing reserves, it shouldn"t be, we should be increasing our reserves, at the same time. I am aware that part of the reserve maybe due to decision to support the naira, I don’t think is something that is untoward, but if we want to revalue the naira this will not be the time to think about it. I think we should wait until things are more stable, we are growing our economy, we are creating jobs, we make sure our young people are working and the sectors we have are really giving what they should before we think in that direction."

Investment in oil sectcor

Answering a question on the Joint Venture Companies, JVC, Okonjo-Iweala said: "On the issue of JVC I think there are number of modalities that many countries use to manage the oil sector, exploration in their countries and investment into the oil sector. I think the problem that we have is that our own portion of the joint venture over time we have difficulties meeting that, but I don’t see anything wrong with them per se, I think in the beginning if you are going to go that route, you really need to have strong presence and advise to make sure that what you negotiate really obeys the law that will be of benefit to the country at the end of the day after the whole process."

Inevitably, she was drawn to why she had to resign from the Obasanjo government after her successful role in erasing most of the country’s debts to the Paris Club of debtor nations.

She said: "I did not run away, I was here. I resigned, I served the country for about three years and when I determined that I could no longer perform and give to the country the way that I would want, I resigned, which is the honourable thing to do, so I did not run away. When the circumstances are appropriate to serve, you serve and if they are not appropriate, you go and do something else. I think three years plus of service is quite substantial, not only in Nigeria, but elsewhere in other countries, it is regarded as a good amount of time to have given the country and I intend to implement and if Iam cleared I will do my job."

On the usefulness or otherwise of sustaining the subsidy on petroleum, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said that subsidy was a good instrument needful in narrowing the economic gap between the rich and the poor but lamented that where it is not effectively utilized it becomes wasted.

She said that she was especially touched by the wide gulf between the rich and the poor in Nigeria saying that narrowing it was one of the incentives for her returning to the federal cabinet.

She noted: "We have coefficient of inequality. It is this inequality that is holding us down. People keep asking why I want to come back to work, but the reason is simple. In a country where the rich keeps getting richer and the poor keeps getting poorer, we need to bridge the gap. We live in a country, where the rich can just wake up and decide to travel abroad, just as their children school abroad and have access to good healthcare. On the part of the poor, the reverse is the case."

In addition, Iweala said: "The children of the poor don’t have good schools to attend to and no good healthcare system in a country of 150 million people. That is the inequality we are talking about. We must change this because I know it is possible to do so. I will ensure that we improve the lot of the common people, in order to prevent our young people from moving abroad."

Vanguard's HENRY UMORU, CHARLES KUMOLU, INALEGWU SHAIBU& OGECHI OHAEGBULAM

Last modified on Thursday, 07 July 2011 16:49

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