24 January 2013

Nigeria Must Focus More On Gas Exploration, Resources

The Federal Government has been called upon to urgently factor in gas exploration into the economic blueprint and harness the resource for the development of the nation.

Government was also called to focus more on capital expenditure rather than recurrent, while the 2013 budget was described as unfriendly to the people, with a bias for recurrent expenditure.

The calls were made by the Executive Director Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDEBUMOG) and former National Chairman, Coalition for Accountability and Transparency in Extractive Industries, Forestry and Fisheries in Nigeria, Mr. George-Hill Anthony, in an exclusive chat with THISDAY.

Anthony, who dismissed the fears raised in some quarters that Nigeria's crude reserves would run out in 30 years time, however said, "Nigeria is not facing any threat regarding reserves. Gas exploration should now be factored into Nigeria's economic blueprint rather than just wasting it. The major issue is about alternative energy sources, which countries that hitherto depended on Nigeria's oil are now shifting attention to. It is a development Nigeria's oil and gas experts should brainstorm on and come up with the practical way forward.

Speaking on the 2013 budget of N4.9 trillion, the budget monitoring expert said, realistically, it is very difficult to trust the federal government on matters relating to budget.

"Some years back, some Nigerians (including the current Coordinating Minister of the economy) foresaw what was coming ahead in terms of fiscal rascality, hence there was need to give the people a fiscal responsibility law. I am at a loss how the current Minister of Finance, who played an active role in the enactment of that law, could now preside over an economy dominated by violations of the same fiscal safeguards she played a key role to get for Nigeria.

"For example, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, which the Fiscal Responsibility Act clearly outlined in Sections 13, 14, 15 and 16 is today being violated. That situation is compounded by the National Assembly, which treats the matter like child play, against the collective national interest. If you look at the above and even Part 1 of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (Establishment, Etc) Act of 2011, you can then measure the fiscal management objective of government and the politics that surround the national budget, and you can then connect that to interest of the poor and the sincerity of the government.

"Therefore, the 2013 budget does not hold much hope for Nigerians but for a few who take home about 70 per cent of the recurrent vote.

Speaking on the friendliness of the budget, Anthony said, "In Nigeria, we throw up figures just for the sake of it. How can a serious country project about N150 billion for Works ministry when the entire road network has collapsed? In a situation where ordinary men and women on the streets don't feed well, is it realistic for government to want to privatise roads? The entire budget does not pass integrity test, as far as its friendliness with the people is concerned.

On the President's promise to ensure better living conditions and jobs creation for Nigerians in 2013, the civil society expert said, "Any budget of 70/30 on recurrent and capital expenditure cannot give much hope. And the argument to retrench does not hold water. I agree that many agencies of the government have duplicated functions and could possibly merge. Even then, government needs to look inward and adopt an overhead expenditure tracker to reduce unnecessary wastes.

"If the government can give Nigerians good roads, power and a national identity (NIN) database that can stand integrity test, then other growths can follow. With a credible NIN, Nigerians can use that to access credit. By this, so many young Nigerians could become entrepreneurs and generate jobs.

Concerning the issue of persistent poverty in Nigeria, Anthony said a meaningful poverty reduction strategy must be dynamic towards uplifting the lot of suffering people. "It is better to concretise blueprints for poverty reduction than throw a huge chunk of the national budget at tackling security. There is a link between an accumulation of years in poverty and insecurity to some extent. I am not talking about political insecurity. The solution lies in how Nigeria structures the national budget and so many other underlining elements.

"However, the YouWin initiative seems commendable, even though it is a surface route. Seriously, if the government is serious, they can plug so much wastage on over-head expenditure and plough it back to get at least one million youths as beneficiaries of YouWin every year, which can add up to lifting five million young people out of poverty in five years.

On how best corruption in the public sector can be curbed, Anthony said, "If Nigeria introduces capital punishment against corruption as is done in China and perhaps Singapore, then corruption would disappear, even overnight. So many hypotheses on how to fight the scourge have failed. Don't forget, hypocrisy in itself is corruption."

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