The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, on Friday revealed that about N285 billion has so far been released for capital projects in the 2020 budget.
Speaking after the Presidential Committee on the review of the impact of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) on the Economy submitted its interim report to President Muhammadu Buhari at the State House, Abuja, also revealed that Nigeria had released a total of $220 million as Nigeria’s part of the counterpart funding for railway projects to China EXIM Bank.
The Minister who addressed Journalists alongside three other members of the committee, namely the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva; Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele and the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari.
The Minister explained that the committee had been mandated to ensure that the business of government continues despite the effect of the disease on the economy, adding that the government, for now, would prioritize her expenditures..
“This committee that has been set up by the President to review the impact of COVID-19 as well as the crash of crude oil price has gone just now and had a short meeting with the President in which we filed an interim report, and the President has directed that we should consult and come back to him with an update next week.
“What we have been mandated to do is to ensure that the business of government continues to run as much as possible normally; that government agencies are funded. But there must be continuous investments in critical infrastructure that would ensure continuous growth and also concentrate on programmes and projects that will enhance the employment of our people.
“We are looking at ways and means in which the revenue of government will be stabilised and that we are able to fund the states through the FAAC process at a level that is averagely expected and planned for both the federal as well as the National budget.
“So as we finish our consultations next week, we will be expecting some approvals and then we will be meeting with you to inform you of the specific approvals that we have been able to obtain from His Excellency the President.
“So as at Tuesday this week, we have released N285 billion to a number of agencies. We prioritize the releases to the critical infrastructure agencies. But we have also made the releases for education as well as health.
“So the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Works and Housing, Niger Delta, a number of ministries and agencies that have important infrastructure projects have got their funds.
“Also this week, we have been able to release to the Ministry of Transport the counterpart funding provided for in our budget that is required for the important railway projects that are currently ongoing, the finances from the China EXIM Bank.
“So they are the funds that have been released this week. So in addition to the N285 billion, there is up to about $220 million that has been released this week for counterpart funding for railway projects”, she said.
Also speaking, in response to a question at the briefing, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, said the Federal Government had begun consultations with relevant stakeholders on a possible reduction of the pump price of petrol in the wake of the crash of crude oil prices.
He, however, clarified that no decision had been made to cut the pump price, saying that consultations were on.
“We are still consulting. We are still following it closely. Of course, usually, the product prices follow the crude oil price, but we are still consulting. We will get back to you, please, be patient,” he stated.
Also speaking, the CBN Governor, Mr Emefiele, said the rise in exchange rate that had been observed in the wake of COVID-19 was the work of some people he tagged as unscrupulous elements, who were taking advantage of the situation to cause panic.
He, however, assured that all necessary steps were being taken to put the activities of those behind the artificial panic to check, noting that there were no indices that could lead to an escalation of FOREX market.
He said: “On the issue of the spike in the rate at the Bureau de Change (BDC) segment of the market, let me say that some of you might have read about the release by the Central Bank of Nigeria yesterday (Thursday) evening and our assessment of what has happened is that, this is the activities of some unscrupulous speculators who thought they could take advantage of what is happening to begin to speculate on the currency.
“I am saying it is speculative because if you imagine that manufacturing firms where we are even importing our raw materials whether they are in China, Europe or South Korea where you need electronic, all those plants have been shut down. So where is the demand for forex coming from? Airlines have shut down, people are not travelling, most of the airlines have no passengers, so where is the demand for foreign exchange coming from?
“This is just the activities of some unscrupulous individuals and we are determine to find them, and when we find them, we will use them as scapegoats so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.”