Coronavirus Outbreak: FG may reduce 2020 budget by N1tn

The committee set up by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to assess the impact of coronavirus on the 2020 budget submitted an interim report to him on Friday.

The committee is chaired by the Minister of Finance/Budget/National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed.

Other members are the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Mr Timipre Sylva; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele; and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr Mele Kyari.

Buhari appointed the committee on Monday.

Ahmed disclosed to State House  Correspondents on Friday that after meeting with Buhari, he again directed the panel to make further consultations with a wider segment of Nigerians before coming up with recommendations on what actions to take.

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She said they briefed Buhari on the findings so far, including “looking at ways to stabilise government revenues.”

Ahmed, who gave no figures, added, “We will be concluding the consultations next week, by which time we will release figures on specific approvals.”

This came as Saturday Punch learnt that the Federal Government might reduce the budget by over N1tn as part of its immediate response to crashing oil revenues in the wake of the outbreak of COVID-19.

The budget of N10.59tn came under implementation challenges after its $57 crude oil benchmark became unsustainable due to a fall in crude price to around $31 earlier in the week.

It later rose to $35.77 as of Wednesday, as experts warned it would crash further again amid the volatility in the market caused by coronavirus.

On Friday, the price of Nigeria’s Brent crude was $34.50.

Investigations showed that the committee, after looking at the figures between Monday and Tuesday, returned to the State House on Tuesday night to see Buhari to report immediate findings.

Those who were sighted at the Villa on the return visit on Tuesday included Ahmed and Emefiele.

However, it was gathered that a final decision had not been reached on what might be the new oil benchmark because of the frequent fluctuations in the barrel price.

Further investigations showed that members of the committee had also been preoccupied with many other state functions, particularly Ahmed and Emefiele, to finalise conclusions.

For instance, on Wednesday, Emefiele spent the whole of Wednesday participating in the Going for Growth 2.0 Roundtable, organised by the CBN in conjunction with some private sector key players.

At the event, the key players pledged to raise up to N1.5tn to support infrastructure funding in the country. Following the first roundtable, the bank had offered credit support of N1.9tn to the private sector to support growth.

When our correspondent reached the finance minister earlier to confirm whether her committee had arrived at any final decisions, Ahmed simply replied that the members were still working.

“We are still working on the report to submit to Mr President,” she briefly stated.

Investigations indicated that following normal procedure, any proposed adjustments to the budget would not take effect until they had been passed by the National Assembly.

In December 2019 when Buhari signed the 2020 budget, Nigeria’s Brent crude was well above $60 per barrel. But, it soon began a free fall since January, dropping below the budgeted $57.

In 2016, oil price crashed to as low as $27 per barrel, forcing the economy into recession.

The economy later exited recession as oil prices climbed again.

But, experts fear that the country faces a possible recession again in the wake of the fresh revenue challenges posed by coronavirus globally. Punch

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