The Federal Government has announced a multi-pronged strategic response to mitigate the adverse effects of the drastic fall in global oil prices.
The measures are also meant to protect growth, reassure investors and keep the economy on a stable course through the crisis.
Addressing a Special Media Briefing in Abuja on Sunday, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala declared that the Federal Ministry of Finance has been keeping a close eye on movements in global oil prices because of the critical importance of oil as the country’s most important source of revenue.
The response is a mix of measures designed to boost non-oil revenues, plug loopholes and waste and cut unnecessary expenditures in order to cope with the situation.
As part of the response, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the 2015 Budget proposal to the National Assembly have been revised.
As a result, the federal government will be proposing a benchmark of $73 per barrel to the National Assembly compared to the earlier proposed benchmark of $78.
The Minister explained that even though the government has been working hard on several scenarios and contingency plans in readiness for any eventuality, it was important to proceed in a measured manner based on a complete understanding of the challenges.
“given the nature of the oil market, we needed to see the extent and trend of the oil price in order to take the right measures. Panic is not a strategy.
“It’s important that our strategies are based on facts and a clear understanding of both the strengths of the economy and the challenges posed by the drop in oil prices which is currently at $79 for our premium Bonny Light Crude.”
“The drop in oil prices is a serious challenge which we must confront as a country. We must be prepared to make sacrifices where necessary. But we should also not forget that we retain some important advantages such as a broad economic base driven by the private sector and anchored on sound policies.
“Our strategy is to continue to strengthen the sectors that drive growth such as agriculture and housing while reducing waste with a renewed focus on prudence.”
The Minister recalled that in the last three years, the Executive in its discussions on the budget with the National Assembly has consistently advocated prudence and a low budget benchmark to encourage more savings.
She stressed that even though the drop in oil prices is a serious challenge, it is also an opportunity for the country to focus on greater diversification and refocus efforts towards the non-oil sectors in preparation for a future with less oil revenue.
She stated that the decline in oil prices has given additional impetus to the federal government’s focus on increasing non-oil revenues.
“In this regard, the collection target for the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), which has been working with Mckinsey to increase receipts will be revised upwards for next year.
“The country has had good success in reaching the initial target set this year of N75 billion; so far N65 billion of this has been collected. For 2015, the revised target is N160 billion above the 2014 base.
“As part of the efforts to reduce expenditure, international travel within the public service will be severely curtailed.
“From next year, only critical foreign travels will be allowed with the permission of Head of Service of the Federation (HoS).
According to the minister, “any other foreign travel will have to be funded by those inviting civil or public servants and all expenses paid by the inviting body.
“Same goes for training, local training will be encouraged but expenses for foreign training will be borne by inviting foreign host with permission sought from HoS. Evidence of sponsorship detailing all expenses paid for by inviting body must be tendered before HoS will grant approval.”
She disclosed that there will be a drop in some capital spending but critical infrastructure projects will not be affected because they are key to economic growth and development as well as job creation.
Investment in infrastructure, job creation and security will not change but there will be prioritized investment in those with significant economic impact like Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Second Niger Bridge and rail projects.
The implementation of the new mortgage system including the current processing of over 66,000 applicants for mortgages will go on as planned so that the country reaps the strong benefits that will come from unleashing the housing revolution which is attracting serious interest from local and international investors.
Also unaffected are public sector wages as well as key initiatives in education, health and other areas critical to the country’s human development.
The minister said she was “not sure of what direction to take with taxes but that a key initiative on the revenue side is a surcharge on luxury items details of which are being worked out.
Government’s efforts from now she said will be to drive to increase Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of entities and ensure that they remit these IGRs on time to government coffers. “This economy has to stop talking about oil.”
She noted that there will be surcharges on luxury items like champaign, private jets, yachts, so that those well-to-do individuals can contribute more to government treasury.
Also Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that make surpluses will now be made to remit such surpluses immediately to government accounts while some taxes will be adjusted to enhance revenue.
On calls from some quarters that the federal government should respond to the decline in revenues arising from the drop in oil prices by printing more Naira to fund projects, the Coordinating Minister said that such poorly thought out populist recommendations would be disastrous for the country if implemented.
She said such prescriptions ignore the facts of history as well as the elementary principles of economics.
“Printing money without adequate revenue support will lead to serious consequences for the country. It will spur spiral inflation as the experiences of Germany in the early part of the last century and more recently, Argentina and Zimbabwe demonstrate. This prescription will victimize the poor and middle class that it is supposedly protecting.”
Should oil price fall to $70 or lower, government Okonjo-Iweala said has additional measures to ensure softer landing for the economy.
The economy she said “continues to exhibit strength but government will not compensate by borrowing or printing currency but will borrow at very low interest rate and no large domestic borrowing.”
She explained that the best way to protect the interest of the ordinary people is to control inflation as much as possible, expand the economic base, strengthen the sectors that drive growth, boost critical infrastructure and create more jobs.
The External Reserve she said is now at $37 billion is still reasonably good, while the Excess Crude Account (ECA) is still good but government will spend part of it on some transparent transactions.
“We might tap into half of the ECA between now and the new year. We have arrears on subsidy pending this will be addressed” she said.