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Okonjo-Iweala, Zainab Ahmed, Others Speaks On Nigeria’s Debt

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On Wednesday, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, differs on experts opinion on the nation’s debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio.

Recently, experts have shown continuous concerns on the nation’s endless borrowings and rising debt profile.

The Minister of finance, Ahmed puts the debt-to-GDP ratio at 29 percent, While Okojo-Iweala said it had risen to 35 percent.

Both the minister and the WTO boss spoke at the African Development Bank High-Level Knowledge Event with the theme: ‘From Debt Resolution to Growth: The Road Ahead for Africa’ which held virtually on Wednesday.

Ahmed also disclosed that Nigeria planned to borrow more money to fund its infrastructure capacity.

This is in spite of voices calling on the government to halt borrowing and concentrate on other means of raising funds for the infrastructure needs of the country.

According to the Debt Management Office, Nigeria’s total public debt portfolio rose from N12.12tn in June 2015 to N33.11tn as of March 31.

Ahmed said the government was enforcing fiscal discipline to expand its fiscal space so that it could continue to service its debts and borrow more to build the nation’s infrastructure capacity.

She said, “As of Q1 2021, we have about a 29 percent debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio. In terms of the level of debt, we are still very healthy, and sustainable.

“We are struggling with revenues, which is what we need to pay our debts. We have put in place a number of measures to enhance domestic revenue.

“We are cutting costs, we are improving the ease of doing business, trying to leverage private sector resource capacity to invest in infrastructure to reduce government spending.

“We are working on increased transparency in public financial management; we are enforcing fiscal discipline to expand our fiscal space so that we can continue to service our debt and borrow more to build our infrastructure capacity.”

Ahmed also said that the total debt profile did not include that of some states and that the federal government was making moves to correct that.

“In Nigeria, we’ve been making a lot of effort on a quarterly basis to disclose all the debts that we have and to also indicate what the debt service is.

“Currently, we are working on including other state-owned debts that have not been included in public debt for the purpose of transparency. It is important and will help us going forward.”

However, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also attended the AfDB’s event, differed with Ahmed on the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio.

The WTO boss who had been Nigeria’s Minister of Finance in the past said the nation’s debt to GDP ratio had risen from 29 percent to 35 percent.

She said, “Middle-income African countries have also seen their debt burdens increase sharply. Amid falling prices and demand for oil worldwide, Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio rose from 29 to 35 percent; Algeria from 46 to 53 percent, and Egypt from 84 to 90 percent, Angola from 107 to 127 percent.

“Debt to GDP ratios also increased for non-oil exporters including South Africa from 62 to 77 percent. Morocco from 65 to 76 percent.”

Okonjo-Iweala also said that scarce foreign exchange in certain African countries was creating scenarios where the governments were using scarce Forex to fund the fund debt repayment rather than on capital investment.

“Even where debt to GDP or where debt to export ratios was not very high, tighter access to dollar financing because of the COVID-19 crisis means we are already seeing places where scarce foreign exchange is going to fund debt repayment instead of capital investment,” she added.

A professor of economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Sheriffdeen Tella, described as a cause for worry the amount being spent by the government on debt servicing.

He said, “What is important is not even the debt-to-GDP ratio but the ability to pay, and we are presently in serious problem with payments.

“If they want to borrow money from internal sources, that could be understood. But if they are going international again, I think it is not proper because presently the level of international borrowing is what is giving them problem now.

“We are selling oil and making money but we are using that money to service the debts that we owe, and that is unfortunate.

“So, one cannot but be worry. So, the government should think about creating wealth rather than continue borrowing. If they need money badly, they should borrow domestically.”

Prof. Akpan Ekpo told one of our correspondents that there was an urgent need for the government to be more transparent concerning borrowing.

He said, “There is nothing bad in borrowing but you need to borrow to fund infrastructural projects that will pay their way.

“Looking at debt-to-GDP ratio can be quite misleading because we debased our GDP making the denominator very large compared to the numerator. Instead, we should use debt servicing to GDP ratio and debt to revenue ratio, which at the current rates are disturbing.”

Ekpo added, “FG needs to do more feasibility studies on these infrastructural projects before borrowing to fund them.

“Infrastructural projects like power and others have positive multiplier effects in the long run. For the debt acquisition, they also need to be more transparent on it too.”

President of the AfDB, Akinwumi Adesina, said that cumulative total debt in Africa was higher than cumulative government revenue.

According to him, in 2019, Africa’s total outstanding debt was $841.9bn, while total government annual revenue was $501bn.

Adesina said, “Africa’s GDP declined by 2.1 percent in 2021. Growth is projected to recover to 3.4 percent by 2021 and 2022. Africa’s cumulative GDP declined by $145bn to $190bn.

“Millions fell into extreme poverty on the continent. Thirty-nine million Africans could fall into poverty by the end of 2021.”

Adesina said debt-to-GDP ratios on the continent were expected to rise to 10 to 15 percentage points, rising from 60 percent in 2020 to 75 percent in 2021.

He added that as of 2021, 17 out of 38 African countries for which debt sustainability was available were in dire distress.

Twelve countries were at moderate risk of debt distress, while six were already in dire distress, and one country had a low risk of debt distress, he added.

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Nigeria’s Non-oil Revenue Now N1.15 Trillion – Minister of Finance

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Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, has said that Nigeria’s non-oil revenue is now N1.15 trillion, representing 15.7 percent above the country’s target. This, she claimed, was a result of the federal government’s efforts at diversifying the nation’s economy.

Mrs. Ahmed disclosed this at the Institute of Directors (IoD) 2021 Annual Directors Conference which was held on Wednesday in Abuja.

According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) the event with the theme: “Creating the Future: Deepening the Corporate Governance Practice through Multi-Sectoral and Multi-Generational Collaborations,” was meant to discuss economic development.

Mrs Ahmed added that the recent development was in line with President’s commitment to further diversifying the Nigerian economy which is heavily dependent on oil. She observed that Nigeria was showing resilience in recovery from recession from coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which intensely affected global economies.

The minister said the federal government alongside the private sector had implemented a wide range of monetary measures to stimulate economic recovery, growth and development, job creation and improved standards of living.

She also explained that the government was doing everything to improve and diversify Nigeria’s revenue generation.

Nigeria was quickly able to exit recession and is on her way to path of sustainable growth and we are intensifying efforts to grow and diversify our revenue sources to grow revenue from the current 8 per cent.”

“Our non-oil revenues have grown to N1.15 trillion, representing 15.7 per cent above set target. We are working on the 2021 finance bill and it’s nearing completion. Also, the recent approval of the medium-term national development plan is an important milestone of Buhari’s commitment to delivering sustainable growth and we require strong support and monitoring during implementation,” she said.

Mrs Ahmed reinforced the government’s decision to do something about infrastructure and reduce the cost of production for businesses in the country.

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Intra-Regional Trade Potential a Key Focus in New Report

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A new focus report, produced by Oxford Business Group (OBG) in partnership with the African Economic Zones Organisation (AEZO), shines a spotlight on the continent’s rapidly developing industrial sector, which is poised to become a key driver of broader economic growth as regional integration increases.

Titled ”Economic Zones in Africa – Focus Report”, the report was launched at the AEZO’s 6th Annual Meeting II, which took place on November 25 at the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat office in Ghana, with participants also able to attend remotely. The meeting was held under the banner “Connecting African Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to Global Value Chains at the era of the AfCFTA” and explored a range of topical issues relating to SEZs, from their potential to boost trade to the impact of Covid-19 on the continent’s supply chains.

The focus report examines the wealth of benefits that the AfCFTA is expected to deliver to both Africa’s economic zones and the businesses located in them, which range from greater market access to a reduction in trade barriers and lower production costs.

The disruption that the pandemic brought to supply chains and the opportunities emerging from the health crisis for businesses to become part of nascent regional value chains across a more closely connected continent are a key focus.

The report also charts the digital transformation taking place in many of Africa’s economic zones, as businesses make the move away from traditional segments to high-tech processes and digital services, adding value to their offerings in the process.

In addition, it provides in-depth analysis of the drive evident among many SEZs to put environmental, social and governance principles and sustainable business practices at the heart of their strategies, at a time when ethical investment and alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals are high on the global agenda.

The report includes in-depth case studies and viewpoints by representatives from key industry players namely: Tanger Med; Polaris Parks; Lagos Free Zones; Ghana Free Zones Authority; Misurata Free Zone; and Sebore Farms.

It also includes a contribution from Ahmed Bennis, Secretary General, AEZO, in which he highlights the role that SEZs are playing in the continent’s industrial transformation and the importance of supporting their development.

“Economic zones can play a game-changing role in Africa’s diversification and inclusion by providing end-to-end solutions and services that support industrial upgrades and increase countries’ attractiveness for investment,” he said. “With the implementation of AfCFTA and the post-Covid-19 recovery that the world is beginning to experience, we believe that real investment opportunities exist in Africa at this moment, which can translate into job creation and social and economic development. Africa has resources that need to be developed and economic zones can play a key role in this.”

Bernardo Bruzzone, OBG’s Regional Editor for Africa, added that while African economic zones had experienced production problems during the pandemic due to global supply chain disruptions, ongoing remedial action, including new infrastructure and human capital development, would help provide resilience against future external shocks.

“Africa’s real GDP growth is forecast to reach 3.4% in 2021, with an increase in intra-regional trade and improved connectivity among the facilitators of economic recovery,” Bruzzone said. “Looking ahead, we see economic zones as having a key role to play in helping the AfCFTA achieve its potential through the development of new strategies that will lead to a more diverse, higher-value range of exports.”

The study forms part of a series of tailored reports that OBG is currently producing with its partners, alongside other highly relevant, go-to research tools, including a range of country-specific Growth and Recovery Outlook articles and interviews.

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Lagos Budget N1.4 Trillion for 2022, Budget Surpasses Five Other Southwest States Combined

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Lagos state government has proposed N1.388 trillion budget for the year 2022. The proposed budget was presented to the House of Assembly on Wednesday.

While presenting the proposed budget, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the State would be spending N325 billion on vital infrastructure projects in key sectors to energise and expand the growth of the State’s economy.

The key areas of growth identified by the Governor include Works and Infrastructure, Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Agriculture, Transportation, Energy and Mineral Resources, Tourism, Entertainment and Creative Industry, Commerce and Industry, Wealth Creation and Employment.

The proposed budget, christened “Budget of Consolidation”, will be the last full-year fiscal plan of the State before the next general election.

About N823.4 billion, representing 59 per cent of the 2022 budget, is earmarked for capital expenditure. Recurrent expenditure, representing 41 per cent, is N565 billion, which includes personnel cost, overhead and debt services.

Of the total proposed expenditure, N1.135 trillion would accrue from Internally Generated Revenues (IGRs) and federal transfers, while deficit financing of N253 billion would be sourced from external and domestic loans, and bonds projected to be within the State’s fiscal sustainability parameters.

The State would be earmarking an aggregate of N137.64 billion, representing 9.92 per cent of the 2022 budget, for the funding of green investment in Environment, Social Protection, Housing and Community Amenities.

This financial proposal is presented with a sense of duty and absolute commitment to the transformation of Lagos to a preferred global destination for residence, commerce, and investment. The budget projects to see a continuing but gradual recovery to growth in economic activity as the global economy cautiously recovers from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic,” the governor said while presenting the budget to the house.

Meanwhile, the 1.388 trillion budgeted for 2022 is higher than the budget of the five other southwest states combined. For 2022, Ekiti State’s budget is 100.7 billion, Osun 129.7 billion, Ondo 191billion, Oyo 294 billion. Ogun’s budget for 2022 is not yet finalised, but going by their 2021 budget of 339 billion, the combined budget of the five South-West states then amount to 1.053 trillion. With this, Lagos state budget is higher than the five states budget with a difference of 335 billion.

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