Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
The federal government said wednesday that its knack for due process was responsible for the delay in releasing the N350 billion vote for infrastructure it intended to reflate the economy and get contractors back to site.
The federal government, which had promised to release the money immediately the 2016 budget was passed, however, assured Nigerians that better days were ahead as it said it had the magic wand to turn the ailing economy around.
Briefing State House correspondents after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting chaired by the acting President Yemi Osinbajo wednesday, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, said government had mandated the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to fast-track the processes for the capital budgets deployment so that the economy could be quickly reflated.
Udoma, while commenting on the delay in the release of the N350 billion, said: “The money is available but there is a process and this is part of the reasons we briefed council that there is need to fast-track those processes so that very soon most of those monies will be released. We expect in the Ministry of Works, they should have quite substantial release in the next week or so.
“It’s easier for us for existing projects but new projects are a bit more difficult because of the public procurement process. You have to advertise and you have to wait for six weeks and so on. So new projects will take a bit longer. But existing projects that have already gone through the public procurement process will be faster and I believe that you will soon start seeing the impact of those releases,” he said.
When asked to disclose the volume of release so far, the minister said: “That wasn’t part of what the council discussed. So what we will do, we will be giving numbers from time to time. So, I’m sure within the week, we should be able to give you numbers.”
When asked to respond to insinuations making the rounds that the government lacked concrete blueprints to tackle the economic downturn, Udoma said: “We launched a strategic document. We set out 34 things we want to achieve this year; we set out all our objectives. We have a plan and the plan is to reflate the economy. What has happened to Nigeria is not a surprise to the government. It is something that we came in to meet. It has been caused by the fall of crude oil prices from over $100 to less than $30 and so we came in to meet that problem.
“The decision that we took to address that problem is to reflate the economy and the budget was aimed to achieve that and that is why you have in the budget a plan to spend a large amount of money on infrastructure. But, as you know, the budget was only recently passed. It takes time for the spending to be released to hit the economy and to begin to see the impact. So, we have a plan. We know the situation we are in right now and we have a plan to get out of the situation.
“It is just that at this particular point in time, we expected this trajectory because the releases will only start kicking in so that by the third quarter, we will start seeing the impact of what we are doing to reflate the economy.”
On the speculated impending sack of workers, the minister said government had made it clear that it would not sack anyone.
He said: “I am not aware of any instruction to anybody to sack anybody. In fact, the policy of this government, we said so at the beginning that we are not going to retrench. There is a natural wastage which happens in government. There are people who retire; people who may be disciplined but there is no policy in this government to retrench. So, I want to disabuse your mind that there is no such policy.
“With regards to the plea to the private sector, it is because we know that by the time the economy picks up, they will need those people again. We know the economy is going to pick up; we are confident about that. That is because of our plan. The plan was conceived because we knew that this was the trajectory we will move into.
“I will give you an indication of some of those things in the plan. For agriculture for instance, we plan to be self-sufficient in rice within a certain number of years; in wheat within a certain number of years. Indeed the acting-president has just set up a task force headed by the governor of Kebbi State to realise that. So we are implementing the plan one by one.
“We have a plan to move this country up 20 places in the ease of doing business. We are working on that. We want to stimulate the private sector because we know that even the spending by government alone will not be sufficient. We also need to have policies that will encourage the private sector. We do have a plan, it was launched, it was taken to cabinet, approved by cabinet and the minister of state had announced.”
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