A budget is more than just estimates of how much a government intends to raise and what it plans to spend it on; it is a compact with the people, legally binding once passed by the National Assembly and assented to the by the President, promising plans and timelines for achieving good governance, peace and prosperity. So far, all the budgets we have had for the last decade or so have been observed in the breach, if at all. This time around however, there appears to be demand, from the legislature and the public, for more seriousness, more transparency and greater efficiency in implementation.
As a detailed plan of how precisely the government proposes to collect money and spend it during 2013, in line with its key policies and responsibilities, the budget estimates presented to the National Assembly last week leaves much to be desired. While satisfying the technicalities of what a budget should look like it has too many gray areas, fails to address the crucial issues of the day like the revamping of the collapsed or collapsing industrial and agricultural base. It certainly does not appear as designed to promote inclusive growth, given its token allocation of 1.65 per cent to agriculture and rural development.
The total revenue expected by Federal Government is estimated at some N3.89 trillion, from which it plans to spend N4.92 trillion. It follows that there will be a fiscal deficit of N1.06 trillion, representing 21.5 per cent of the plan, or 2.17 per cent of our GDP. This expenditure is further made up of N2.41 trillion for Recurrent (Non-Debt) Expenditure and N1.54 trillion for Capital Expenditure. Debt Service will swallow N591.76 billion while N380.02 billion is for Statutory Transfers.
Security has the highest allocation of N1.055 trillion, followed by Education with N426.53 billion. Works - N183.5 billion; Power - N74.26 billion; Health - N279.23 billion. The biggest surprise is the meagre N81.41 billion set aside for Agriculture & Rural Development, significantly less than N116.4 billion for the Office of the National Security Adviser.
While there are improvements in some macroeconomic indicators and our foreign reserves rose to a two-year high of US$41.6 billion, inflation still hovers around 12 per cent as unemployment and poverty continue to rise. At times like this we expect the government to help boost the real economy, especially agriculture, manufacturing and construction where jobs and hopes can be created. As it stands, this budget is too timid and will not give the economy the boost it so badly needs. Its priorities favour the purchase of guns, ammunitions, salaries and privileges of a very few lucky enough to have government jobs.
On a positive note, last year's supportive fiscal measures on rice, cassava, wheat, and machinery for the agriculture and power sector will now be augmented with new ones on now sugar, rice, solid minerals, CKD, aircraft (and spare parts). These measures will check Nigeria's high propensity to import (waivers aside) as they help local production and employment, though not for some few years. More immediate measures are required to tackle food, jobs and income opportunities.
It is our belief that even without the current security challenges, some of which are traceable to poverty and lack of opportunities, Nigeria needs to invest heavily in areas that will stimulate local production and growth. Indeed, the time has come to stop exporting jobs abroad through our penchant for importation of everything from tooth pick to many of the food items we consume. The government should lead by investing in areas that will leverage on our huge potential as a market and provide millions of jobs in the process.
On the 2013 budget proposal, the real challenge lies in execution, because the governments' record on this so far has been very disappointing. Budgets are laws; those in charge of their implementation should be held accountable for how they are executed.