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Interrogating Ayade and his controversial budgets

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For the past four years, Cross River State’s budgets have been the butt of ridicule among many, as the State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade has deviated from the norm.

Unlike in the past, Ayade’s budgets are presented without the usual breakdown or analysis by the Budget Office or Ministry of Finance. There are no records to show the performance of previous budgets. The level of budget performance and delivery is shrouded in mystery; some even consider his budget presentations a hoax.

During one budget presentation, Ayade had set aside the prepared comprehensive budget for presentation before the State House of Assembly, dipped his hand into his jacket pocket and brought out a piece of paper that turned out to be the N1.3trn “Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation” in 2018. It was presented in less than 40 minutes. 

The state budgeted N303bn in 2016; N707bn in 2017; N1.3trn in 2018 and in 2019 N1.4trn. 2016’s was tagged Budget of Deep Vision; 2017: Budget of Infinite Transposition; 2018: Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation, 2019: Budget of Qabalistic Densification and 2020: Budget of Olimpotic Meristemasis. He not only failed to present these budgets publicly, but they did not also reflect the realities or intended growth on the ground. 

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Christian Ita did not tell how much the state might have received from the Federation Account during the period under review, but only said, “An average of two billion Naira gets to the state monthly and much is spent on salary.”
 
Based on the average N2bn federal monthly allocation, a total of over N108bn may have accrued to the state between 2015 and 2019. On the bailout and Paris fund, the state must have also received over N31.7bn from the Federal Government to settle outstanding workers’ salaries. The breakdown of this sum includes the N7.8bn bailout fund, N11.3bn, N6.5bn, and N6.1bn Paris refund. 

The state Labour Congress has severally maintained that the state government has not spent much of the money it gets or budgeted on gratuity and pension, as the State Chairman Trade Union Congress (TUC) Comrade Clarkson Otu said: “Nobody is talking about gratuity again… Now, with the number of retirements that have happened between 2017 and 2019, the figure should be up to N30bn by now.”
 
When former Governor Liyel Imoke left office in May 2015, his Special Adviser on Debt Management, Mrs. Francesca Effiom, had put the state’s total debt profile at N123.9bn and “of the N123.9bn debt, external debts account for N13.5bn, while domestic debts are N110.4bn,” she had said
 
Currently, the state’s financial burden or indebtedness in foreign and domestic debts, according to the 2018 reports of Economic Confidential stands at N235.9bn. Out of this, foreign debt is put at $276.2m, while domestic debt is N167.9bn. Going by the state’s total debt profile, which stands at N235.9bn, the latest total debt of the state with this current approval will stand at N240.9bn, thus shifting the domestic debt from N167.9bn to N172.9bn.

  
When presenting the 2019 budget tagged ‘Budget of Quabalistic Densification’ to the State House of Assembly, Ayade said the budget was spiritual and would need fervent prayers to enable its successful implementation, as the state was spending N1.8bn monthly to service debts, and that the performance of last year’s budget, which he tagged: “Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation,” was up to 74 percent. All this was without any empirical evidence.

For the 2019 budget, he said: “This budget is ambitious, but driven by intellectual strength… And that can only be achieved by a strategic long-term plan. It is to deal effectively with the issue of active industrialisation of every local government area seeking and connecting into the superhighway… My budget style is different because of our challenges. 

“Currently, we spend N1.8bn every month to service debts. In terms of allocation, we are 35th out of 36 states. But in terms of paying salaries and expanding the size of government, we are number one.”
 
He said a lot of the state funds were spent on salaries, industrialization, like the Garment factory, Rice Seedlings factory, Rice Processing plant and Cocoa processing plant, among others.

Ayade’s 2020 N1.1trn budget of Olimpotic Meristamasis has come under heavy criticism.

During its presentation, the Governor said the budget “has a capital expenditure of N911bn, representing 82.8 percent of the projection and a recurrent expenditure of N18bn, representing 17.2 percent. He described it as one anchored on a belief “in the spiritual force, which is the third energy.”

While explaining that meristemasis is the active cell that stimulates growth in a young plant, which in this case represents the state, he noted: “The budget will catalyse into existence a great opportunity for us all to put our hands and legs on the pedal and fill it off.”

He said the decision to allocate 82.8 percent of the budget to capital expenditure “was indicative of our aggressive commitment that will continue to reduce recurrent expenditure and focus on capital expenditure.”

On the sectorial breakdown, as captured by the appropriation bill, Ayade disclosed that the health sector will gulp N44bn, education N38bn, new city development N35bn, while agriculture will get N22bn and social housing to gulp N12bn, among others.

On the budget size, he said: “We must come to the understanding that, indeed, any state whose budget is driven by the envelope size is limited in vision.

“You derive your budget in business and public sector management in two ways. It is either your budget comes as an expression of your envelope size or as an expression of your ambition.

“The prosperity agenda set for this state does not allow me the opportunity of an envelope budgeting. Our budget prescribes the actual cost element, while the intellectual financing shuns the cost, as the ambition so expressed allows us the latitude to drive with, to ensure that we guarantee that all aspects of the budget so provided are driven.”

Commenting on Ayade’s style of handling budgets, the former governorship candidate of Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA), a social critic, Mr. Goddie Akpama said: “For us in Cross River, it is yet another fiscal year, another budget and another tongue-twisting confusion. Again as usual, the people would spend more time talking about, and trying to analyse the strange appellation of budget proposal presented to the House of Assembly.

“Definitely, the analysis would not dwell on its grave implications for us as a state. The governor, in his usual manner, had flamboyantly christened the 2020 budget Olimpotic Meristamasis; a name we have struggled to pronounce.

“The governor had struggled to explain what Olimpotic Meristemasis means, which according to him suggested, “starting to build afresh.” This explanation has not only twisted our tongues, but our minds as well, as the development is truly mind fuddling.

“Disturbingly, but not unexpectedly, the House, through the Speaker of the Assembly, has promised to give the Appropriation Bill of N1.1trn the necessary support, so it can be approved before the end of the year. It is really troubling that Cross Riverians do not even know how the budgets of the previous years fared, especially that of last year, which was also over N1trn.

“It would not be out of place to conclude that we are yet headed for another disaster, which clearly portends a gloomy outlook for the state. If this particular budget suggests that we start building all over, then when are we going to reap? More importantly, what has been going on in the past four years, if we have not been planting and building towards reaping in the nearest future? What time is there for us to plant and reap within the next three years that his administration would run to a close? Is the governor telling us he wants to take us to the beginning again?…

“It is clearly a budget of fallacy. How is the state expected to meet such a financial projection of N1.1trn? We cannot keep lying to ourselves. We cannot keep ignoring the elephant in the room. For how long would we keep our heads buried in the sand? We must stop playing the ostrich. What kind of explanation does the governor want to give us about starting all over? Now, he tells us he wants to privatise the deep seaport and superhighway.

“The question is: What did he tell Cross Riverians about these projects before now on their development? He said the money for these projects was ready. What are all these inconsistencies about? Now, where is the money he said he had ready for the projects? To start with, where is the deep seaport, and superhighway? Where are they located in Cross River?

Clearly, there is no direction and no definition of substance in the 2020 budget of Olimpotic Meristemasis. Why not tell the people the truth?…”

Former lawmaker and public finance management analyst, Mr. Bassey Ibor said: “Budget performance review has not been undertaken since 2015. So, based on personal assessment, all the budgets perform below 30 percent, with the worst being the ‘Quabalistic’ 2019 edition.

“If we define performance and delivery as a media presence, there was and continues to be a stupendous and self-amusing media governance. However, if you flip over to service delivery to the people and state, you will search indefinitely to see a modicum of it. 

“We have the most committed sons and daughters in the state Revenue Service, but their capacity and motivation have been sequestrated, by aimless intimidation and micromanaging. Accordingly, IGR performance remains suboptimal, due to a hurtful collection or enforcement process, a public finance management function that is weighed down by ‘seasonal affective disorder.’ Of course, the implications of these are that the budgets are denied the energy to actualise objectives, and institutional controls are old fashioned.

“Perhaps, the drop from N1.3trn in 2018 to 1.1trn in 2020 is a climb down to reality. They are unrealistic and mainly targeting gullible media vulnerabilities. We are still interested and waiting for a state budget that has no foreign name, with the people as the centerpiece and the revenue rejigged to deliver fearlessly and professionally.

“So, whether the budget is deep, infinite, kinetic, quabalistic or olimpotic, the overarching performance measure is how it serves the people and pushes the levers of development.” 

On his part, the former Director of Church and Society Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria and a political analyst, Rev Fr. Evaristus Bassey said: “I am impressed that the budget considers the poor that have been so harassed by tax agents. I am only concerned about the fact that, based on historical analysis, the state has never achieved even a quarter of the amount in its revenue, which makes one wonder whether a state budget is no more a tool for actual planning but a mere wish list.

“In all, can we say the bogus budgets have achieved anything for Cross River, as the government doesn’t tell us past performance? Honestly, I don’t know. I have not lived in the state for nine years. I was only looking at the budget at a theoretical level as a tool for development, and as the primary law of a state for each year.”
 
An economist, Mr. Lawrence Mpama, also described the budget as unrealistic; saying: “The total budget outlay of N1.3trn for last year did not achieve even 15 percent of its performance ratio. All the things he outlined to do, including the super highway, calivegas, calichika, banana farm, and others, are all mere paper work. There is nothing to show for all these projects. How viable are these projects, in terms of contribution to the state income? 

“In the course of impressing his people, he has ended up creating more and new vista of problems, ranging from ecological to outright deprivation of many people’s sources of living. So, generally speaking, the state GDP has dropped, due largely to Governor Ayade’s melodramatic approach to governance issues. He is a good case study of ‘Jack of all trades and master of none.’  

“The budgets and their sizes are mere rhetoric, which cannot withstand the heat of human refinement. The 2020 budget is another joker or drama. How can you present a budget of N1.1trn, when both your IGR and other sources of derivable income are not even up to half? It’s good to be ambitious, but this is ambition carried too far.

“The question l thought the state House of Assembly should have asked him was, what was the performance level of previous budgets? One may come up with a defence position of the litany of projects scattered all over the state, we need that huge budget size to complete them. But how realistic is that, given his penchant for starting and abandoning his projects? My advice to Cross Riverian is for them not to put their trust and hope in Gov. Ayade and his budgets. All his budgets, including that of 2020 are unrealistic and unachievable.”


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