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COVID-19: Don urges review of fiscal projections

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THE emergence of COVID-19 and its increasing incidence in Nigeria has called for drastic review and changes in the earlier revenue expectations and fiscal projections.

  A lecturer in the Department of Economics, Nnamdi Azikiwe University (UNIZIK), Awka, Charles Okafor, who made this known In an interview with National Light, observed that, the odds of sliding into  downturns are gradually expected as the global coronavirus outbreak puts severe pressure on the economy.

  “For Nigeria, the country is still sluggishly grappling with recovery from the 2016 economic recession which was a fall out of global oil price crash and insufficient foreign exchange earnings to meet imports. In the spirit of economic recovery and growth sustainability, the Nigerian federal budget for the 2020 fiscal year was prepared with significant revenue expectations but with contestable realizations. The approved budget had projected revenue collections at N8.24 Trillion, an increase of about 20% from 2019 figure. The revenue assumptions are premised on increased global oil demand and stable market with oil price benchmark and oil output respectively at $57 per barrel and 2.18 million barrels per day.

  “Compared to events that led to recession in 2016, the current state of the global economy poses more difficulties ahead as the oil price is currently below US$30 with projections that it will dip further going by the price war among key players in the industry. Unfortunately, the nation has grossly under achieved in setting aside sufficient buffers for rainy days such as it faces in the coming days. In addressing these daunting economic challenges, the current considerations to revise the budget downward are inevitable. However, certain considerations that are expected in the review must not be left out. The assumptions and benchmarks must be based on realisable thresholds and estimates to ensure optimum budget performance, especially on the non-oil revenue components,” He said.

  Prof Okafor maintained that cutting expenditures must be done such that the already excluded group and vulnerable are not left to bear the brunt of the economic contraction.

  “The economic and growth recovery program which has the aim of increasing social inclusion by creating jobs and providing support for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society through investments in social programs and providing social amenities will no doubt suffer some setbacks. Besides, the downward review of the budget and contractions in public spending could be devastating on poverty and unemployment. The last unemployment report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranks Nigeria 21st among 181 countries with unemployment rate of about 23.1%. The country has also been rated as the poverty capital of the world with an estimated 87 million people living on less than $2 a day threshold.”

  He said the decision to cut the retail price of gasoline under a price modulation arrangement is a welcome development. “The cut is expected to curb rising inflation, especially food price inflation which will mainly benefit the poor. However, rather than the price capping regime introduced, by which it is expected of the Petroleum Products Price Regulation Agency (PPPRA) to constantly issues monthly guide on appropriate pricing regime, it is expected that the government will use this opportunity to completely deregulate the petroleum industry in line with existing suggestions and reports.

  “In the event that the global economy becomes healthier and crude oil prices increases, the government might return to the under-recovery of the oil price shortfall by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC); a policy that annually costs the government huge revenue and recurring losses to the NNPC.

  “Basically, the Nigerian government essentially must lead economic diversification drive. It is one practicable way to saddle through the current economic uncertainties and instabilities. What the consequences of COVID-19 pandemic should further offer the Nigerian economic managers and policymakers, is that the one-tracked, monolithic reliance on oil is failing. Diversification priorities to alternative sectors such as agriculture, solid minerals, manufacturing and services sectors should be further intensified.”

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