The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on Thursday, tried to douse the controversy set off by the implementation of the budget by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Okonjo-Iweala spoke at the Senate when she appeared before the special joint committee on the performance of the 2012 budget.
Asked if the country was broke, she said, “The country is absolutely not broke. And I want to repeat that again, because there are those who would want to push that idea. The country is not broke, (though) the country may have cash flow problems from time to time. That is normal and is to be expected because a person may be very wealthy, he may have a lot of assets but at a particular point in time the stream of income may delay.
“You are running a business, you can be assets rich therefore you cannot be broke but you may have a temporary month when the flow is not as it should be because the price of that product may be lower. The time for you to collect money from that product may take a little longer because you extended credit to people by selling to them and then telling them you will collect later. So, sometimes there may be temporary cash flow issues, but the country broke? The answer is no.”
Okonjo-Iweala faulted the claim that the budget performance had been “abysmal.” The minister explained that her position on the 56 per cent budget performance ratio was based on funds actually utilised from the releases as of July 2012.
According to Okonjo-Iweala, the 2012 budget implementation actually started in April 2012 and had only been operated for four months after it was signed into law.
She said, “The first thing to note is that this year’s budget implementation started in April after the budget was signed. For the knowledge of all Nigerians, we have been implementing this budget for just four months, starting from April, and that is the way we have been following the budget. We talk about the utilisation of resources since April and from April to July, what have been released and what has been utilised.
She denied allegations that the Ministry of Finance had withheld money from ministries and other government agencies. She added that the finance ministry had released all the funds available to it on a quarterly basis, saying that she was not withholding funds meant for the execution of the projects.
She said, “Since this budget started in April, how much should we have released from then to July of the N1.3tr appropriated for capital projects? If we look at that pro-rated for those four months, N446 bn should have been released for capital, but we have released 404billion, and you look at the cash-backing, the utilisation as a percentage of that.
“If we look at that ratio, you will see that we should have released 446 bn from April to July, we cashed-backed N324bn; N184bn has been utilised and this gives you, if you want to look at the execution part of the budget, 41.3 per cent. I have not talked about budget implementation before, I only spoke about the utilisation of the resources, but now in terms of the budget, this is the way we will present it.”
Okonjo-Iweala also appealed to the lawmakers to “give us up to the end of the year before saying that the performance of the budget is low.”