On Tuesday, July 7, 2015, the Federal Government after due consultations with the Council of State announced some intervention measures to come to the aid of many states in the federation that surprisingly have not adequately prioritized the welfare of their workers by being delinquent with the payment of salaries; some of the states we were told have unconscionably not paid salary to their workers for upwards of eight months. What is even alarming is that some states that are beneficiaries of special allocations from the Federation Account that have lived large going by some large projects they have embarked upon and the life style of their executive governors were inexplicably included amongst such delinquent states. Following this announcement, considerable interest was stirred because of the unprecedented nature of this intervention particularly by the electronic and mass media. I was visiting Abuja on the day of the announcement when I was tracked by my friend Abdullahi of NTA requesting that I should report to the station in the morning that my reaction was urgently solicited on this development during the popular and informative NTA network morning programme which I was unfortunately not able to respond positively to even when I was told I could appear at the Abuja station as I had a full day commitment in Abuja that would not allow me to attend. This was also followed by numerous on line enquiries recalling particularly the one from the News Agency of Nigeria. The undercurrent it would appear that underpinned this palpable concern was the uncertainty regarding the economic implications of this development.
My take regarding the concern about the economic implications of this development is to put in the front burner the urgent need for this country to come to the aid of so many of our compatriots that have been caught in this sorry pass. At the end of the day, effective management of the economy is really about the welfare of its citizenry. And if we empathized one must wonder how someone and his dependants must have survived such harrowing experience of nonpayment of salary over several months! As should be expected the inevitable controversy ensued whether this gesture by the Federal Government was really a bailout.
It might help us to put this discussion in context if we recollect the details of the package reeled out by the Federal Government on this occasion to be better able to answer the question whether this intervention is a bailout or not. I recollect that I heard the Accountant General of Federation, Ahmed Idris, announce that the president had authorized the sharing of the amount of $ 1.7 billion from the Excess Crude Account amongst the package of relief. But apparently this had been reported in error as there was an immediate follow up message from the president’s media aides that this money was not part of what was to be shared. We must quickly add that it is well advised that the president is wary of drawing from this account even if one must admit that it is for situations such as we now encounter that such funds were put aside for in the first place. But the recent controversy regarding what balance was left on this account by which administration and how surprisingly this balance had turned out as a measure of the prudence and probity which succeeding administrations in the country had brought to bear during their tenure would appear to caution some discretion. But I beg to differ as the balance on this account in my opinion is largely circumstantial dependent on the prevalent developments in the economy at particular epochs and not necessarily a measure of the prudence and transparency which the administration has brought to bear on governance.
There was the instruction to share the dividend paid to the Federation Account amounting to $ 2.1 billion by the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Company; a central bank special intervention fund of between 250 and 300 billion naira as a soft loan to be made available to the states for the specific purpose of paying the backlog of workers salary and a debt relief programme to be put in place by the Debt Management Office to enable the states restructure their commercial loans estimated at N 660 billion and extend the life span of such loans to provide some relief on the burden of debt servicing. It should be obvious to all that certainly there is a bailout/ relief as these measures come on stream. Even in instance where this relief package included some monies that should be statutorily shared; we should enquire whether the sharing could have been done with the urgency that we are now witnessing.
But what should really be of concern and what actually informed going into this discuss is to highlight the fact that what has just happened is an emergency measure aimed at ameliorating a festering situation of backlog of unpaid workers’ salaries occasioning untold hardship and which is not conducive for the demand of any form of productivity from civil servants. The received and shared wisdom is of course as we observed above is that the state governments have been profligate and to large extent irresponsible in the way and manner they have gone on borrowing spree for mostly projects of questionable relevance and what is more the impact of such expenditure had been undermined by corrupt practices as it is currently being made manifest by the revelation of sordid details of the activities of former governors now undergoing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. But what we need to do is to embrace and enforce the content of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 which is an Act meant to ensure greater accountability, transparency and prudence in the management of the country’s resources. And to proceed to ensure that it should no longer be optional for the state governments but to launch their version of this Act with utmost urgency.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act mandates and instructs the governments of the federation regarding the procedure for the proper management of the nation’s resources through purposeful medium term three-year rolling plan which it dubs the Medium Term Economic Framework (MTEF). This is to be followed with the articulation of a Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) detailing policies relating to taxation, recurrent (non-debt) expenditure, capital expenditure, borrowings and other liabilities, lending and investments. The annual budget which should be ready and submitted to the National Assembly for its appropriation by latest four months before the end of the financial year should take its bearing, as logically should be expected from the content of the MTEF & FSP. It specifies the extent to which appropriations should go beyond the estimated revenue; not extending 3% of estimated Gross Domestic Product. This Act recommends quarterly progress reports on budget implementation with a full blown half yearly report to be laid before the National Assembly. Probably this requirement explains the presentation of budget implementation reports with much publicity to the organized private sector by the government in the past but which has since fallen into oblivion.