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    The National Assembly on Wednesday commenced the debate on the general principles of the 2019 budget with majority of the lawmakers expressing reservations in the ability of the fiscal document to tackle the nation’s socio-economic problems.
    While some senators condemned the borrowing plans of the Federal Government and  the huge sums proposed to service the existing foreign loans, some members of the House of Representatives called for job creation, especially through the Social Investment Programme of the Federal Government.
    Some finance experts and economic groups such as the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye, Ogun, Sheriffdeen Tella; the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, and the Head of Tax and Regulatory Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, also faulted the revenue framework upon which the 2020 budget was predicated.
    President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday proposed the highest allocation of N262bn to the Ministry of Works and Housing, just as Power, Transportation and Defence followed with N123bn, N112bn and N100bn, respectively in the 2020 budget estimates presented to the National Assembly.
    The analysts who spoke to our correspondents during separate telephone interviews said with the revenue challenges facing the country, it might be difficult to fully implement the budget.
    Senate, Reps begin debate on budget
    The Senate on Wednesday commenced debate on the 2020 Appropriation Bill with some senators drawing the attention of the executive arm of government to certain areas that needed some tweaking to enhance the economy.
    One of such lawmakers, the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, bemoaned the amount allocated for the implementation of capital projects.
    According to him, the N2.14tn proposed as capital expenditure was insufficient to stimulate the economy along a trajectory that could guarantee growth.
    Abdullahi, who kick-started the debate, said a critical analysis of the budget clearly showed that the revenue to Gross Domestic Product was too low and could affect the implementation of the budget if passes
    Abdullahi said the issue of economic policy should not be left to members of the executive arm of government alone to handle, adding, “We have to think out of the box from this chamber to make the relevant laws in order for this economy to generate revenue.”
     The Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, quoting the late poet, Williams Shakespeare, described the budget proposal as “a pen full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
    “In every budget speech, what we normally see is that they will give it a name. Last year, it was budget of consolidation. So this year, I was waiting to see what was going to be the nitty-gritty of the budget and I saw that there were many things that were jumbled together.They call it a budget of fiscal consolidation, investing in critical infrastructure, incentivising the private sector, enhancing and so forth. In other words, putting everything together like that reminds us of what Shakespeare said, ‘a pen full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’”
    “I want to suggest the name to those who wrote this that this is nothing but a budget of taxation. It is based on 7.5 per cent increase on VAT and several other increases,” he added.The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, however, cautioned his colleagues that the budget was not as bad as being projected.
    “That is a brilliant presentation but also laced with so many inaccurate statistical information but again, you are entitled to your opinion,” Lawan told Abaribe.
    Other senators, in their various contributions admitted that the  nation’s economy was not doing well at the moment and called for legislation to involve them in the management of the economy.Senator Gabriel Suswan said policies that would further contracted the economy were contained in the budget and condemned the introduction of 2.5 per cent increase in VAT. He said “it would slow down the economy.”
    The Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Jibrin Barau, said the budget proposal was a deliberate plan to move from the non-oil revenue.
    Senator Ike Ekweremadu said the President had done his job and that it was left for the lawmakers to adjust the proposal where necessary.No division in Senate over budget debate – Spokesperson
    Meanwhile, the Senate has denied perceived division among senators along party lines during the debate on the 2020 budget.
    The Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, who made the clarification on Wednesday while briefing journalists said every contribution made on the opening day was very reasonable.
    He said, “For the Senate to have a meaningful analysis and passage of the budget, there must be cross fertilisation of ideas and robust discussion.”Gbajabiamila blocks PDP lawmaker from stopping debate on bill
    The House of Representatives at the plenary on Wednesday started the second reading of the appropriation bill, while several lawmakers called for job creation, especially through the Social Investment Programme of the Federal Government.
    The second reading, however, began on a dramatic note when a member, Mr Kingsley Chinda, who was a factional Minority Leader, raised a point of order to ask the House to postpone consideration of the budget.However, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, faulted the lawmaker, stating that the second reading was in order.
    “The second reading of the bill, what do we call it? General principles. Do we debate the details? No, we don’t debate the details. You’re ruled out of order,” he said.
    During the debate, some lawmakers also raised the issue of low releases, which they said could frustrate proper implementation of annual budgets.Others called for sincerity in the implementation of the budget, while stating the necessity of a population census to have correct statistics that will allow proper planning and implementation of policies.
    The Chief Whip, Mohammed Monguno, noted that Nigeria’s population was fast-growing, urging the Federal Government to diversify the economy, especially the agricultural sector to create employment opportunities.
    A member, Bamidele Salam, commended the executive for cooperating with the legislature towards reverting to the January to December budget cycle.
    He stated the need to correlate rising economic statistics with improvements in the living standards of the people “to see if, indeed, the rising statistics have impacted the lives of the people positively.”
    The lawmaker, while also commending the Federal Government for initiating the Social Investment Programme, decried the drastic reduction in the amount being released out of the huge funds allocated to the programme, despite its importance to the living standard of Nigerians.
    He urged the House to consider the possibility of increasing the budgetary allocation for the SIP from N30bn to at least N100bn.
    The House Committee on Finance has said it will query revenue generating agencies over power remittances to the Federal Government coffers.
    Chairman of the committee, Mr James Faleke, blamed the poor performance of previous budgets on lack of funds.
    He said, “Our main job is to help this government to increase revenue. The problem we have is shortfall in revenue and that is why so many of our projects suffer and many of our programmes are not being carried out.”
    The House also urged the Federal Government to raise the percentage of allocation to the health sector from five per cent to 15 per cent.
    The lower chamber of the National Assembly made the call at the plenary on Wednesday, when the lawmakers unanimously adopted a motion moved by Mr Ntufam Mbora, entitled, ‘Deplorable State of Government Owned Health Care Facilities in Nigeria.’
    Also, the Committees on Health Institutions and Health Care Services were mandated to ensure compliance with the resolution.
    N305 exchange rate unrealistic – LCCI 
    The LCCI though commended the return to the January – December cycle for the budgets, saying it would make for easy planning, it described as unrealistic the exchange rate assumption of N305 to the dollar.
     The LCCI, which spoke through the Director-General, Muda Yusuf, said it was difficult to justify this assumption, especially when the country’s earnings were declining.
    He said, “The key assumptions underpinning the budget are realistic except for the exchange rate assumption of N305 to the dollar.  This is one assumption that is difficult to justify, especially at a time when declining revenue has become a major issue both for the government and the citizens.”
    The LCCI also noted that from the total budget size of N10.3tn having a recurrent component of N4.88tn and debt service of N2.45tn, there was not much left for infrastructure development.
    Yusuf said, “Debt service commitment and recurrent spending are beginning to crowd out capital expenditure. This scenario is not in alignment with the aspiration to build infrastructure and a competitive economy. Debt service of N2.46tn is more than the capital budget of N2.14tn.”
    PwC head says projected growth weak
    Also, the Head of Tax and Regulatory Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, said the projected growth was weak and that revenue would be a challenge due to the rising debt burden.
    He said, “The introduction of a Finance Bill to amend various tax laws is a positive development to make the tax system dynamic and responsive to changes in the economy. The projected growth continues to be fragile while revenue remains a challenge with rising debt although the benchmark crude oil price and production are more realistic than in previous years.”
    But a former President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr Sam Nzekwe, commended the government for timely presentation of the bill, and the November date by the National Assembly to pass it.
    While noting that the Federal Inland Revenue Service needed to do more to bring more people into the tax net, he said that there were many people earning above N25m turnover threshold that were exempted from the VAT that had nothing to do with the government
    Experts fault revenue framework, says funding challenges imminent
    The experts wondered why the government would be planning to generate the sum of N8.9tn in 2020 when the 2018 budget recorded a revenue underperformance of 45 per cent.
    For instance, Tella said while $57 per barrel oil price benchmark was right, the oil production output of 2.3 million barrel per day was not feasible.
    “The benchmark price for crude oil sales is okay but the output of 2.3 million barrels per day may not be okay in the sense that we were doing 1.9mbpd. We cannot be talking of doing 2.3mbpd production at this time.
     “The price benchmark is conservative because there is going to be glut in the oil market in 2020 and that would create problem in terms of pricing.”
    In terms of expenditure, he said that N48bn allocated to education and N46bn for health sector was very low.
    In his comments, Onyekpere called on the government to come up with innovative ways of raising revenue to fund the budget.
    He said, “The government is expecting revenue of almost N8tn while the balance will come from deficit funding. If you look at what was generated in 2018, we had full revenue figure, it was not up to N4tn.
    “Now we are expecting over N8tn. Where is the money going to come from? We may end up building castles in the air.”
    He also said that the fuel subsidy being deducted at source by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should be stopped to free more funds for the government.
    The President, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Dr Uche Olowu, also said the conservative oil price benchmark of $57 per barrel was realistic.
    While commenting on the new VAT rate increased from five to 7.5 per cent, he said, “Increasing VAT is imperative. But I would have appreciated that the tax net should be widened.”
    Feed Africa condemns allocation to agriculture
    The Executive Director of Free Feed Africa Advocacy Network, Chika Okeke, said the N83bn budgeted for agriculture in the 2020 budget did not reflect the government’s promise of lifting agriculture in the country.
    Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja, Okeke, said, “Agriculture is the hope of the country as far as non-oil revenue is concerned. The FG needs to do more. We should be reaching a level where we will allocate N500bn, which is still not enough. Africa cannot feed herself if Nigeria does not achieve food sufficiency. The FG must immediately revisit the amount budgeted for agriculture in 2020 budget.”
    The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Kabir Ibrahim, reacting to the N83bn budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that the amount budgeted for agriculture was not as important as the efforts by the government to grow the sector.
    Oil production estimates worrisome – NACCIMA
    The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture raised concerns about the revenue projections expected to fund the budget.
    In a position statement made available to The PUNCH on Wednesday, NACCIMA stated, “The government has adopted a conservative oil price benchmark of $57 per barrel, a daily oil production estimate of 2.18 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N305 per dollar for 2020.
    “However, this statement appears at odds with Nigeria’s current crude oil output (1.69mbpd) and the Minister of State for Petroleum’s recent statement that Nigeria is fully committed to complying with OPEC’s new production quota of 1.774mbpd. This raises some concerns on the revenue projections expected to fund the budget.”
    But the NACCIMA National President,  Alhaja Suratu Aliyu, commended the Federal Government for  making efforts to revert the budget  cycle to the January to December period.
    The Director, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, expressed displeasure at the inability of the government to double the allocation to the education sector as obtained in other African countries.
    The government allocated N48bn to the education sector in 2020 budget, a 1.5 per cent increase from N47.29bn in 2019
    Uwaje said, “We need to double the budgetary allocation to education like Rwanda and other African countries are doing. A country where we have 10.3 million children out of school not to say those who are in school are not equipped to be educated.”
     Copyright PUNCH.All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
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    DOWNLOAD THE PUNCH NEWS APP NOW ON

     
    11' 
    NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba
    FEATURED

    Minimum wage deadline: Labour mobilises for strike, FG counters move

    Olufemi Atoyebi, Chukwudi Akasike, Friday Olokor, Ademola Babalola, Bola Bamigbola, John Charles, Patrick Odey, Tunde Oyekola, Maiharaji Altine, Tony Okafor, Edward Nnaachi, Ada Wodu and Abiodun Nejo
    A week ahead of the deadline given by the organised labour for the implementation of the new national minimum wage, the Federal Government on Wednesday stepped up efforts to stave off a nationwide strike.
     The government on Wednesday held two meetings with organised labour over workers’ threat to embark on an industrial action if the FG refused to accept their demand for  a new minimum wage implementation by October 16, 2019.
    The organised labour had at a meeting on October 2 asked the government to accept its demand on the consequential salary adjustment arising from the new minimum wage or face industrial action.
    But on Wednesday, the organised labour said it had begun mobilisation of workers for the nationwide strike.
    Also state chapters of the Nigeria Labour Congress expressed their readiness to join the strike, if the negotiation between the Federal Government and labour failed.
     Before the organised labour met with the Federal Government on Wednesday, the General Secretary of Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, Alade Lawal,  during a meeting of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria in Abuja, said  mobilisation of workers for a possible industrial action after October 16, 2019, had reached an advanced stage.
     But the Federal Government held two separate closed-door meetings with labour leaders on Wednesday. Both meetings were presided over by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.
    Other present at the Wednesday meetings were the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed; Minister of State, Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba; Minister of State for Labour, Mr Festus Keyamo, the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr  Folashade Yemi-Esan; Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze; acting Chairman, National Salaries Incomes and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta; and the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris.
    The labour leaders at the meetings were Deputy President of the NLC, Amaechi Asogwuni; General Secretary of the union, Emmanuel Ugboaja; acting Chairman of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, Achaver Simon; Secretary of the union, Alade Lawal; and representatives of the Trade Union Congress.
    A statement signed by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Charles Akpan, stated   the government team met members of the JNPSNC and organised labour separately.
    “It was resolved that each group would hold further meetings to sort out all outstanding disagreements before a high level conclusive meeting to wrap up all discussions,  paving the way for an equable implementation of the Consequential Adjustment of the Minimum Wage scheduled for Tuesday, October 15, 2019,” said the statement.
    A source told one of our correspondents that the meetings were called to douse the tension created by the notice given by the workers’ union on a possible industrial action.
    More in Home
    He said, “The purpose is to address the threat of labour and how the FG and labour can reach an amicable solution over the new minimum wage of N30,000. It is a closed-door meeting so only the government representatives and the union leaders are involved.”
    The source said Ngige would meet members of the old committee that negotiated with the organised labour before negotiations collapsed.
    FG has not implemented wage increase– Workers
    Speaking at the  ASCSN  meeting in Abuja,  Alade Lawal said that organised labour would not allow the FG to use what he described as divide and rule tactic to create division among workers.
    He berated the FG for going public to announce that it had begun payment of the new minimum wage to workers at level one to six, noting that it was a ploy to gain cheap public sympathy on the issue and portray other categories of workers as greedy and inconsiderate.
    He said, “As far as I am concerned, nothing has been implemented. What are they implementing? We are negotiating something and somebody went behind to start issuing one circular.
    “As far as we are concerned, nothing has been done, and if you want to look at it, level one to three has been outsourced, how many people are there, so when you even look at the circular, it’s full of errors; as far as we are concerned, no circular has been issued.
    “Look at this scenario, you have a salary structure, you have a ratio between the minimum and the maximum, when the minimum was N18,000, you have what you have at the maximum, then you have tilted the minimum to N30,000, are you going to leave the table there?
    “It’s distortion, you don’t allow distortion and it’s not allowed anywhere in the world, and that is why you do consequential adjustment.
    Strike starts anytime from October 17 – Labour
    “Anytime from October 17, 2019, the leadership of labour will give directive to members nationwide on what to do. The measure of seriousness can only be seen if something concrete is done between now and the 16th of October, 2019; we are not part of government, we don’t know what they are doing.”
    Explaining why labour leaders met, Lawal said,  “The meeting is to mobilise our members towards the looming strike if the government does not accede to the demands of labour in respect of the consequential adjustment of salaries arising from the new national minimum wage.
    “After October 16, we will give directives to our members nationwide. It is both the public and private sectors. You know that in labour parlance, an injury to one is injury to all. So, whether private sector has implemented or not, they will go on sympathy strike. It is going to be a national strike. It is not going to be limited to the public sector alone.”
    Lawal described the meeting convened by the government for Wednesday as informal as no agreement could be signed from such an arrangement.
    He said, “If you go through the communique issued by the TUC, the NLC and the JNPSNC, we are asking the government to reconvene the meeting of the committee and within one week, let the committee complete its assignment. So, the meeting for today (Wednesday), as far as we are concerned, is just a kind of an informal meeting, it is not a normal meeting.
    “But as labour, we are not averse to discussions and consultations. They have yet to reconvene the main meeting of the committee. The minister is free to call us, we will go. We are hoping that he wants to use it to talk to the two sides before reconvening the meeting.
    “You can’t sign any agreement in such kind of an informal meeting. Until you convene the meeting of the committee handling the negotiation of the consequential adjustment, nothing has happened. Anytime from October 17, the leadership of labour will give directives to members nationwide on what to do.”
    Rivers, Osun, Oyo, Anambra workers ready for strike
    Meanwhile, workers in states such as Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Kwara and Benue on Wednesday said they would join any strike declared by the NLC on the new minimum wage.
    Labour is one, we will join strike – Osun NLC
    In Osun State, the NLC Secretary, Rufus Adeyemi, said the state chapter had not started negotiations with the state government.
    He, however, said workers in the state would join the strike whenever the national leadership of organised labour directed workers to go on strike  over the new wage.
    He said, “Labour is one and once a directive like that is received from the national body, we must comply. So, workers in the state will definitely comply with the directive of the national body of the NLC on this issue.”
    We’re ready – Rivers NLC
    In Rivers State, the NLC chairperson, Mrs Beatrice Itubo, told one of our correspondents that workers in the state were ready to join their colleagues in Abuja on strike should the issue of minimum wage remain unresolved.
    She said, “We will join the strike as soon as they (NLC in Abuja) tell us to do so. We are not the one to ask; the national body will ask and once it (minimum wage) is implemented, of course, it spreads down to the states. We are not operating differently because minimum wage is minimum wage.”
    It is incumbent on us to join strike – Benue NLC
    Also, the Benue State chairman of the NLC, Godwin Anyan, said the state chapter  would not hesitate to mobilise its members for strike.
    He said, “If the Nigeria Labour Congress is embarking on strike, the national body will notify all the states. The moment we received the directive from Abuja, it is our responsibility to  comply.”
    Anyan, however, said that the Benue  State Government had yet to start negotiation with the union in the state.
    We are moblising against FG – Oyo NLC
    In Oyo State, the NLC chairman, Bayo Titilola-Sodo, said workers were being sensitised to prepare for the impending strike should the Federal Government fail to accede to labour request.
    Titilola-Sodo said, “We are mobilising workers and the issue is this: we are mobilising workers, not against the Oyo State Government but against the Federal Government because that’s where the final decision as regards the implementation would trickle down to states for implementation.”
    We are awaiting directive – Akwa Ibom NLC chair
    Similarly, the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress Akwa Ibom State chapter, Sunny James, said state chapters of the NLC had not yet received any instruction from the national body to mobilise  workers for the strike.
    He said as soon as states were instructed to mobilise workers they would have no option but to do so.
    “For now we have not been instructed to do anything but when we get instructions, we will do so,” James said.
    Kwara TUC, NLC  to meet
    In the same vein, both the TUC and the NLC in Kwara State on Wednesday said they were  mobilising their members for the impending strike over the N30,000 minimum wage.
    The state chairman of the TUC, Kolawole Olumo, told The  PUNCH  that members of the executives of the affiliate unions  had just risen from a meeting.
    He said, “We are just rising from the meeting of the chairmen and secretaries of the affiliate unions of the TUC and it is in connection with the proposed strike. We have fixed another meeting for Monday and we are going to have a joint meeting with the NLC on Tuesday.”
    Olumo said the negotiations for the new minimum wage had yet to start in the state because the Federal Government had not released the template on which to negotiate the new minimum wage with the state government.
    We’re ready for strike – Anambra NLC
    Also, the NLC in Anambra State said it would join the strike .
    The NLC chairman in the state , Jerry Nnubia,  said the workers in the state were ready for the industrial action.
    He said,” The new minimum wage is not a new issue to workers. So, you don’t need a fresh mobilisation to get them aware of the situation.”
    Reminded that Governor Willie Obiano had assured workers that the state would be the first to implement the new minimum wage, Nnubia said, “You don’t implement the new wage arbitrarily. It’s a national issue that must be resolved nationally before anybody could be talking about implementation.”
    In his reaction, the Chairman of the NLC in Cross River State, Benedict Ukpepi, said the congress would participate in the proposed nationwide strike over the minimum wage.
    Mobilisation national, Ebonyi will join – NLC
    Speaking in the same vein, the Chairman of the NLC in Ebonyi State,  Ikechukwu Nwafor, said  the mobilisation of workers by the national leadership of the labour union was national.
    Nwafor, who stated this on Wednesday said.”The ongoing mobilisation is for the entire nation. It is a national mobilisation and not just for Ebonyi State alone; it’s national.  And that means we will join, should the strike hold.”
    But the Chairman of the NLC in Ekiti State, Kolapo Olatunde, said the state council was still expecting a directive from the national body.
    He said, “We do not work in isolation. Any directive from the national body will be carried out at the state level. We have yet to receive such a directive. Even the directive as to normal template for the minimum wage has not been given by the national leadership. We are awaiting the national template, what is to be agreed upon, from the national body.”
    Matawalle promised to pay – Zamfara NLC
    However, the  Zamfara State NLC, Bashir Mafara, told The PUNCH that the congress had yet to receive any information on the issue.
    “We have not been informed or officially communicated to on the strike by the national leaders,” he said.
    The chairman further explained that, as soon as they got any directive from Abuja, they would convene a meeting to discuss it.
    He said, “Governor Bello Matawalle has promised to pay the new wage, what he is waiting for is the table on how to go about its implementation.”
    Copyright PUNCH.All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
    Contact:

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    1. The National Assembly on Wednesday commenced the debate on the general principles of the 2019 budget with majority of the lawmakers expressing reservations in the ability of the fiscal document to tackle the nation’s socio-economic problems.
      While some senators condemned the borrowing plans of the Federal Government and  the huge sums proposed to service the existing foreign loans, some members of the House of Representatives called for job creation, especially through the Social Investment Programme of the Federal Government.
      Some finance experts and economic groups such as the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Professor of Economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye, Ogun, Sheriffdeen Tella; the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, and the Head of Tax and Regulatory Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, also faulted the revenue framework upon which the 2020 budget was predicated.
      President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday proposed the highest allocation of N262bn to the Ministry of Works and Housing, just as Power, Transportation and Defence followed with N123bn, N112bn and N100bn, respectively in the 2020 budget estimates presented to the National Assembly.
      The analysts who spoke to our correspondents during separate telephone interviews said with the revenue challenges facing the country, it might be difficult to fully implement the budget.
      Senate, Reps begin debate on budget
      The Senate on Wednesday commenced debate on the 2020 Appropriation Bill with some senators drawing the attention of the executive arm of government to certain areas that needed some tweaking to enhance the economy.
      One of such lawmakers, the Senate Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, bemoaned the amount allocated for the implementation of capital projects.
      According to him, the N2.14tn proposed as capital expenditure was insufficient to stimulate the economy along a trajectory that could guarantee growth.
      Abdullahi, who kick-started the debate, said a critical analysis of the budget clearly showed that the revenue to Gross Domestic Product was too low and could affect the implementation of the budget if passes
      Abdullahi said the issue of economic policy should not be left to members of the executive arm of government alone to handle, adding, “We have to think out of the box from this chamber to make the relevant laws in order for this economy to generate revenue.”
       The Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, quoting the late poet, Williams Shakespeare, described the budget proposal as “a pen full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
      “In every budget speech, what we normally see is that they will give it a name. Last year, it was budget of consolidation. So this year, I was waiting to see what was going to be the nitty-gritty of the budget and I saw that there were many things that were jumbled together.They call it a budget of fiscal consolidation, investing in critical infrastructure, incentivising the private sector, enhancing and so forth. In other words, putting everything together like that reminds us of what Shakespeare said, ‘a pen full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’”
      “I want to suggest the name to those who wrote this that this is nothing but a budget of taxation. It is based on 7.5 per cent increase on VAT and several other increases,” he added.The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, however, cautioned his colleagues that the budget was not as bad as being projected.
      “That is a brilliant presentation but also laced with so many inaccurate statistical information but again, you are entitled to your opinion,” Lawan told Abaribe.
      Other senators, in their various contributions admitted that the  nation’s economy was not doing well at the moment and called for legislation to involve them in the management of the economy.Senator Gabriel Suswan said policies that would further contracted the economy were contained in the budget and condemned the introduction of 2.5 per cent increase in VAT. He said “it would slow down the economy.”
      The Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Jibrin Barau, said the budget proposal was a deliberate plan to move from the non-oil revenue.
      Senator Ike Ekweremadu said the President had done his job and that it was left for the lawmakers to adjust the proposal where necessary.No division in Senate over budget debate – Spokesperson
      Meanwhile, the Senate has denied perceived division among senators along party lines during the debate on the 2020 budget.
      The Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Adedayo Adeyeye, who made the clarification on Wednesday while briefing journalists said every contribution made on the opening day was very reasonable.
      He said, “For the Senate to have a meaningful analysis and passage of the budget, there must be cross fertilisation of ideas and robust discussion.”Gbajabiamila blocks PDP lawmaker from stopping debate on bill
      The House of Representatives at the plenary on Wednesday started the second reading of the appropriation bill, while several lawmakers called for job creation, especially through the Social Investment Programme of the Federal Government.
      The second reading, however, began on a dramatic note when a member, Mr Kingsley Chinda, who was a factional Minority Leader, raised a point of order to ask the House to postpone consideration of the budget.However, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, faulted the lawmaker, stating that the second reading was in order.
      “The second reading of the bill, what do we call it? General principles. Do we debate the details? No, we don’t debate the details. You’re ruled out of order,” he said.
      During the debate, some lawmakers also raised the issue of low releases, which they said could frustrate proper implementation of annual budgets.Others called for sincerity in the implementation of the budget, while stating the necessity of a population census to have correct statistics that will allow proper planning and implementation of policies.
      The Chief Whip, Mohammed Monguno, noted that Nigeria’s population was fast-growing, urging the Federal Government to diversify the economy, especially the agricultural sector to create employment opportunities.
      A member, Bamidele Salam, commended the executive for cooperating with the legislature towards reverting to the January to December budget cycle.
      He stated the need to correlate rising economic statistics with improvements in the living standards of the people “to see if, indeed, the rising statistics have impacted the lives of the people positively.”
      The lawmaker, while also commending the Federal Government for initiating the Social Investment Programme, decried the drastic reduction in the amount being released out of the huge funds allocated to the programme, despite its importance to the living standard of Nigerians.
      He urged the House to consider the possibility of increasing the budgetary allocation for the SIP from N30bn to at least N100bn.
      The House Committee on Finance has said it will query revenue generating agencies over power remittances to the Federal Government coffers.
      Chairman of the committee, Mr James Faleke, blamed the poor performance of previous budgets on lack of funds.
      He said, “Our main job is to help this government to increase revenue. The problem we have is shortfall in revenue and that is why so many of our projects suffer and many of our programmes are not being carried out.”
      The House also urged the Federal Government to raise the percentage of allocation to the health sector from five per cent to 15 per cent.
      The lower chamber of the National Assembly made the call at the plenary on Wednesday, when the lawmakers unanimously adopted a motion moved by Mr Ntufam Mbora, entitled, ‘Deplorable State of Government Owned Health Care Facilities in Nigeria.’
      Also, the Committees on Health Institutions and Health Care Services were mandated to ensure compliance with the resolution.
      N305 exchange rate unrealistic – LCCI 
      The LCCI though commended the return to the January – December cycle for the budgets, saying it would make for easy planning, it described as unrealistic the exchange rate assumption of N305 to the dollar.
       The LCCI, which spoke through the Director-General, Muda Yusuf, said it was difficult to justify this assumption, especially when the country’s earnings were declining.
      He said, “The key assumptions underpinning the budget are realistic except for the exchange rate assumption of N305 to the dollar.  This is one assumption that is difficult to justify, especially at a time when declining revenue has become a major issue both for the government and the citizens.”
      The LCCI also noted that from the total budget size of N10.3tn having a recurrent component of N4.88tn and debt service of N2.45tn, there was not much left for infrastructure development.
      Yusuf said, “Debt service commitment and recurrent spending are beginning to crowd out capital expenditure. This scenario is not in alignment with the aspiration to build infrastructure and a competitive economy. Debt service of N2.46tn is more than the capital budget of N2.14tn.”
      PwC head says projected growth weak
      Also, the Head of Tax and Regulatory Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Taiwo Oyedele, said the projected growth was weak and that revenue would be a challenge due to the rising debt burden.
      He said, “The introduction of a Finance Bill to amend various tax laws is a positive development to make the tax system dynamic and responsive to changes in the economy. The projected growth continues to be fragile while revenue remains a challenge with rising debt although the benchmark crude oil price and production are more realistic than in previous years.”
      But a former President, Association of National Accountants of Nigeria, Dr Sam Nzekwe, commended the government for timely presentation of the bill, and the November date by the National Assembly to pass it.
      While noting that the Federal Inland Revenue Service needed to do more to bring more people into the tax net, he said that there were many people earning above N25m turnover threshold that were exempted from the VAT that had nothing to do with the government
      Experts fault revenue framework, says funding challenges imminent
      The experts wondered why the government would be planning to generate the sum of N8.9tn in 2020 when the 2018 budget recorded a revenue underperformance of 45 per cent.
      For instance, Tella said while $57 per barrel oil price benchmark was right, the oil production output of 2.3 million barrel per day was not feasible.
      “The benchmark price for crude oil sales is okay but the output of 2.3 million barrels per day may not be okay in the sense that we were doing 1.9mbpd. We cannot be talking of doing 2.3mbpd production at this time.
       “The price benchmark is conservative because there is going to be glut in the oil market in 2020 and that would create problem in terms of pricing.”
      In terms of expenditure, he said that N48bn allocated to education and N46bn for health sector was very low.
      In his comments, Onyekpere called on the government to come up with innovative ways of raising revenue to fund the budget.
      He said, “The government is expecting revenue of almost N8tn while the balance will come from deficit funding. If you look at what was generated in 2018, we had full revenue figure, it was not up to N4tn.
      “Now we are expecting over N8tn. Where is the money going to come from? We may end up building castles in the air.”
      He also said that the fuel subsidy being deducted at source by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should be stopped to free more funds for the government.
      The President, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Dr Uche Olowu, also said the conservative oil price benchmark of $57 per barrel was realistic.
      While commenting on the new VAT rate increased from five to 7.5 per cent, he said, “Increasing VAT is imperative. But I would have appreciated that the tax net should be widened.”
      Feed Africa condemns allocation to agriculture
      The Executive Director of Free Feed Africa Advocacy Network, Chika Okeke, said the N83bn budgeted for agriculture in the 2020 budget did not reflect the government’s promise of lifting agriculture in the country.
      Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja, Okeke, said, “Agriculture is the hope of the country as far as non-oil revenue is concerned. The FG needs to do more. We should be reaching a level where we will allocate N500bn, which is still not enough. Africa cannot feed herself if Nigeria does not achieve food sufficiency. The FG must immediately revisit the amount budgeted for agriculture in 2020 budget.”
      The National President of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Alhaji Kabir Ibrahim, reacting to the N83bn budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that the amount budgeted for agriculture was not as important as the efforts by the government to grow the sector.
      Oil production estimates worrisome – NACCIMA
      The Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture raised concerns about the revenue projections expected to fund the budget.
      In a position statement made available to The PUNCH on Wednesday, NACCIMA stated, “The government has adopted a conservative oil price benchmark of $57 per barrel, a daily oil production estimate of 2.18 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N305 per dollar for 2020.
      “However, this statement appears at odds with Nigeria’s current crude oil output (1.69mbpd) and the Minister of State for Petroleum’s recent statement that Nigeria is fully committed to complying with OPEC’s new production quota of 1.774mbpd. This raises some concerns on the revenue projections expected to fund the budget.”
      But the NACCIMA National President,  Alhaja Suratu Aliyu, commended the Federal Government for  making efforts to revert the budget  cycle to the January to December period.
      The Director, Delta State Innovation Hub, Chris Uwaje, expressed displeasure at the inability of the government to double the allocation to the education sector as obtained in other African countries.
      The government allocated N48bn to the education sector in 2020 budget, a 1.5 per cent increase from N47.29bn in 2019
      Uwaje said, “We need to double the budgetary allocation to education like Rwanda and other African countries are doing. A country where we have 10.3 million children out of school not to say those who are in school are not equipped to be educated.”
       Copyright PUNCH.All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
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      11' 
      NLC President, Mr. Ayuba Wabba
      FEATURED

      Minimum wage deadline: Labour mobilises for strike, FG counters move

      Olufemi Atoyebi, Chukwudi Akasike, Friday Olokor, Ademola Babalola, Bola Bamigbola, John Charles, Patrick Odey, Tunde Oyekola, Maiharaji Altine, Tony Okafor, Edward Nnaachi, Ada Wodu and Abiodun Nejo
      A week ahead of the deadline given by the organised labour for the implementation of the new national minimum wage, the Federal Government on Wednesday stepped up efforts to stave off a nationwide strike.
       The government on Wednesday held two meetings with organised labour over workers’ threat to embark on an industrial action if the FG refused to accept their demand for  a new minimum wage implementation by October 16, 2019.
      The organised labour had at a meeting on October 2 asked the government to accept its demand on the consequential salary adjustment arising from the new minimum wage or face industrial action.
      But on Wednesday, the organised labour said it had begun mobilisation of workers for the nationwide strike.
      Also state chapters of the Nigeria Labour Congress expressed their readiness to join the strike, if the negotiation between the Federal Government and labour failed.
       Before the organised labour met with the Federal Government on Wednesday, the General Secretary of Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, Alade Lawal,  during a meeting of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria in Abuja, said  mobilisation of workers for a possible industrial action after October 16, 2019, had reached an advanced stage.
       But the Federal Government held two separate closed-door meetings with labour leaders on Wednesday. Both meetings were presided over by the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige.
      Other present at the Wednesday meetings were the Minister of Finance, Budget and Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed; Minister of State, Finance, Budget and Planning, Clement Agba; Minister of State for Labour, Mr Festus Keyamo, the Head of Service of the Federation, Dr  Folashade Yemi-Esan; Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze; acting Chairman, National Salaries Incomes and Wages Commission, Ekpo Nta; and the Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris.
      The labour leaders at the meetings were Deputy President of the NLC, Amaechi Asogwuni; General Secretary of the union, Emmanuel Ugboaja; acting Chairman of the Joint National Public Service Negotiating Council, Achaver Simon; Secretary of the union, Alade Lawal; and representatives of the Trade Union Congress.
      A statement signed by the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Charles Akpan, stated   the government team met members of the JNPSNC and organised labour separately.
      “It was resolved that each group would hold further meetings to sort out all outstanding disagreements before a high level conclusive meeting to wrap up all discussions,  paving the way for an equable implementation of the Consequential Adjustment of the Minimum Wage scheduled for Tuesday, October 15, 2019,” said the statement.
      A source told one of our correspondents that the meetings were called to douse the tension created by the notice given by the workers’ union on a possible industrial action.
      More in Home
      He said, “The purpose is to address the threat of labour and how the FG and labour can reach an amicable solution over the new minimum wage of N30,000. It is a closed-door meeting so only the government representatives and the union leaders are involved.”
      The source said Ngige would meet members of the old committee that negotiated with the organised labour before negotiations collapsed.
      FG has not implemented wage increase– Workers
      Speaking at the  ASCSN  meeting in Abuja,  Alade Lawal said that organised labour would not allow the FG to use what he described as divide and rule tactic to create division among workers.
      He berated the FG for going public to announce that it had begun payment of the new minimum wage to workers at level one to six, noting that it was a ploy to gain cheap public sympathy on the issue and portray other categories of workers as greedy and inconsiderate.
      He said, “As far as I am concerned, nothing has been implemented. What are they implementing? We are negotiating something and somebody went behind to start issuing one circular.
      “As far as we are concerned, nothing has been done, and if you want to look at it, level one to three has been outsourced, how many people are there, so when you even look at the circular, it’s full of errors; as far as we are concerned, no circular has been issued.
      “Look at this scenario, you have a salary structure, you have a ratio between the minimum and the maximum, when the minimum was N18,000, you have what you have at the maximum, then you have tilted the minimum to N30,000, are you going to leave the table there?
      “It’s distortion, you don’t allow distortion and it’s not allowed anywhere in the world, and that is why you do consequential adjustment.
      Strike starts anytime from October 17 – Labour
      “Anytime from October 17, 2019, the leadership of labour will give directive to members nationwide on what to do. The measure of seriousness can only be seen if something concrete is done between now and the 16th of October, 2019; we are not part of government, we don’t know what they are doing.”
      Explaining why labour leaders met, Lawal said,  “The meeting is to mobilise our members towards the looming strike if the government does not accede to the demands of labour in respect of the consequential adjustment of salaries arising from the new national minimum wage.
      “After October 16, we will give directives to our members nationwide. It is both the public and private sectors. You know that in labour parlance, an injury to one is injury to all. So, whether private sector has implemented or not, they will go on sympathy strike. It is going to be a national strike. It is not going to be limited to the public sector alone.”
      Lawal described the meeting convened by the government for Wednesday as informal as no agreement could be signed from such an arrangement.
      He said, “If you go through the communique issued by the TUC, the NLC and the JNPSNC, we are asking the government to reconvene the meeting of the committee and within one week, let the committee complete its assignment. So, the meeting for today (Wednesday), as far as we are concerned, is just a kind of an informal meeting, it is not a normal meeting.
      “But as labour, we are not averse to discussions and consultations. They have yet to reconvene the main meeting of the committee. The minister is free to call us, we will go. We are hoping that he wants to use it to talk to the two sides before reconvening the meeting.
      “You can’t sign any agreement in such kind of an informal meeting. Until you convene the meeting of the committee handling the negotiation of the consequential adjustment, nothing has happened. Anytime from October 17, the leadership of labour will give directives to members nationwide on what to do.”
      Rivers, Osun, Oyo, Anambra workers ready for strike
      Meanwhile, workers in states such as Osun, Oyo, Rivers, Kwara and Benue on Wednesday said they would join any strike declared by the NLC on the new minimum wage.
      Labour is one, we will join strike – Osun NLC
      In Osun State, the NLC Secretary, Rufus Adeyemi, said the state chapter had not started negotiations with the state government.
      He, however, said workers in the state would join the strike whenever the national leadership of organised labour directed workers to go on strike  over the new wage.
      He said, “Labour is one and once a directive like that is received from the national body, we must comply. So, workers in the state will definitely comply with the directive of the national body of the NLC on this issue.”
      We’re ready – Rivers NLC
      In Rivers State, the NLC chairperson, Mrs Beatrice Itubo, told one of our correspondents that workers in the state were ready to join their colleagues in Abuja on strike should the issue of minimum wage remain unresolved.
      She said, “We will join the strike as soon as they (NLC in Abuja) tell us to do so. We are not the one to ask; the national body will ask and once it (minimum wage) is implemented, of course, it spreads down to the states. We are not operating differently because minimum wage is minimum wage.”
      It is incumbent on us to join strike – Benue NLC
      Also, the Benue State chairman of the NLC, Godwin Anyan, said the state chapter  would not hesitate to mobilise its members for strike.
      He said, “If the Nigeria Labour Congress is embarking on strike, the national body will notify all the states. The moment we received the directive from Abuja, it is our responsibility to  comply.”
      Anyan, however, said that the Benue  State Government had yet to start negotiation with the union in the state.
      We are moblising against FG – Oyo NLC
      In Oyo State, the NLC chairman, Bayo Titilola-Sodo, said workers were being sensitised to prepare for the impending strike should the Federal Government fail to accede to labour request.
      Titilola-Sodo said, “We are mobilising workers and the issue is this: we are mobilising workers, not against the Oyo State Government but against the Federal Government because that’s where the final decision as regards the implementation would trickle down to states for implementation.”
      We are awaiting directive – Akwa Ibom NLC chair
      Similarly, the chairman of the Nigeria Labour Congress Akwa Ibom State chapter, Sunny James, said state chapters of the NLC had not yet received any instruction from the national body to mobilise  workers for the strike.
      He said as soon as states were instructed to mobilise workers they would have no option but to do so.
      “For now we have not been instructed to do anything but when we get instructions, we will do so,” James said.
      Kwara TUC, NLC  to meet
      In the same vein, both the TUC and the NLC in Kwara State on Wednesday said they were  mobilising their members for the impending strike over the N30,000 minimum wage.
      The state chairman of the TUC, Kolawole Olumo, told The  PUNCH  that members of the executives of the affiliate unions  had just risen from a meeting.
      He said, “We are just rising from the meeting of the chairmen and secretaries of the affiliate unions of the TUC and it is in connection with the proposed strike. We have fixed another meeting for Monday and we are going to have a joint meeting with the NLC on Tuesday.”
      Olumo said the negotiations for the new minimum wage had yet to start in the state because the Federal Government had not released the template on which to negotiate the new minimum wage with the state government.
      We’re ready for strike – Anambra NLC
      Also, the NLC in Anambra State said it would join the strike .
      The NLC chairman in the state , Jerry Nnubia,  said the workers in the state were ready for the industrial action.
      He said,” The new minimum wage is not a new issue to workers. So, you don’t need a fresh mobilisation to get them aware of the situation.”
      Reminded that Governor Willie Obiano had assured workers that the state would be the first to implement the new minimum wage, Nnubia said, “You don’t implement the new wage arbitrarily. It’s a national issue that must be resolved nationally before anybody could be talking about implementation.”
      In his reaction, the Chairman of the NLC in Cross River State, Benedict Ukpepi, said the congress would participate in the proposed nationwide strike over the minimum wage.
      Mobilisation national, Ebonyi will join – NLC
      Speaking in the same vein, the Chairman of the NLC in Ebonyi State,  Ikechukwu Nwafor, said  the mobilisation of workers by the national leadership of the labour union was national.
      Nwafor, who stated this on Wednesday said.”The ongoing mobilisation is for the entire nation. It is a national mobilisation and not just for Ebonyi State alone; it’s national.  And that means we will join, should the strike hold.”
      But the Chairman of the NLC in Ekiti State, Kolapo Olatunde, said the state council was still expecting a directive from the national body.
      He said, “We do not work in isolation. Any directive from the national body will be carried out at the state level. We have yet to receive such a directive. Even the directive as to normal template for the minimum wage has not been given by the national leadership. We are awaiting the national template, what is to be agreed upon, from the national body.”
      Matawalle promised to pay – Zamfara NLC
      However, the  Zamfara State NLC, Bashir Mafara, told The PUNCH that the congress had yet to receive any information on the issue.
      “We have not been informed or officially communicated to on the strike by the national leaders,” he said.
      The chairman further explained that, as soon as they got any directive from Abuja, they would convene a meeting to discuss it.
      He said, “Governor Bello Matawalle has promised to pay the new wage, what he is waiting for is the table on how to go about its implementation.”
      Copyright PUNCH.All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
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