By Kingsley Okoye
Abuja – Leadership of the National Assembly on Wednesday met with some ministers and heads of agencies of Federal Government to brainstorm on impact of COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerian economy.
Ezrel Tabiowo, Special Assistant, Press to President of Senate, Ahmad Lawan in a statement, indicated that the meeting focused on planned review of the 2020 budget.
It also focused on Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper(FSP) passed in 2019.
Lawan, who presided over the meeting, in his opening remarks, said that an immediate review of 2020 budget and MTEF was imperative, given the impact of COVID -19 pandemic on global economy.
Lawan said: “ If we have to review the budget itself, we have to consider the MTEF/FSP, even in sickness, we need government to provide services.
“The impact of COVID-19 is well known to all of us in terms of health and the economy, we will be talking of revenues that we estimated to fund the budget 2020.
“Because the oil price has gone so low due to the impact of COVID-19, the Minister of State should be able to tell us where we will be in the next six months or so.
“We should have concepts that can deliver fast and are sustainable.
“Anything that we do that can not provide succor and relief to our people will lead to catastrophe,” the senate president warned.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila said the meeting was very timely.
“Taking a cursory look at some of the presentations, I think this meeting is actually very timely and very important because we live in very unusual time.
“It’s time we start thinking outside the box to see how we can stabilise our economy and the direction it’s going to take,” the speaker said.
In her presentation, Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, explained that prior to COVID-19 and oil price decline, Nigerian economy was already fragile and vulnerable.”
According to her, due to the global economic downturn precipitated by impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, international oil prices plunged as low as 22 dollars per barrel on the international market.
She said impact of the pandemic which resulted in international crisis created a disruption in travel and trade.
This, she noted put increasing pressure on the naira and foreign reserves as crude oil sales receipts declined and the country’s micro-economic outlook worsened.
Ahmed said, the Crisis Management Committee constituted by President Muhammadu Buhari in response to COVID-19 and oil price decline, expressed concern that decline in international oil prices or domestic production may be magnified if a severe outbreak of the pandemic occurred in Nigeria.
“The proposed review of the 2020 budget using a 30 dollar per barrel price benchmark to prepare for the worst case scenario, and insulate Nigeria economy against any form of unexpected crisis.”
She disclosed that budgeted revenues for the Nigeria Customs Service(NCS) have been reduced from N1.5 trillion to N943 billion .
This she said was due to anticipated reduction in trade volumes and privatisation proceeds to be cut by 50 per cent, based on adverse economic outlook on sales of the Independent Power Projects (IPPs) and other assets.
Ahmed disclosed that the federal government had undertaken cuts to revenue-related expenditures for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for several projects included in the 2020 Appropriation Act passed by the national assembly in Dec, 2019.
“The federal government is working on Fiscal Stimulus Measures to provide fiscal relief for Taxpayers and key economic sectors; incentives for employers to retain and recruit staff during the economic downturn.
“It is also working to stimulate investment in critical infrastructure; review non-essential tax waivers to optimise revenues; and compliment monetary and trade interventions to respond to the crisis,” the finance minister disclosed.
” Federal government had made provision for health sector interventions by introducing import duty waivers for essential input for pharmaceutical firms; tax waivers on new equipment; and deferment of tax to increase production,” she said.
Ahmed disclosed that federal government would be releasing N6.5 billion in two tranches of N1.5 billion and N5 billion to Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as intervention to assist in the fight against spread of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.
she stated that the Lagos State Government would receive financial support from the federal government to the tune of N10 billion to combat COVID -19 spread in the state.
Ahmed informed the lawmakers that Nigeria had received a grant of 18.2 million dollars from Japan for strengthening seven NCDC centres across the country.
According to her, the sum of one billion naira would be released by government to pharmaceutical firms in the country.
Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) Godwin Emefiele in his presentation said:
“While we will expect to see a decline in our expected growth projection for 2020 relative to 2019, the exact impact will be dependent on how well the coronavirus is contained over the next few months, and how long low oil prices persist.”
Present at the meeting were : Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Deputy Speaker, Idris Wase; Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi; Leader of the House, Ado Doguwa;
Others were Minister of State for Budget and National Planning , Mr Clem Agba, Minister of State Petroleum Resources, Mr Timipre Sylva and NNPC Group Managing Director, Mele Kyari among others.