JUST IN: Reps pass 2020 budget for second reading

The ongoing house of reps voting to elect new speaker
House of Reps

The House of Representatives has passed the 2020 budget for second reading.

The House had commenced debate on the general principles of the appropriations act on Wednesday.

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday presented a spending plan of N10.3 trillion to the National Assembly, making next year’s proposed budget the country’s highest ever.

The proposal shows that about a quarter of the sum (N2.5 trillion) will be used for debt servicing, while capital expenditure is expected to gulp N2.1 trillion which excludes the capital component of statutory transfers.

A further breakdown presented by the president shows the expenditure estimate includes statutory transfers of N556.7 billion, non-debt recurrent expenditure of N4.8 trillion and provision for Sinking Fund to retire maturing bonds issued to local contractors is N296 billion.

The budget was prepared on the assumption of $57 per barrel with crude oil production of 2.18 million barrels per day and the exchange rate assumed at N305 to $1.

Other assumptions include real GDP growth of 2.93 per cent while “inflation is expected to remain slightly above single digits in 2020.”

Deliberations

On the first day of deliberations, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) raised a point of order stating that it was improper for the budget to be attended to without its breakdown.

“The budget is very very ‘unripe’ for hearing,” he said.

President Buhari had during his presentation on Tuesday stated that the minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed, will provide the full details of the budget to the National Assembly.

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“The minister yet to provide us with the full details that will enable this budget to be ripe for hearing,” he told the house.

The Speaker then ruled Mr Chinda our of order, stating that the house does not need full details to debate on general principles.

“What the president laid yesterday was actually in line with our constitution.”

Concerns

During the continuation of debate on Thursday, the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu), said he commended the fact “that this is one of the time that budget is brought in early.”

“The capital expenditure has been reduced from 2019, the debt servicing of 2.8trillion,” he said. “There is no country that can make progress with this. Health budget is (N)48 billion. How can we make progress? This time, we are putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

“Nigerians are burdened with so much tax, I believe the budget will not work. I believe the money bill should have been brought before this.

“I was House committee chairman for works, I stated that the commitment of the Ministry is N4 trillion of contract awarded. Any belief that the country will move forward with this budget is a mirage.”

Another lawmaker, Nnaji Nnoli, (PDP, Enugu) said he was concerned about the aviation sector.

“Out airports are our gateway, I believe our airport should be given attention, I do not believe that our aviation is getting enough.

“I believe that if we can consolidate the 25 per cent of FAAN IGR to the federal government, that will help the airports.

“We can have a 10 years plan for the funds to be used by FAAN. We can develop our airport,” he stated.

Benjamin Kalu, the House spokesperson, said he is in support of the bill “but that will not be right without speaking on the timing of the budget”.

“It helps the private sector to plan, as they know the direction the policy is going, I commend them, but we cannot discuss 2020 without discussing 2019.

“One of the man things is the digitisation of tax collection. Over the years, it has been difficult to meet our tax target, the current budget is proposing a new tax burden.

“What this does to an emerging economy is that activities are reduced which causes unemployment and low productivity, which is like a cycle that will continue unless there is a paradigm shift,” he noted.

“The business environment… will it allow things to take place? It is important to copy from Rwanda. It is the first country that has started the manufacturing of smartphones from scratch.

“I commend the government for the shift to the non-oil sector,” he added.

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