By Bukola Saraki
Distinguished colleagues, let me thank you so much for the industry you have put into bringing us to this point. Let me thank the relevant sub-committees, especially, for the patriotism and commitment to the delivery of a more efficiency oriented budget.
When we received the 2018 Draft Appropriation Bill, I reiterated the need for us to reassess the relationship between oil and our economy. We must grow our economy away from oil. Hopefully, the current budget, when signed into law, should help us in this regard, especially with the coming into focus for implementation, the economic reform bills we have passed so far and those on the way to full passage.
We have always believed that government spending must continue to grow on issues relevant to the welfare and security of our people. In the same vein, government spending should reduce in areas where the private sector is better placed to catalyse progress. This will free up funds for Education, Health, Water and Sanitation services, amongst others.
On this note, it with great delight that I announce that the 2018 Budget has met the threshold of reserving at least 1% of total budget to health. This is historic. We were focused on this commitment of the 1% set aside for the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF). We promised, and we have delivered.
For us this is not a commitment to numbers; it is a commitment to the health and well-being of our people. It is a commitment to ‘Making Nigeria Stronger’. We expect that this will continue and even inch upwards as we work to eradicate malaria, and significantly reduce infant and maternal mortality. The statistics that show Nigeria as having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world – is not the Nigeria we want to leave behind for our children. The journey starts now; let us not look back.
As you will recall, I had indicated the need for the Executive and the Legislature to come together, especially in the formation and passage of the Appropriation Bill. However, while we may have made progress in the formation stages, there is a lot more that needs to happen, to minimise delays and other stumbling blocks in the process.
One of the symptoms of the unhelpful aspects of the prevailing culture hampering the process, remains the neglect or refusal of certain agencies of government to honour invitations to budget defence. It is our hope that we will see a major change in this regard, going forward.
The Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) has been passed; it should of course be duly signed and implemented, so that our people can reap the full dividends of this landmark legislation. We are committed to passing all three parts of the legislation – i.e. Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) – thereby ushering in major reforms that will sanitise the oil industry. I am confident that we will redouble efforts towards passing other major component parts of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) – namely the Fiscal and Host Communities Bills – a process that is currently ongoing.
Further to the goal of increasing independent revenue, there is the need to review agreements that government has signed with some private sector service providers. It is pertinent to observe that many of these agreements are biased and clearly not in the interest of the country. These are important steps toward freeing up funding for our critical sectors especially now with the increasing need for strengthening our security architecture and capacity across the country to improve on the safety and confidence of our people in government’s ability to provide for their welfare and security.
It is also hoped that we have put together a Budget that will lend itself easily to the government priority of revamping the economy, creating jobs and fuelling the economic recovery in a manner that has meaning for the ordinary man on the street.
We would like to see that the process of implementation of the budget starts immediately so that our people will begin to benefit from the objective of the budget and opportunities it opens. In order for us to have an efficient budget implementation, we will advise that agencies of government eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and speed up the procurement process.
I congratulate us all, once again, on this accomplishment of passing the 2018 Appropriations Bill; and I enjoin everyone in the legislature and the Executive to do their very best to ensure its successful implementation, for the greater development of our country.
Saraki is the President of the Senate