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Waiting for the 2019 budget

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Sir: With the election season gradually giving way, it’s now time for the National Assembly to return to work in earnest and pass the 2019 budget without delay. A quick passage of the Appropriation Bill will be just about the only redeeming moment for Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the outgoing Senate president, whose tenure has been characterised by intrigues, subterfuge and skulduggery. Thankfully, his crushing defeat on February 23 has brought his shameful political career to a screeching halt. Nigerians are now eagerly waiting for the 2019 budget because they have come to realise that President has very robust and well designed programmes for infrastructural and economic development in the country. The proposed N8.8 trillion budget is essentially designed to continue the reflationary and consolidation thrusts of the 2017 and 2018 budgets respectively and like the budgets of the last three years (2018, 2017 and 2016), this year’s budget is Zero-based. It speaks to the high integrity and honesty of our leader.

For me, and the over 15 million Nigerians that voted for the re-election the President last month, the aggregate capital budget of N3.12 trillion which represents 30% of the total budget is part of the core of the administration’s policy thrust for this year. In the transport sector, railway development will receive a further shot in the arm. The N80.22 billion voted for counterpart funding for various rail projects (including Lagos-Calabar) and N27.12 for rehabilitation of various rail tracks explain the single-minded pursuit of this all important subsector by the administration. Think of a rail line from Calabar to Lagos that takes just about five hours at most.

The airlines will be in trouble and the roads will be relieved of heavy traffic as many of us will prefer to snake through the east-west coastline in a comfortable train ride. I will, however, like to draw the attention of the government to one important fact: All over the world, the development of the railway, which stimulates the development and growth of the steel subsector, has been the major driver of industrial development of nations. But unfortunately, our country has no domestic steel development programme. Buhari should therefore renegotiate our rail project funding arrangement with the Chinese to make room for in-country steel manufacture.

Another exciting component of the capital budget is the N280.44 billion allocated for road construction and rehabilitation in every geopolitical zone of the country. Akwa Ibom people are indeed grateful to the President for the dualisation of Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene road.Never before has this all important road been mentioned in any federal budget since it was first constructed in 1975. It is a big shame that successive administrations since 1999 did not invest heavily in road development. Yes, IBB did Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos in 1993, and President Obasanjo dualised Benin-Asaba road in 2002. Beyond these, there has been no major investment in this sector; all federal roads were left to fall apart before Buhari arrived the scene in 2015.

The 2019 Budget of Continuity is intended to further reposition the economy on the path of higher, inclusive, diversified and sustainable growth and to continue to lift significant numbers of our citizens out of poverty. The budget also reflects the key execution priorities of the ERGP, namely Restoring Macroeconomic Stability; Agriculture and Food Security; Energy Sufficiency (in Power and Petroleum Products); Transportation Infrastructure; and Industrialisation (focusing on SMEs). I hope that government will continue to create the enabling environment for private sector to increase their investment and contribute significantly to job creation and economic growth. The National Assembly should pass the 2019 budget right away!
Etim Etim, a journalist and banker, wrote from Uyo.

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