Budget Of No Change By Ayisha Osori

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Can a federal budget be about law and order? If it could, then, that would be, more than anything else, the budget that Nigeria needs in 2013. The reason we are a poor country of rich people is because there is no law and order. The reason we have executions such as, most recently, Mubi 43 and Aluu 4 is because we have no law and order. The reason Nigerians are turning on each other, like mouths swallowing their tongues, is because Nigeria is a lawless country and we have no respect for order.

A visitor from Mars would be completely forgiven for thinking Nigeria is on the right track after hearing the 2013 budget speech made by President Jonathan last week. The good news was simply overwhelming. But as noble as the words sounded, they ring hallow in our context and everyone who sees suspects that little has changed. For those who want to be hopeful about Nigeria – in a real practical way – there are many reasons to want to believe in the budget of fiscal consolidation and inclusive growth. We hear things we have to admit we know nothing about like the fact that out of the N180bn earmarked in the 2012 budget for a social safety net programme, N36.5 billion has been used to support maternal and child health programmes as well as mass transit, roads and rail projects and job creation through the community services and public works overseen by SURE-P.  While our statistics on maternal mortality, i.e., someone dying of pregnancy-related issues every 10 minutes niggles, we try to chase away the angels of doubt by internally arguing, ‘I don’t know what is going on in every single corner of Nigeria, maybe there are things the government is doing that I just can’t see or feel yet’.

So we heard that inflation has dropped from 12.9% in June to 11.7% in August but we are not told what it was same period last year nor are we even told that the price of bread has also decreased within that time. We hear our foreign reserves are at US$41.6 billion – the highest it has been in over two years – but one only has to point to the Africa Confidential article of October 5, 2012 (now a notorious fact, according to the presidency) on Nigeria’s rising debt profile to feel insecure. NNPC alone owes about $8bn to foreign banks to finance continuing commitments on its so-called fuel subsidy scheme and domestic debt is already over $8bn. And, as usual, the basis of our budget is the oil sector which has been in the process of reform for 10 years now. And while the money for the budget is going to be sourced primarily from the 2.4 million barrels a day being projected, the truth is the NNPC and Ministry of Petroleum cannot say conclusively how much oil Nigeria produces or even consumes.

So reading between the lines of all the concrete and vague promises (e.g. performance agreement contracts, and ‘plans to increase the number of women that are employed in public works programmes’) nothing much has changed. At the end of the day, the split between capital and recurrent expenditure is still 30-70 and we are still an impoverished nation full of extremely wealthy individuals and an unconscionably wasteful government. While the president pats himself on the back , the 2013 budget does not go far enough to reduce the waste and corruption in an over-bloated government. If the members of the National Assembly were not cut from the same cloth as the executive, we would expect such excesses to be trimmed but there is a 90% chance that by the time the National Assembly is done with the budget, it will be way over the N4.92 trillion submitted by the presidency. The ongoing drama being enacted about the benchmark oil price of $75 per barrel versus $80 is a script for Nigerians – the looming compromise which will allow the gladiators on both sides to sheathe their swords will be to increase the budget to favour our legislators who are already the highest paid in the world.

According to Africa Confidential, “those blocking reform “are winning hands down.”  This means that the individuals – who benefit from the lack of law and order — will do and are doing everything to ensure that real reform does not happen in the oil sector where bunkering is on the increase and costing Nigeria over $10bn per annum. These are thebsame interests that will not let us see a decent petroleum industry bill nor will they allow us to get to the bottom of the fuel subsidy fraud where the Farouk/Otedola saga has conveniently tarnished the House of Representatives’ fuel subsidy probe report.

So what would a budget focused on law and order look like? It would start with something the South Africans recently did – rejecting President Zuma’s appointment of Mr Simelane to be the national director of public prosecutions because his “conscientiousness, integrity and credibility” were called into question. So the foremost lawyer in the land would be a person who would be unquestionably above board – not someone who leads a ministry where N50m was spent on sending lawyers to the annual International Bar Association meeting in Ireland. We need someone who is a champion for the people – ensuring that the law is applied without fear or favour to all. When the right people are in the right place, then, the money required to uphold law and order – the thousands who need to be prosecuted, the process and infrastructure required for the swift execution of justice and the revamping of the Nigerian Police to ensure they protect citizens and do their jobs — can be spent. And once law and order is in place, many of the challenges we have in Nigeria will melt away: the insecurity, the impunity, the feeling that everyone is above the law which makes it easy to steal, loot, plunder, maim, abuse and kill.

Instead, we have something we like to call a budget of inclusive growth… who or what is being included and who or what is growing? We want to continue to comfort ourselves with slow incremental change, the type of unnoticeable change which allows a live frog to be boiled to death because the temperature is increased ever so slowly that the frog does not notice until it is dead. What type of change is that?

Culled from Leadership.ng

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