High expections, reactions over Benue 2020 budget

It’s like the literary ‘great expectations’ for the people of Benue over the 2020 budget considering poor budgetary performances in the past as DANIEL AGBO writes.

Recently, Benue state governor, Samuel Ortom, signed the 2020 budget of N189.5 billion into law.The early signing and implementation of the budget have created high expectations among Benue people on what the year and the government would offer to them.Apart from being the first in Governor Ortom’s second terms, the budget is coming when relative peace has returned to the state, which in the past four years was ravaged  by herdsmen crisis.The continued herdsmen and farmers crisis in the state coupled with economic downturn experienced in the country, according to government sources, was responsible for the low performance of the budget in  previous years.However, with recent level of peace in the state which has also made the UK to rank Benue among the 15 safest states in Nigeria, many people believe that if the status quo remains, the government would have no reason but to step up performance.While presenting the budget, Governor Ortom also appreciated the relative peace in the state. He said, “Now that we have achieved relative peace, we can focus on pursuing the growth and development of the state with vigour.”The budget and key areasThe budget which is christened ‘Budget of Advancement, Growth and Development’ is expected to ensure adequate provision for the implementation of programmes that can reflate the state economy and accelerate growth.Signed on December 30, 2019, implementation of the budget has already taken effect from January 1, 2020.It is the first time after several years that the Benue state government would start the implemention of the budget from the beginning of the year.The budget also has some of the sectoral allocations  listed to include economic sector: N73,790,691,145;social sector, N64,613,349,889;administrative sector: N48,278,003,228;               law and justice sector: N2,801,466,763.But as the year begins, there are high expectations and the question on most people’s mind is whether the budget expectations would be realised.While many people particularly the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) believed the low performance of the budget over the years was caused by none performance of the governor, other people  thought he could have performed better if there was no security challenges in the state.
My plan for the budget -Ortom
But the governor, at several fora, said he had learnt his lessons and would do better in the second term of his administration.He also stated in his budget speech that he had already taken steps to improve the machinery of governance at the start of his second term; therefore, has appointed a capable team to work with him and also initiated measures to strengthen performance monitoring across all sectors, including the technical audit of projects to ensure the state gets sufficient quality and value for investments.The governor stated further that, “I have already demonstrated my readiness to decisively take action to correct poor performance as I have already done with respect to failures at BIRS, BERWASSA and other MDAs.”It could be noted that one of the major projects, the construction of an airport included in the budget came under serious attack shortly after the governor presented the budget.
Knocks and kudos
The social media became awash with comments criticising the governor of staging what they described as another ‘white elephant’ project.Many people argued that the project woulf not work considering that the state is still owing several months of salary arrears to state and local government staff while also battling with few projects initiated by the administration.They said it would have been better if the governor clears the arrears and execute other more critical projects before embarking on an airport project.The APC also issued a press statement questioning the importance of the project, given current far-reaching needs of the state.The party opined that the project may just be another white elephant project, if the plan is not well thought-out.But apart from the airport project, there are still other provisions made in the budget which are being viewed with high expectations.
Ortom explains further
The governor had while presenting the budget to the  state assembly said the policy thrust of the draft 2020 budget is to ensure adequate provision for the implementation of programmes that could reflate the state economy and accelerate growth, complete on-going projects and the consistent payment of personnel emoluments.According to the governor, agriculture remains the mainstay for the Benue people; therefore, funding would be provided in the 2020 budget to develop the value chain in order to create more employment opportunities for the youth.Ortom also noted that the launch of District Economic Expansion and Development Strategy (DEEDS) was a bold and ambitious strategy to ensure greater impact at the grassroots level and accelerate progress towards the sustainable development goals (SDGs).He said the programme was a conscious effort to support communities at the ward level to identify the most critical basic infrastructure projects that would be carefully planned and implemented in collaboration with the local governments and development partners.”Our intention is to spur growth by removing the infrastructural barriers that prevent our farmers and entrepreneurs from actualising their economic potentials.”Ortom also said the programme which is included in the project is expected to take off with projects being initiated across all the 276 council wards of the state within the budget year.”These projects would include electricity, feeder roads, boreholes and other mini water projects, market stalls, minor bridges as well as such other facilities that are needed to drive economic expansion and development at the grassroots level.
“The programme would also directly improve the economic status of our people at the grassroots because it would emphasise labour intensity and local content in the execution of projects, thereby providing income opportunities for a considerable number of people.”We also  know that for Benue to realise its potential, our human capital is the single most critical factor that can turn our comparative advantage into a competitive advantage.”Hence the focus of our human capital development policy remains to ensure that every man, woman, boy and girl in Benue state has the chance to survive and thrive, to be educated, to access healthcare and to have opportunities for employment.”
But despite the beautiful presentation, some people feel there are key areas the governor must touch to make lives of the Benue people better.A Makurdi-based businessman, Justin Tsavkende said, ” The provisions in the 2020 project are beautiful. The mainstay of Benue economy as we all know is agriculture but government seems to have neglected this area.”Making a beautiful budget speech or budget proposal is one thing but implementing its provisions is another entirely. I beg to be corrected but implemention for the past four years have been very poor. I dont think the governor has ever implemented the budget up to 25 percent since he came on board.”My expectation and that of many other Benue people is that the governor should exert a strong political will to ensure that the budgetary proposals are realised in key areas.”The governor should give more attention into our health care system. Health they say is wealth, building an airport is good but what use is it when you have sick people who cannot access good health facilities.”Government hospitals are not enough and where they exist, they are not properly equipped. The governor and health commissioner should constantly visit government hospitals to ensure that they are functional.”Most hospitals do not have even the capability to handle the high number of patients who visit them everyday.”Because of poverty and lack of attention some patients die without accessing health facilities. In most instances, the doctors are overworked. “Government should bring health care closer to the people by building more standard hospitals. I think this would improve the quality of health of our people,” he noted.
A civil servant who simply gave her name as Veronica Baba said the administration should take the issue of education very seriously.According to her, education is one of the basic areas when adequately funded, would lead to development of the state.”I also heard the governor talked about projects like electricity, feeder roads, boreholes and other mini water projects, among others.”Projects like feeder roads and electricity are good to open the rural communities. “This should not be another failed promise because year in year out, some of these projects appear in the budget but are never executed. “Some of us live in rural communities and as a state which has majority of people at the rural areas, attention should be given to such rural communities.”Yes, there was insecurity in the state which must have hindered implemention of these proposals, but relative peace has returned; so the governor should be seen doing something that would impact positively on the people.”  An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mathia Ikyav, urged the governor to empower the youth in order to make them self-reliant for small and medium scale enterprises.”Many youths are unemployed, government needs to create job opportunities for them.”People who are jobless can easily get involved in criminal activities and this is not good for them and for the state,” he added.  

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