With the rising national debt stock and the need to borrow to stave off the collapse of the economy, it is timely that the Debt Management Office (DMO) has released the 2020 Revised External and Domestic Borrowing guidelines for the federal and state governments, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other agencies of the government. The new borrowing guidelines, a review of the 2012 edition, stipulate how the various tiers of government can secure loans from the external and domestic markets. The updated guidelines are derived largely from provisions of extant legislations and approved documentations, notably the Constitution, the DMO Establishment Act, 2003, the Fiscal Responsibility Act and Securities Act, 2007, and the Fiscal Sustainability Plan, as well as the Fiscal Framework for sub-national governments in the country.

According to the new guidelines, to borrow externally, the Federal Government and its agencies are required, among other things, to prepare a National Debt Management Strategy for the approval of the Federal Executive Council (FEC). This process will be handled by the DMO in collaboration with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

The loan requests should include documents on the projects to be funded, consistent with national development priorities and “creditors partnership strategies.” Also, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning is required to collate requests for funding and conduct appraisal of projects to be financed with the borrowing to ascertain conformity with national priorities, cost-benefit analysis, showing the economic and social benefits of the intended borrowing. Beyond that, the Budget Office of the Federation (BoF) should prepare an annual budget, then followed by the approval of FEC and presentation to the National Assembly

As it concerns the states, the FCT and other agencies, the guidelines provide that their external borrowing proposals for the next fiscal year must be submitted not later than four months preceding that year to the Minister of Finance for incorporation into the Medium-Term External Borrowing Plan. Similarly, all states and the FCT wishing to contract external loans must secure the approval of their State Executive Council (Exco) and for the FCT, its Executive Committee. The proposal must also include the amount, purpose of the loan and repayment plan, including source(s) of repayment for the loan. Besides, the approval of the state Exco should be put in writing and duly signed by the Secretary to the State Government and the resolution of the state legislature duly signed by the Clerk of the House.

No doubt, the borrowing guidelines are comprehensive. Therefore, there is need for strict enforcement of the guidelines, while any default should attract adequate sanction. In the past, borrowing guidelines were merely observed in the breach by almost all the tiers of government, a situation that led to lack of transparency and accountability in debt management limits. Currently, Nigeria’s total debt stock has hit an all-time high of over N28 trillion, with that of the 36 states and FCT in excess of N5trillion. This is dangerous and comes with unintended consequences.

In spite of repeated warnings by the Debt Management Office (DMO) and the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC), statistics have shown many states governments have exceeded the threshold of 50 per cent of their total annual revenue stipulated in the guidelines of the DMO on debt sustainability. This has unpleasant consequences as debt-to-revenue ratio indicates the capacity of the debtor states to service and repay their debts.

In the last four years, data from the DMO, FRC and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that the debt profiles of no fewer than 18 states had exceeded their gross and net revenues by more than 200 per cent. A recent report showed that the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) owed about N5.8trillion out of Nigeria’s total debt stock of N27.47trn as at last year.  The challenge most of the states face is not just that they have exceeded their borrowing limits, but their inability to raise their Internally Generated Revenues to support the monthly allocations from the federal government.

There are concerns that most of the states may go bankrupt without the monthly allocations from the centre. Three states with the high debt-to-revenue ratios are Lagos, with a staggering 640 per cent, Osun (539 per cent) and Cross River (486.5 per cent).

Other states battling high debt stock are: Plateau (342 per cent), Oyo (339.5 per cent), Ekiti (339.3 per cent), Ogun (329.4per cent), Kaduna (297 per cent), Imo (292 per cent), Edo (270.8 per cent), Adamawa (262 per cent), Bauchi (250.75 per cent), Nasarawa (250.3 per cent), Kogi (221 per cent), Enugu u(207.4 per cent), Zamfara (204.9 per cent) and Kano (2202.6 per cent).

Arising from this, the financial situation of most states is precarious unless they diversify their economies and broaden their revenue base.  It has, therefore, also become necessary for the state governments to adhere strictly to the provisions of the DMO guidelines as well as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, especially sections 44 and 45, that clearly stipulate conditions for borrowing. Above all, let all states cut the cost of governance.

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