Mixed reactions have continued to trail the N1.3 trillion budget christened 'Budget of Kinetic Crystallization' presented last Thursday by Cross River State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade. While some observers have sharply criticized the budget, saying it is not realistic, considering the meagre federal allocation to the state and the state's internally generated revenue which is like a drop in the ocean, others say it is realistic and that the governor should be given a chance to actualize his dreams for the state.
Efa Esua, a member representing Calabar Municipality in the state house of assembly in a chat with TNN said: “The budget is realistic. Those who said it is not are fifth columnists. Fat budgets attract investors. It will be funded by the build, operate and transfer projects such as the deep seaport and the super highway. As far as I am concerned, the budget is okay.”
Another stakeholder and APC chieftain, Chief Wilfred Inah, said he could not speak about the budget because he was out of town and that he did not have details about it, even though he heard that the budget was N1.3 trillion.
Dr. Ntete Esu, another APC leader, declined to comment on the budget, saying he had nothing to talk about Governor Ayade.
Other stakeholders contacted through phone calls and text messages failed to respond at the time of filing this report. However, the governor was not spared on the social media, especially Facebook where he was castigated after the presentation of the record-breaking budget. Only a few commentators had kind words for the governor on Facebook.
Describing the budget as a “tissue of lies”, Cross River North Senatorial candidate in the 2015 election, Ray Ugba Murphy, wrote on Facebook: “Ayade Magic Budget of false money just to get national attention. But we know it is utter fakery! N1.3trn budget of childish lies!”
Similar sentiment was also expressed by Missang Oyama on Facebook: “As an economist with a good understanding of public finance, I can say Ayade's budgets from inception have always defied all known parameters and logic of budgeting. Governor Benedict Ayade is terribly unconscionable.”
However, a House of Representatives member from the state, Legor Idagbo, came to the rescue of the governor, saying “My take on Gov Ayade's budget 'The Audacity of Hope' we should not be hasty to criticize it until the end of 2018 fiscal year. For now let's keep fingers crossed and pray for him. If he is able to implement it, it's for the good of our state.”
A commentator wondered how, from N301 billion in 2017, the budget ballooned to N1.3 trillion in 2017.
“How did we get there? Meanwhile, there was a N707 billion already approved for three years (2017, 2018, 2019). Is the government no longer working with that?” he queried.
The budget was even turned into an issue of derision by Princewill Odidi, who wrote: “We have instigated a national kinetic crystallized laughter in our quest to get it right. It is better to lower expectations and over perform, than raise the bar too high into trillions and under perform. While I sympathize with the government of CRS because it is my state, it is just a clear indication that the current government just doesn't get it.
“I think the budget figures are hyped just to use it and show capacity to lenders as a means of securing loans. But to be frank, this lending process does not work this way. I feel bad reading national headlines on our perceived misstep in our dear state. It is as though the state does not have intellectuals who understand how these things work. I think the government should consult wider and save us this embarrassment. While the government has the constitutional power to present whatever budget as working documents, at least it should be done within reasonable limits.”
Ugonna Emechebe also wrote scathingly in an opinion article about the budget: “The newspapers say he showed up to present the budget and rather than giving a performance review of the 2017 budget and explaining what he did with it, breaking the present one into what is allocated to capital and recurrent expenditure, giving a breakdown of sectorial and sub-sectoral allocations, as well as defining the modalities of funding, this chap told the legislators- “we are re-inventing budgeting…you must think deep because if I did not have the vision to think deep, we will still be dealing with issues of security, refuse, salaries and pensions…
“Nigerians are a rare breed but there are many other parts of the country, including my state Anambra, where we will not take this nonsense. I almost do not know again if his people are Nigerians.”
But the governor thinks that his quest to transform the state from civil service status to an entrepreneurial economy is expected to be actualized through the record-breaking 2018 budget estimate of N1,350,220,156,225.30.
This was his conviction while he was presenting the 2018 appropriation bill to the state House of Assembly last week. The main vehicles that are to drive the entrepreneurial desire of the governor are the deep seaport and the super highway.
He believes in the catalytic impact of these projects to turn around the economic fortunes of the state once they come on stream.
The N1.35 trillion, which Ayade humorously said was competing with that of the federal government “will at the end of the day, transform the state for the better.''
The 2018 budget estimate is four times the size of that of 2017 which stood at N301 billion, indicating more than 400 percent increase. It is the biggest budget presented by any state government.
As if reading the minds of critics who would wonder where the funds would come from to fund projects captured in the ambitious budget, he expressed optimism that foreign investors are expected to bring in funds for the projects.
The governor said N82 billion will be set aside for the dredging of the sea for the construction of the deep seaport, while the super highway, which will be the evacuation corridor for the deep seaport, will be split into fifty kilometre segments to make it convenient for investors to construct the various segments on build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis.
He said N15 billion has been set aside for security in 2018, N250 billion for power supply, N12 billion for cottage industry, N3 billion for uniforms for primary school children and N2.8 billion to support federal government's school feeding programme.
Also, N36 billion was budgeted for agricultural zones in the 18 local government areas of the state.
He announced that N6 billion has been allocated for the state's social welfare scheme meant for the aged who can no longer work or earn a living.
He reiterated that “the hallmark of this administration is the decoupling of the state from over dependence on federal allocation and so this budget is designed and tailored to fit our dreams of an enterprising economy without depending on oil as source of revenue.''
Governor Ayade, who boasted that his administration has not borrowed a dime since he came into office, explained to the legislators his unique style of budget proposal and described as old fashioned the envelope format of annual expenditure on revenue and incomes for the year.
He described his budgeting style as strategic budgeting which focuses on the things the state plans to achieve without monetary backup but has the strong will to actualize them.
He said the Paris Club refund from the federal government was not enough to pay salaries for twelve months, adding that it could only pay wages for seven months but he has devised a unique funding style that enabled him pay salaries consistently every month, including that of this December which he said he had already paid.
The governor wants the federal government to allow the state exploit its crude oil as compensation for the loss of 76 oil wells which has adversely affected the state's fortunes.
Governor Ayade said: “My desire is for Cross River to cease to be a civil service state. My greatest achievement is that today Cross River State people are beginning to do business. Intellectual content will drive the sluggish world economy. We must realize that fiscal strategies and fiscal papers are merely theoretical elements.
“The budget is stronger than the capacity and the fears of the whole nation. The greatest signature project we are leaving behind is the youthful energy that people now see, that it can be done. Don't be limited by your challenges. Rise and be strong. Money is the last thing you can think of. When money fails, intellect should fill that gap.”
The Chief Press Secretary and Senior Special Adviser to the Governor, Christian Ita, said the record-breaking budget is huge because the state government was expecting investors' funds from the signature projects which were already at implementation stage.
He said the budget is to enable investors “warehouse their investments because sometimes people give funding either by way of capital or by direct project implementation.
“This unusual budget will confound economic analysts who are better placed to interrogate it holistically and come up with how realistic it is and how it would benefit the common man in the long run.”