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Nigeria’s 2019 Budget: The hidden monsters

As far as budgets go the Federal Government’s Budget 2019 is modest, mild and uninspiring; it has a number of broad flaws, reports Proshare.

It fails to excite vision, it fails to ignite passion and it simply tries to steady a course that has seen the economy stall to a growth rate of about 2% (max-out); a figure which the latest IMF estimates expect to be the growth index for 2019 (more of the same). Why and where will growth come from? The budget has rested on a cushion of figures rather than a philosophy of progress.

Thinking outside the box or simply throwing the box away:

The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, one of South Western Nigeria’s heroes of modern fiscal management is credited to have succeeded in growing the economy of the South West in the mid 1950’s to late 1960’s on the basis of promoting a massive surge in human capacity development through free education. The intricate logic of the Awolowo social investment paradigm was that of building human capacity which in turn would raise local productivity on the one hand and increase incomes and tax naira to fund more human capacity development on the other.

What most saw as free education was actually citizen productivity paid forward. It was a radical idea that had sound logic in economics.

It is this type of bold and unconventional thinking that is absent in the 2019 budget, as it is in previous budgets and social intervention programmes built into the fiscal frameworks (and open to political distortions from all sides even as the intent remains genuine – and since when did intentions trump consequential impact or/and optics?). A large increase in educational spending would expand the earning capacity of Nigerians in productive areas such as:

· Artisanship
· Entrepreneurship
· Science
· Industry
· Teaching
· Engineering
· Law
· Architecture
· Medicine/Pharmacy
· Farming/Agriculture

Educational spending would pay its way by raising Nigerian workers to higher levels of income which would eventually be taxed at higher marginal rates. Entrepreneurs with better skills and larger visions will generate higher revenues that would produce more tax earnings for government by way of higher CIT and PIT.

The paltry 7% of revenue projected for the education sector in the 2019 budget clearly reveals the lack of radical reasoning amongst economic managers. Ghana, Nigeria’s neighbor spends about 23% of its budget on education, thereby explaining why rich Nigerians spend about a $1billion annually training their children in that country.

Budget 2019 does not in any creative way address the challenges of rising unemployment. Nigeria’s unemployment figure in Q3 2018 was estimated at 23.1%. The economy has grown the absolute number of unemployed people by 15 million in the last three years, meaning that an average of 5 million new jobs need to be created annually to keep unemployment rate at its present level. To do this the economy must grow by between 5 and 6% per annum or slightly lower than India’s recent 7% growth rate in 2018 (Nigeria’s recent growth rate was 1.9% in Q3 2018).

Tope Fasua, the 47 year old presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) in the forthcoming February 2019 elections argued in a well thought out piece (see below) that the 2019 budget should have shown stronger character by growing to at least N15trn or $4.92bln. He insists that a country with the unemployment levels shown by Nigeria ought to be thinking big, fast and smart. There are critics who have a contrary view but when we realize that the local currency slumped against the US dollar from N160/$ in 2014 to N305/$ in 2017, the real size of Nigerian budgets in dollar terms has actually been declining, despite nominal naira increases (until the 2019 budget which fell from N9.3trn in 2018 to N8.7tn in 2019, Nigerian budgets have risen annually in absolute size).

1. Budget 2019 relies heavily on an oil output of 2.3million barrels per day. In a world of excess crude supply; falling demand in major Asian markets of China and India; and with America exporting oil at an unprecedented level of over 10 million barrels per day, the budgets projection of output at 2.3million barrels per day is extremely optimistic.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in which Nigeria is a member, has already agreed a cut back of daily oil supplies by 1.6mln barrels per day (by December 2018 cut backs had reached 750,000 barrels per day with Saudi Arabia accounting for half this amount).

Nigeria and Libya that were previously exempted from cut backs have now been included in the basket of nations that would need to reduce supplies to stabilize international prices.

2. Following from the previous observations, Budget 2019’s projection of an average oil price of $60 per barrel reveals a curious statement and contradiction about Nigeria’s revenue expectations – On the one hand, it reflects a dependence while on the other it suggest a recognition that to diversify, we need oil money. Therein lies the dilemma ….. and the exposure of the Nigerian economy to vagaries off its trade balances versus it current accounts balances/position.

The economy will continue to be subject to shocks based on its inability to attract inflows even in an era of global liquidity glut because it has a low current account balance. I will address this later.

The soft global economy is likely to continue right through H1 2019. Admittedly oil price is about $62.70 at the beginning of the week which started on Monday, 21 January, 2019 but that has been the outcome of recent sharp cut backs in supply, weak global demand may still see prices drop below the $60 per barrel budget threshold.

3. The Fiscal deficit built into the 2019 budget will hurt growth and private sector expansion. Over the last four years the deficit as a proportion of GDP has risen and led to higher domestic interest rates chased by larger Treasury bill (T-bill) issues and slower GDP growth. The slower growth in GDP has shown up in the worsening unemployment statistics.