The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, at the weekend explained that the Technical Committee on the Implementation of a new Minimum Wage inaugurated last Wednesday by President Muhammadu Buhari is to, amongst other things, identify additional sources of revenue to ensure that government can meet the increased costs that will arise from the implementation of a new minimum wage without affecting government’s ability to meet the other obligations of government, particularly with respect to the ambitious infrastructure development plans of the Government.
Senator Udoma who was interacting with media editors in Lagos explained that whenever a new minimum wage bill is enacted there are demands for some wage increases even from those already earning more than the new minimum wage. All these salary increases will impose additional costs on Government.
Therefore the committee is expected to make suggestions as to how government can raise additional revenues to ensure that Government can still meet its expenditure on other services such as education, health, infrastructure and other important functions of Government, after paying the increased salaries.
"The committee is expected to, amongst other things, look at how to get additional revenues so that as our wage bill goes up, we are able to increase our revenues to ensure that our spending on capital projects, our spending on basic infrastructure, our spending on health, our spending on education and others is not reduced. In short, the committee is to advise on ways to ensure that notwithstanding the increase in payroll costs, there continues to be adequate funding for other government activities. This is not just for the 2019 fiscal year, but going forward, thereafter."
On the issue of the budget deficit, the Minister said government is proposing to bring it down slightly from the N1.95 trillion projected for 2018 to N1.895 trillion in 2019. This, he said, is 1.3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), well within the 3% limit set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
As regards the debt service to revenue ratio, he assured that as our revenue situation improves that ratio will come down.
As the Minister emphasized "Nigeria does not have a debt problem, as such. Our debt is within prudent limits. However, we need to optimise our revenue generating potential. This will bring down our debt service to revenue ratio. Given the size of our economy we can, and should, be doing better, in revenue generation. This explains our focus as a Government on revenues and revenue generation.”
With regard to the complaints that the budget was small, the Minister explained "Some commentators have complained that the 2019 Budget Proposal is too small. They would like us to have a larger budget. All of us in Government would also like Nigeria to have a larger budget. Indeed as our revenues grow we will be able to expand our budget size. In truth, though we have increased our budget size significantly since we took over Government in 2015, our budget size is still far too small to meet all our needs.
"However, we are limited by the size of our revenues. Our current proposal for 2019 represents the maximum size that we believe we can prudently fund from our revenue and debt sources. There is no point announcing a large budget that you cannot fund. As we are able to generate more revenues in future we will be able to continue to increase the size of our budgets."
Also speaking on the issue of unemployment, the Minister explained that Government was working hard to improve the enabling environment for economic expansion which will lead to the creation of additional jobs. He was confident that as the various initiatives of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (the ERGP) continue to be implemented we will be able to create jobs at a rate that is much faster than population growth, thereby bringing down the unemployment figures.
"Most of these jobs will be created in the private sector particularly in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, trade and services. He pointed out that many of the major economic indices are showing signs of improvement. These are the reasons the Minister indicated that he is very optimistic about the future development trajectory of the country.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, on Thursday explained that even though the unemployment figures released recently by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show an increase in the unemployment rate, it is important to stress that this is not the same thing as job losses.
The Minister said that the increase in the unemployment numbers is not because jobs have not been created by the Buhari Administration but is as a result of the rate of new job creation lagging behind the rate of new entrants into the job market. He said that, as is generally known, employment growth usually slows down during a recession and takes some time to recover.
However, he gave an assurance that Government is working hard to ensure that many more jobs are created so that the rate of job creation runs much faster than the rate of new entrants to the job market.
Fielding questions from journalists and members of the public during the 2019 Budget Proposals breakdown session in Abuja, Senator Udoma stated that an examination of the NBS numbers actually show that the Buhari administration has a positive net job creation record of 1,640,398.
This is exclusive of the 11.1 million persons that the NBS classifies as people who do some form of work but are considered to have worked too few hours to be officially considered as employed, he added. This means that many casual workers in farms might be amongst the 11.1 million workers who the NBS enumerators may have felt did not work for enough hours to be considered as employed; and Agriculture is an area in which the Buhari Administration has made massive strides.
The Minister was confident that as the economy continues on its upward trajectory, having come out of recession, we will see the unemployment figures coming down. This confidence, he said, is due to the strong focus that this Administration has shown in implementing the investor, and job creation friendly policies and programmes of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
Over the next year Nigerians should expect to see a large increase in job opportunities and a consequent reduction in the overall rate of unemployment, the Minister stated.
Special Adviser (Media & Communication) to the Hon. Minister
The Federal Government on Friday, in Abuja signed a grant aid project for Emergency Rehabilitation and Reinforcement of the Lagos Transmission Substation.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) has been called upon to support the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government by creating systems that promote transparency and make it difficult for diversion of resources.
The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who made the call in Abuja on Tuesday when the executive of the Institute visited him, said the fight against corruption must be a collective one, and professional bodies like ICAN have a critical role to play if the fight is to be successful.
He explained that corruption has been the bane of development in the country which is why the Buhari Administration is focused on tackling it so as to save resources for human and infrastructure development.
To build a strong and prosperous nation, the Minister said we have to work together with strong resolve and never give up notwithstanding any frustration.
He said the present government has a philosophy of continuing with good projects no matter which administration conceived or started it; adding that government also has a responsibility in the process to protect investors by taking their interest into consideration even when reviewing policies and actions taken by previous administrations.
The government, he said, does not believe in jettisoning projects because it was initiated by a previous government, rather it builds on the good ones and reviews others in line with the policy direction of the administration. “We have to build on what is good, and tweak what is not so good until we arrive at what is desirable. You do not make investors suffer simply because a new government is in place, by abandoning or cancelling projects”, he added.
Reacting to the concerns raised about delays in passing national budgets, the Minister said initial efforts by the executive to return annual budgets to the regular January to December cycle met with some challenges, but he said whilst it is unlikely to be achieved this year because of electioneering distractions, Government is still determined to push ahead with the process in subsequent years.
The ICAN President, Alhaji Razak Jaiyeola, noted the strides recorded by the Ministry despite the challenges and resource constraints it is facing; and said the Institute is encouraged by the significant success recorded with the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which the government initiated to rejig the nation’s development process. “Indeed the record of achievements of the Plan confirms that the country is truly on the path of sustainable and inclusive growth”, he added.
While expressing concern over delays in the passage of national budgets, the President wants ICAN to be part of the engagement process in budget preparation since the preparation of the annual Fiscal Strategy which entails revenue framework, expenditure framework, priority areas and MDAs’ strategic thrusts require skills and competences which are the inherent assets of professional accountants.
Special Adviser (Media & Communication) to the Hon. Minister
President Mohammadu Buhari has commended the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, for his strategic thinking in the shaping of infrastructural development of the State and making it one of the most hospitable and attractive States for tourism in the country.
In a goodwill message to Obong Attah on his 80th birthday on Tuesday, President Buhari noted that the former governor’s contributions to architectural development in the country has been most remarkable and historical, especially when he served as President of the Nigerian Institute of Architects.
Represented at Obong Attah’s commemorative book launch in Abuja by the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, President Buhari said: “I join your family, members, friends, professional colleagues and political associates in celebrating your many years of service to God, and to humanity, and the obvious impact of your leadership style as a foremost architect and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State.”
He added: “As an architect with versatile and global working experience, I commend the strategic thinking and planning of both yourself and your cabinet in shaping the infrastructural development of Akwa Ibom State, which still remains one of the most hospitable and attractive states for tourism in the country”
The President prayed God to give Obong Attah longer life, good health and more wisdom as he continues to serve the country and humanity.
Senator Udoma in his own message said as the Senator representing the Akwa Ibom South Senatorial District when Obong Attah was the governor of the State, he was well placed to say something about the former governor’s character.
“Obong Attah is somebody you can go to battle with. He is fearless and, once he gives you his word, he does not turn back, no matter how fierce the battle. And the battle to remove the onshore/offshore (oil) dichotomy was indeed a fierce one.
“At one point, the three of us, myself, Obong Attah and Senator Ibok Essien were summoned to Abuja and made to appear before the President, the Minister of Defence, and all the service chiefs and threatened with prosecution for inciting our people against the President and the Federal Government. But we refused to allow ourselves to be cowed, or intimidated. We believed in our cause and did not stop the fight until we succeeded,” the Minister revealed.
Describing Obong Attah as a great Nigerian, Senator Udoma said “I would like to join his many friends and admirers to celebrate a man of strong character, a dogged and determined fighter for the rights of his people, a man of vision, a man of action and yet with an artistic and contemplative temperament.”
He said Obong Attah is not just a politician and political leader, but also a professional, an accomplished architect, highly regarded by his colleagues who elected him to the position of President of the Institute of Architects.
While wishing the former governor God’s continued blessings, the Minister reflected on the title of Obong Attah’s book “It is well with my soul”, and said “I personally find that, whatever I am going through, whatever my lot, there can be no more calming words than repeating to myself the words of the first stanza of the hymn “It is well with my soul”.
Special Adviser (Media) to the Hon. Mnister