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Published On: Sun, Feb 11th, 2018

Abia state N141bn budget focuses on Partnership

From PETER OKORE, Umuahia

Abia state government in the 2018 budget came-up with a development blue-print which it calls “The Five Pillar-Initiatives” as drivers of the state economy. This explains why the budget is Christened “Budget of Partnerships and Opportunities”, now before the Abia state House of Assembly to capitalize on the 5-Pillar development  strategy. The budget is designed to be private-sector-driven and packaged to follow the Medium Term Expenditure Framework which looks at projections for a 3-year plan period.

Presenting the budget at the floor of Abia House of Assembly, Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu noted that under  the present economic uncertainties facing Nigeria ,Abia intends to look beyond  borders in search of partnerships and to take full advantage of the opportunities such partnerships present to keep the State going, since the state has the wherewithal, in terms of natural  and human  resources.

The 2018 state budget has an estimated outlay of N141billion.  It has an estimated Recurrent Expenditure of N68.5billion and Capital Expenditure of N72.5billion.

From economic indices, the Abia state budget is planned to achieve the State’s Five Pillars of development; thus responding to the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).  By this, the state tends to   consolidate on the achievements already recorded in the period, 2015- 2017, while projecting for the years 2018 to 2020.

This is, however, expected to make the state investment-friendly to foreign investors (FI) and  attract direct domestic (DDI) and direct  foreign investment (DFI) which will invariably create needed  jobs.

In his breakdown of the Draft Budget Estimate at the plenary session of Abia House of Assembly, recently, the state commissioner for Finance, Mr. Obinna Oriaku explained that the proposed  2018 state budget clearly demonstrates  the administration’s new resolve  to re-engineer the state economy in such a way  that will elevate the socio-economic well-being of Abians.

” Our focus is to accelerate the development of the physical and human infrastructure for wealth- creation and Improved livelihood. We will implement the budget for the realization of the hope  and aspirations of every Abian”.

Nevertheless, to harness the abundant natural resources that abound in the various communities in  the state, the state  will focus, but not limited to the core areas of development (5-Pillar of development), to boost developments. The core areas of concentration are: Commerce and Industry, Agriculture and agribusiness, Education, Health as well as Oil and Gas.

To facilitate these efforts, the state has created a new Ministry of Small, Medium and Small-scale Enterprises Development (SMSE), with a commissioner in-charge. The Ministry is charged with the sole responsibilities of developing the critical infrastructure in those areas that would guarantee real development.

In this direction, Aba, the commercial hub of the Igboland, is critical, particularly, in the improvement of the state’s internally generated revenue, IGR.  It was a former governor of Cross River state, Donald Duke, who buttressed the importance of Aba in revenue generation. He once asserted that if revenues from Aba are well harnessed, it can sustain the state without going to Abuja for FAAC or depending on Abuja to develop or  pay salaries every month.

“If I were the governor of Abia state, I will  rarely go to Abuja for FAAC. I will simply give Aba water, light and  access road networks; and  businessmen and women in Aba will be coming to the Government House in Umuahia to pay their taxes and levies, ”he said.

Already, some partnership arrangements have already been lined-up in  some of the core areas  of the state economy. A cursory look at the goings-on in these core areas of comparative economic advantages would suffice:

Health sector: 

Here government intends to invest the sum of N5.62b, representing 7.7 percent of the 2018 state budget estimate this financial year. Government is committed not just to provide high quality health care service for all, but to make it effective, affordable and accessible with the right technology, infrastructure and manpower.

As part of its partnership arrangements, it has sustained partnerships with the Obasanjo Foundation for the supply of hearing aid equipment to the impaired. It has keyed into the fight against Tuberculosis and attracted Tuberculosis Zonal Reference Laboratory to Abia State to serve the South East; has liaised with the Federal Medical centre, Umuahia to set-up multi-drug resistant, tuberculosis treatment ward.

The state is also in Federal Government ‘Save a Million Life Initiative’ as well as partnering with Eye foundation Hospital, Lagos. The State   Diagnostic Centre has entered into discussions with Gregory University to be accredited as a Teaching Hospital. The Maternity Unit of the Diagnostic Centre has been upgraded through partnership with MTN; while the   Dialysis Unit has also been upgraded and now handles an average of 100 cases monthly.

Again, the Abia state University Teaching Hospital, ABSUTH, through partnerships with MTN, has received neonatal incubators, hospital beds and furniture. It has also received donations of Laboratory Equipment worth N2m from a group called: “Umu-Aba Connect” and Medical Equipment worth N10m from ABSU Alumni, United Kingdom branch.

In Primary Health Care, Abia state is  in partnership with UNICEF  and WHO. The state has reportedly achieved 96% reduction in mortality rate in under 5, through improved management of diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria.

Agriculture:

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development  Goals(SDG’s) No.s 1 and 2 deal with  ensuring sustainable food production, increased income and better livelihood and end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, respectively.

To achieve these, Abia state Government has mapped-out N2.4billion, representing 7.72 percent of entire budget outlay for agriculture this fiscal year. The state Ministry of Agriculture, incollaborating with the Public Private Partnership Office, is seeking prospective Investors for the development of the oil palm, rubber, rice, cassava, and red meat value chains.

Other areas include building of a 2,500 capacity Demonstration Poultry Farm at the Ministry of Agriculture headquarters, Umuahia; established oyster mushroom farm;  Initiated cocoa stems multiplication farm at Ulonna Farm Estate; Mass-produced TME (419) and the pro-vita cassava stem species and  established a Poultry Cluster Village (phase I)  a- one – stop- shop for poultry farmers.

This has qualified Abia to lead the South-East/South-South zones in Poultry production, championed by the Federal Government. The state is effectively utilizing the Unified Agricultural Extension System (UAES) in carrying out capacity building for farmers via Farmers Field School with Community Demand Driven Methodology and Extension services to farmers by application of Technology-generation and dissemination through informal teaching/training, adoption, procurement and distribution of improved seeds and agro-chemicals.

Regrettably, the state is yet to make in-routes into  production of Organic fertilizer to make use of the ever-growing  quantum  of refuse generation in Aba and Umuahia  as Raw material. Organic fertilizer is most acceptable in contemporary world in food production, because of its numerous advantages to humans and the land.

Not only that, government intends  to encourage farmers to form co-operative societies, train them and provide micro-credit loans to them and also maintain collaborations with Donor Agencies, Agricultural Grants, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Federal Ministry of Agriculture, National Roots Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, etc. The introduction of all-season farming is still a major challenge in Abia state.

Commerce and Industry:

Abia has already adopted the new Industrialization policy of diversifying   the State economy through the MSME’s. The sum of N938,238,000 (or 1.3%) of budget estimate was appropriated for this sector. But to meet with  the U.N.’s SDG’s No.9, Abia hopes to collaborate with a number of Investment groups to increase investments through International  and domestic  partnerships  in rural infrastructure by providing and increasing access to small-scale  industrial groups/enterprises to affordable Micro credits and their integration  into value-chains and markets.

This is really going to be a major growth-driver in the state economy. It will develop the MSME’s sector and stimulate growth in a number of sectors.

Aside  the fore-going, the state has completed the Aba Mega Mall (The Ultra Modern Electronics and Electrical Shop); privatized/leased Abia Hotels, Aba Main branch; engaged a developer in the on-going Ovom International iIndustrial cluster for mechanics, Spare parts dealers and Allied Workers; and the Umukalika Industrial Cluster for Leather and Garments manufacturing.

The ground-breaking ceremony of this cluster was performed a few days ago. The state has also set-up a small-scale fabrication engineering workshop at the Metallurgical Complex, Aba.  Some days ago, 30 youths returned from China after one month training in automated shoe-making, courtesy of Abia state government. They are to champion the   establishment of automated shoe-manufacturing factory in Aba.

To crown all these efforts, government has promised to ensure the completion of the on-going road projects in the state, especially, in the major urban cities of Aba and Umuahia and all other parts of Abia State.

Aba is central in any resolve to improve the state IGR because it provides enormous avenues to achieving this. This is why the state government is doing everything within her financial limitations to recover the roads, in order to boost commercial activities to shore up IGR. While doing this, government should also engage in aggressive infrastructural development in  rural communities to create access for the evacuation of farm produce to the urban centres for sale.

Abia state has also established SME Revolving Credit, in collaboration with the private sector, to serve the expansion needs of SMEs. Efforts are also in top gear to  provide Infrastructural Facilities that are critical to industrial growth and development. Talks are on-going between the state Government and a private investor, Greenfield Company Limited, to expand the Ariaria International markert in Aba.

Education:

Human Capital Development is  a critical issue in development. To  provide quality education to her citizenry, the sum of N5.4billion or 7.48% of the 2018 state budget is allocated to Education this fiscal year. However, this figure is still  far below the 25 percent  target  for Education as stipulated  by the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the state, in partnership with Kiara College and the Organized Private sector (OPS), has established 18 training centres across the 17 Local Government Areas in the Education for Employment (E4E) programme. To boost this programme, the OPS will help to place participants in various skilled-areas for training.

So far  a total of  500 graduands have been  trained in ICT, under the E-4-E Programme. Out of this number 170 (10 per LGA) have been promised Automatic  Employment. There are 4,000 participants who are undergoing training now in 8 skills tailored towards boosting the Made-in-Aba drive.

The use of E-4-E is part of strategies designed by the state to bring un-employment to a minimum level. Dangote Group has keyed into this E-4-E programme and has built a job centre at Okpuala Ngwa in Isiala-Ngwa North Local Government Area of the state. This has also given a boost to the plan of state.

This new Economic Agenda is channeled towards Youth-Centred  Empowerment programmes, through the  state initiated  Demand- Driven Vocational Skills Programmes as well as  the N-Power programme of the federal government. These are aimed at encouraging skills acquisition, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment of the youth.

The state also hopes to concretize her partnerships with the World Bank on YESSO and the Federal Government on National Social Investment Programme.  The state also plans to enter into partnerships with other veritable and viable investors to exploit the numerous natural endowments.

The state E- 4- E initiative has made Abia to become the host state for a Federal Government/ CBN-sponsored South- East Entrepreneurship Development Centre. This centre, located within the premises of the Women Development Centre, Umuahia, now has the mandate to train  people  in Micro, Small & Medium- Scale Enterprises(MSME’s) for the entire South – East geo-political zone.

Of great importance the state should sustain the Federal Government sponsored Free Lunch Programme in state primary schools. There is also the need to pay wages to the volunteer Food Vendors.

Oil and Gas:

The sum of N30 million (or 0.04%) is appropriated for this sector in  the 2018 fiscal year. In line with the focus on Oil and  Gas and as part of the 5-Pillars of this administration,  Abia intend to introduce new courses in Oil and Gas as well as Chemical Engineering among others, in Abia Polytechnic.

Apart from that, the state is partnering with Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) on the implementation of the Global Memorandum of Understanding,MoU, between SPDC and 13 Communities in Ukwa-Wes Local Government Area of Abia state. In addition, government is presently negotiating for the establishment of Abia State Modular Refinery.

However, to achieve the policy thrust, there is every need to pay attention   to efficiently co-ordinate the financial resources of the state.

To this effect, the Ministry of Finance and revenue generation has introduced E-payment system for all government businesses and transactions. It has harmonized all fees, levies and reduced problems associated with multiple taxations in the business sector. The issue of multiple taxation had been a major problem in revenue generation strategy in Abia. Touts had cashed on this loophole to exploit the business community and divert government revenues to private pockets.

This led to the closure of many enterprises or massive tax evasion. To sustain the new introduction, government has launched, what it described    as “ Abia State IGR Central System”, which allows holistic view of all IGR activities in the state. In the assessment of the Finance Ministry has  come to a level where people can pay their taxes on-line from the comfort of their homes  through their cards.

Revenue windows of MDAs are now centrally co-ordinated and each MDA now views its IGR collections on-line, etc.  By this financial arrangement   the numerous leaking revenue-windows that had existed over years , have apparently been reduced or plugged  in MDA’s. All these measures are geared towards increased revenue in the 2018 fiscal year.

Aside the foregoing thrust, the macro-Economic Framework that will drive the 2018 budget  include efficient utilization of resources to maintain and sustain the level of growth in the economy. This will be achieved through the Public Private Partnership (PPP) collaboration; make the state an Investment destination by providing the enabling environment and follow  the new Coded Classifications in Public expenditure management to enthrone  transparency and accountability in Abia public service.

 

 

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