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Vaccine: FG banks on supplementary budget, says $31bn loan not high

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Zainab Ahmed

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, on Thursday, said the Federal Government would prepare a supplementary budget to be sent to the National Assembly to cater for COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination.

She said the fiscal document would be prepared in March.

Ahmed spoke at the maiden edition of the State House briefing held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

She stated, “There will be a supplementary budget; the first one will be in March relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we will also have a mid-year review of the budget like we did last year.

“If at the time we do the review and there is a need to go back to do any amendment for a supplementary budget, at that time, we will take that decision; if not, we will just report the review.”

Ahmed gave an indication that the first batch of COVID-19 vaccines would arrive in the country next week when she said, “We have a provision in the 2021 budget for immunization. We are already releasing money to the health authorities to start operation in the first batch of vaccines that are going to arrive in the country in one week.

“But what we have in the budget is not enough; so, we are working with the health authorities to provide a plan that will be taken to the President for approval and to is taken to the National Assembly as a supplementary budget specifically for COVID-19 vaccination.”

The minister reiterated that the level of Nigeria’s borrowing was not too high contrary to the general belief.

She stated, “There is a lot of sensitivity in Nigeria about the level of borrowing by the government and it is not misplaced.

“I said earlier that the level of borrowing is not unreasonable; it is not high. The problem we have is that of revenue. So, what we need to do is to increase revenue to be able to enhance our debt to GDP obligation capacity.”

Ahmed said if the government decided not to borrow and therefore did not build rails and major infrastructure until revenue rises enough, the country would regress.

She described borrowing as a decision that every government had to make.

She added, “Our assessment is that we need to borrow to build our major infrastructure. We just need to make sure that when we borrow, we are applying the borrowing to specific major infrastructure that will enhance the business environment in this country.

“Again, we all have to work; not just the Federal Government, but also state governments, to increase our revenue to enhance our debt service obligations.
“We also have to make sure that when we are choosing the projects, we are choosing carefully the ones that will enhance the business environment so that more revenue yields come into the treasuries of the country.”

The minister put the country’s total borrowing as of December 31, 2020, at 21.6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

She said as of 2019, the debt to GDP ratio was 19.2 per cent, adding that only two per cent was added.

The minister also described the increase in crude oil price as positive for the country, saying the more revenue the nation realized out of the budget, the less it would borrow.

Ahmed said there were plans to get the Federal Executive Council to approve a memorandum to compel government ministries, departments, and agencies to patronize made in Nigeria goods.

On the fears being expressed in certain quotas about Chinese loans, she said the loans were for capital projects.

The Director-General, Debt Management Office, Ms Patience Oniha, said the country’s external debt as of Thursday “is about $31bn.”

Out of the figure, she put Chinese loans at N3.2tn, which she said was about 10 per cent of the total.

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