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Monday, 15 August 2016

NIGERIA: Hunger in the land as economy goes bankrupt----PUNCH

NIGERIA : Hunger in the land as economy goes bankrupt

Published by Family Writers


The simple definition of insolvency is when an entity is unable to pay its debt as they fall due.  Going by this definition, the Federal Government and most states of the federation can be adjudged insolvent. Workers and pensioners across the land are owed many months of unpaid salaries and pensions, with little prospects of these arrears ever being paid unless there is a dramatic improvement in government revenues.  Government contractors have fared even worse; unable to service their loans or pay their creditors, many have laid off hundreds of thousands of workers. The bitter truth is that the money is simply not there. Nigeria is broke.  Crime is rampant everywhere, fuelled by youth unemployment believed to be up to 50 per cent.

Apart from perhaps progressive states like Lagos, and a few others like Anambra, work in the public sector has virtually ground to a halt because of non-payment of salaries.  The impact of this state of affairs on the economy cannot be overstated, with tenants unable to pay their rent and businesses unable to sell their wares due to lack of customers. Inflation is spiralling out of control because of the rising cost of inputs, stifling economic activity. Even those in work are begging for money.  Wherever you look, frustration is palpable; there is hunger in the land.  The Federal Secretariat, Abuja, the heart of government, is said to be without power most of the time because of the paucity of funds to maintain generators.  With lifts not working, staff in high-rise buildings unable to climb many flights of stairs are forced to stay at home, including ministers.

How did we get here?  At the height of the oil boom when oil was trading at over $100 a barrel, Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is part, invested their oil wealth in public infrastructure.  They built roads, modern railways, power stations, world class health facilities and one of the world’s largest airlines.  In Nigeria, the opposite was the case; the establishment literally “shared the money”.  What they could not steal, they paid themselves in outrageous salaries.  A minister in the last administration was reportedly earning as much as N15m a month, more than the combined salaries of the US president, the British prime minister, the French president and the German Chancellor.  Like scoundrels, the treasury was looted with reckless abandon.

So how do we get out of the current economic quagmire?  First, the government must listen and learn. The President, Muhammadu Buhari, desperately needs good seasoned economic advisers, wherever he can find them.  The current Governor of the Bank of England was recruited from Canada.  We need a think tank of very smart people to advise government on economic direction.    We must improve our budgeting process and implementation system at both the federal and state tiers of government to make budgeting smarter and more accountable.  Government must “follow the money” and ensure that budgets deliver the right choices.  It is puzzling, as someone who has led the budgeting process in public sector institutions, why Nigerian governments think it is acceptable to start the implementation of the budget half-way through the fiscal year. It shouldn’t take weeks to check if budgets have been “padded”.  There are accounting softwares that can perform this exercise at the press of a button.  As a country, we must learn from past mistakes and not excuse them.  Whilst, for instance, it took Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister, less than 24 hours to appoint her cabinet, it took Buhari seven months; not the act of a serious leader.

Source PUNCH

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