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COVID-19: FG to release N10 billion to Lagos, N1 billion to pharmaceutical companies

Bello Mother, FG, covid-19

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila on Wednesday led certain principal officers of both chambers of the National Assembly to a meeting with some ministers and heads of Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs). Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, at the meeting, said Lagos State will receive N10 billion to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, while pharmaceutical companies will receive a N1 billion grant.

The thrust of the meeting which lasted for over four hours was a review of the 2020 budget and Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper passed late last year by the National Assembly.

President of the Senate in his opening remarks at the session said the interaction was necessary in view of the spiral effect of the global scourge, coronavirus, on the nation’s economy.

He said: “The impact of COVID-19 is well known to all of us in terms of health and the economy.

“Here, we will be talking of revenues that we estimated to fund the budget 2020.

“Because the oil price has gone so low due to the impact of COVID-19, the Minister of State should be able to tell us where we will be in the next six months or so.

“We should have concepts that can deliver fast and are sustainable.

“Anything that we do that cannot provide succour and relief to our people will lead to catastrophe.”

In her presentation, Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed said because of its monocultural status, Nigeria’s economy was already feeling the heat of decline in the price of crude oil in the international market before the outbreak of coronavirus.

She told the gathering that the price of crude oil has since plunged to $22 per barrel as a result of the disruption caused by the pandemic.

She said the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, as a proactive measure to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the economy, constituted a Crisis Management Committee.

The finance minister proposed a review of the 2020 budget using a US$30 per barrel price benchmark, as against the $57 per barrel estimate in the 2020 Budget.

She also told the leadership of the National Assembly that budgeted revenues for the Nigeria Customs Service have been reduced from N1.5 trillion to N943 billion “due to anticipated reduction in trade volumes; and privatisation proceeds to be cut by 50 per cent, based on the adverse economic outlook on sales of the Independent Power Projects (IPPs) and other assets.”

She further disclosed that the Federal Government has undertaken cuts to Revenue-related expenditures for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for several projects included in the 2020 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly in December 2019.

“The Federal Government is working on Fiscal Stimulus Measures to provide fiscal relief for taxpayers and key economic sectors; incentivise employers to retain and recruit staff during the economic downturn; stimulate investment in critical infrastructure; review non-essential tax waivers to optimise revenues, and complement monetary and trade interventions to respond to the crisis.”

The Finance Minister further revealed steps taken by the government to encourage players in the pharmaceutical sector as incentives to combat the pandemic.

These include provision for health sector interventions by introducing import duty waivers for essential input for pharmaceutical firms; tax waivers on new equipment; and deferment of tax to increase production.

Ahmed further disclosed that the Federal Government would be releasing the total sum of N6.5 billion in two tranches (N1.5 billion and N5 billion) to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as an intervention to assist in the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 disease in Nigeria.

She said being the worst-hit state so far by the coronavirus, the Lagos State Government would receive financial support from the Federal Government to the tune of N10 billion to combat it.

The finance minister said that the sum of one billion naira would be released by the government to pharmaceutical firms in the country.

Governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, in his presentation, said the 2020 Budget performance would be decided by the fluctuation in crude oil price and the challenge created by the pandemic.

“While we would expect to see a decline in our expected growth projection for 2020 relative to 2019, the exact impact will be dependent on how well the coronavirus is contained over the next few months, and how long low oil prices persist.”

Speaking at the end of the session, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Gbajabiamila, described the session as timely as it allowed for ventilation of ideas to think outside the box on how to save the economy.

He said:” Taking a cursory look at some of the papers (presentations), I think this meeting is actually very timely and very important because we live in a very unusual time and it’s time we start thinking outside the box to see how we can stabilise our economy and the direction it’s going to take.”