Coronavirus: Review of 2020 budget likely – FG

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed

A review of the N10.594 trillion 2020 budget of the Federal Government is imminent as a result of the impact of coronavirus on the world oil price.

Minister of Finance and National Planning, Mr. Zainab Ahmed dropped this hint after Wednesday’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja.

China which is the world’s largest consumer of oil has reduced its consumption significantly because its industries have stopped production.

According to the minister, the $53 per barrel that the crude currently sells had fallen below the budget’s $57 benchmark. She however noted that when the crude production goes beyond the two million projected, there is a bit of cushion for the shock of the COVID-19 effect.

“We are concerned because it COVID-19 does have an impact on revenue and at the current crude oil price of $53 per barrel is below the budget bench mark. What we are doing is that we are studying the situation and when the budget was passed we committed to do a midterm review.

“We will do the mid term review and if the revenues are so significantly affected, we will have to do some revisions in the budget by way of budget adjustment.

“I will want to inform you that the crude production is now at 2 million barrels per day and on some days, it moves up to 2.1 million barrels per day. That in itself will be a cushion.

“All the same we are not taking any measures now until we have a reasonable period we make a review and then we may need to make an adjustment of budget through working together with the National Assembly”, she said.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, reassured Nigerians of the preparedness of all health facilities in the country to provide care and prevent the spread of COVID-19 beyond the index case of the Italian who is isolated in Lagos.

Ehanire said the government had released a total of N935million to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control to procure all the medical supplies it would need to make adequate preparation for the infection.

Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonanya Onu, said the United States is conducting tests on a ‘chemical compound’ isolated by a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Maurice Iwu, as a possible cure for Covid -19.

He dismissed reports suggesting that Iwu had found a cure for Covid -19, adding that Iwu’s initial finding was that the compound could cure SARS, a strain of Covid -19.

Onu said the U.S. showed interest in the claims and had taken the compound for testing.

“They are testing it in the U.S. to confirm whether this could be a cure for Covid -19 or SARS”, the minister added.

However, Senate President Ahmad Lawan directed the Ministries of Finance and Health to immediately release the N620million already voted by the Federal Government to enable the NCDC put in place what is required to combat the Coronavirus pandemic.

Lawan gave the charge when he led the leadership of the Senate on an on-the-spot-assessment of the isolation Centre at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Gwagwalada, Abuja.

He described the temporary isolation centre for victims of Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Abuja as ill-equipped for the purpose it was meant.

Officials of NCDC lamented that the Federal Government is yet to release funds to it from the N620million earmarked to fight the disease.

They said they had to borrow money to buy beds, foams, air conditioners and other critical medical equipment for the temporary isolation Centre in Abuja due to lack of funds.

Lawan said the Senate would ensure that the money is released.

He also called on the NCDC to build permanent isolation centres in the other five geo-political zones of the country.

Speaking to reporters after the tour, Lawan said: “First of all, let me say that the both the representatives of the Federal Ministry of Health, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the management of the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital are in high spirits looking determined to discharge their mandate and obligations.

“But from our inspection here, the temporary isolation centre is really not in good shape. It doesn’t look ready to receive any patient and I believe that this is something we have to fix between today and tomorrow.

“We are in an emergency even if we don’t have people who are affected we shouldn’t just rest on our oars.

“We have to do everything and anything possible to fix that temporary isolation centre to be prepared and ready to receive any one who falls sick in this respect.

“We are indeed sad that the N620million that was supposed to be released to the NCDC for fixing of everything here not a kobo has been released.

“We are going to get across to the Minister of Finance and all the other authorities who have anything to do with this to release this money between today and tomorrow latest.

“We are in a situation that nobody should be found wanting. Everybody should be at the top of his game.

“There is no way that Nigeria, the largest economy in Africa with the population of 200 million, yet in the Federal Capital and the surrounding states of the North Central, you don’t have one room that you can call an isolation centre where anyone who unfortunately falls into this crisis will be taken to. This is not acceptable.

“So, we are going to ensure that the money is released, we are not going to put pressure. This is what they are supposed to do, and they must do it.

“I also believe that we should have a replication of the permanent site, we should be able to complete this and then have five others across the remaining geo-political zones of the country.

“Let’s spend money for our people, we waste money for some things that are less important. This is about the health and lives of the people of this country, and therefore, no investment is too much.

“So, we should be prepared at all times. We had Ebola, SARS, now we have Coronavirus, we do not know what else will come, but we should be prepared and ready for any eventuality, and no investment is too much.

“As leaders given responsibilities, we have to do what is right. This is unfortunate. So, the Ministry of Finance should release the N620 million between today and tomorrow.”

The Senate President pledged that the relevant committees of the Senate will follow-up on the issue to ensure that work on the isolation centre is completed.

“The Senate Committee on Health will come back tomorrow (Thursday), we want to see that temporary isolation centre fixed.

“We need to be committed, we need to be very serious, and this is the essence of our oversight, but because it is very important, we decided that the leadership of the Senate should lead this oversight,” Lawan said.

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