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EDITORIAL: Budget Priorities At A Time Of A Pandemic

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The initial headlines about the priorities in the revised budget were scary. They converged on the lines of: “FG gives National Assembly N27bn for renovation, cuts health, UBE votes”. The sub-heads about “Govt slashes primary health care centres’ fund from N44bn to N25.5bn” got a lot of people in panic mode.

Mercifully, the DG of the budget office Dr. Ben Akwabueze has soothed frayed nerves with his clarification of the misinformation. In his words, “Retrofitting of the National Assembly complex is N9.25 billion and not N27billion”. The information provides relief but, sadly, there are still misgivings. For a start, there is the opportunity costs attached to any spending in a delicate budget balancing act in a perilous fiscal climate. Even after the clarification, it is still difficult to accept any form of “Retroffiting” of any non-health-related facility at the time of a pandemic.

Coming from the Centre, the danger is that the sub-nationals will take the wrong cue. Spending on Health has always been unacceptably perilous; the pandemic has alarmingly exposed this fact. A crisis should be turned into an opportunity for an advance. Unfortunately the figures on the table at the moment are not indicating this. We therefore urge for a rethink. At every level, spending on Health and Education should go up. We must resist the temptation to bring the discredited Structural Adjustments Programme (SAP) with its emphasis on cuts in social spending back through the backdoor. The programme was a disaster and is best confined to the dustbin.

Governments worldwide are hard-pressed in an unprecedented manner. Nevertheless, at a time of an existential threat, spending on health must take priority above all else.

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