No sooner than this year’s budget for Cross River of N7b dropped on the desk of governor Ben Ayade for ascension than controversies began to rent the air about its every details. Most ailing points in these controversies include the loftiness of the budget in the face of staggering N1b monthly allocation accruing to the state, even as some miss the point on the exact figures presented for ascent. But Rt Hon. Eteng Jones Williams, Member representing Yakurr II constituency at the Cross River State House of Assembly and being the Chairman of Finance and Appropriation Committee in this exclusive interview withCalabarReporters.com clears the air on all sundry controversial issues regarding the budget.
Calabar Reporters: We understand that the State budget for 2017 is tagged ‘Budget of Infinite Transposition’, what makes it different from previous budget(s) presented by Ayade led administration?
Williams: The budget of Infinite Transposition is a concept by the Governor of Cross River State, Professor Senator Ben Ayade. Infinite or endless transposition is a dreamlike vision we’re walking into. What the budget simply mean is that you think beyond what is in your pocket, show up your dreams; that is why you see a budget of seven hundred and seven billion naira (N707 billion). But what we simply did was that we used the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) model, a 3-year programme for the capital expenditure. All the major capital expenditure for the administration were captured, so that by 2018, the budget will be dropping because you might have started most of those capital and whatever you’ve done, you take it out. It’s only on the capital because the Superhighway is not going to end this year, the Deep Seaport is not going to end year, the Rice Factory and the rest; most of the Signature Projects are not going to end this year as well. But there are the projects that this administration is driving. Most of the road projects can’t end this year. The best there is that you come up with a budget; show us your dreams and what you are thinking. According to Governor Ayade, you think big; should there be fun, you don’t need to be found wanting because you’ve already made provision for them.
Calabar Reporters: As the budget presented continues to spark controversies with some quarters claiming the actual budget is N301 billion while some others claim it is N707 billion, you’re the chairman of finance and appropriation in the state house of assembly, can you tell us what the actual budget is?
Williams: The actual figure is N301 billion, but the budget we presented was N707 billion using the MTEF model. The MTEF will cut across the 3-year lifespan. The budget still remain N301 billion for 2017, but the N707 billion capital expenditure cut across 2017, 2018 and 2019, because we have to show the world our dreams, our projections, and the projects we are going to carry out for the life cycle of this administration.
Currently, this administration is left with about 3 years, so it has come up with a plan. Although it’s coming in late but it’s better to come up than never. MTEF is supposed to come first, maybe at the beginning of the administration or before we start the budget process. But we’re coming in alongside the budget to show the world that this is our dream, our aspiration. The philosophy behind the budget remains the same because we are trying to give Cross Riverians the best. More on capital expenditure, meaning we are trying to launch into a new phase that by next year we should start reaping from investments. Therefore, what I’m saying is that, the N707 billion is for the long term while the N301 billion is for the short term.
Calabar Reporters: Looking at the current fiscal allocation to the state standing at about N1b monthly and here such a lofty budget is before the state, how will the state be able to foot this budget?
Williams: A budget is a proposed estimate; it’s also your planning tool. Indices has changed, the price of crude has change from what we have last year; meaning we might even have excess crude this year. Dollar to Naira has changed from what we have last year. And for us, most of the Governor engagement with international donor support has started yielding. Recently, you saw the Paris Club coming to our aid. If we don’t plan for all those things, will it happen? And even if it does, we won’t have where to put the money. For us, we have to open up, so that we are not found wanting. That is why according to the Governor, it is called a deficit budgeting; meaning you are planning beyond what you have in your pocket.
Calabar Reporters: In attending to this budget, what would your advice be to MDAs and the state executive arm?
Williams: During the budget defense, we try to highlight government interest to most of the MDAs and then let them understand that they must key into the vision. In this aspect the visionary is the Governor of the state and they must key into his own vision; and as his own vision, if you don’t key in you’ll miss the point. You have to buy into the programme, you think beyond your limitations. For me, the performance for 2017 is going to be high; we are not going to experience what we’d experienced now. The governor was a baby and he is graduating every year. Like I stated earlier, funding has started coming in. What our projections where in 2016, the indices has changed. In terms of percentage performance, I think we’re going to do better than 2016.
Calabar Reporters: Finally, what would be your take to Cross Riverians interested in knowing in clear terms how this budget is going to be driven?
Williams: They should have confident in government that they voted into power, they should trust the government for the government mean well. What the Governor of Cross River State thinks is not just the state, but Nigeria and the entire black race; for us to move from the 3rd World to a developed nation. Right now we are in a country, so Cross River should be a model state. These is why we can now go into things like Cali Air, Cali Pharms, Garment Factory, and industrialisation and do that which we think are investments for the state. In the nearest future, we should be having our funds to execute our projects and not to look into the centre which is the Federal Government. So, this is an investment state.
For everybody I’d like to say key into this government, support the government and the sky is going to be our limit. The governor means well and Cross Riverians will be happy.