MAKING A CLEAR DIFFERENCE
Being the Text of a Speech Presented by Governor Alex Otti to the Abia State House of Assembly on the Occasion of the Presentation of the Draft of the 2024 State Budget on December 12, 2023 at the House of Assembly Complex, Umuahia
1. I stand before you, Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, fellow Abians, friends and well-wishers with a great sense of responsibility, grateful for the sacred honour to present the 2024 budget proposal to this Honourable Assembly and offer our people at home and in the diaspora, an insight into our holistic plans and programmes for the rebuilding and restoration of our advantages as a state, in ways that stimulate the economy, create jobs for our teeming youth population and set us on a new development trajectory, in line with the promises that brought us to power.
2. Twelve months ago, we were in your communities and clans selling our ideas for a New Abia to the electorates, making a strong case that we must take a new direction in order to fulfil the inherent promise of this great land. Three months later, precisely on March 18, 2023, you elected us to lead the state. The message of our electoral victory was direct: the people want a clear break from the past. They want a New Abia, a state where government works in service of the common people, and not just the privileged few.
3. We took office on May 29 this year with a firm resolve to commit everything at our disposal to the service of our great state. I consider the opportunity to serve our people at this time the greatest honour of my life.
4. It would be proper at this point to commend the leadership and members of the State House of Assembly for the smooth and harmonious relationship that exists between the executive and legislative arms of government. The judiciary in the state has also been very outstanding in the very challenging work of setting the tone for the New Abia, a land where justice would be the first condition of humanity. The understanding and respect that underpin our relationship as different arms of government have been very central to the modest progress that has been recorded across critical sectors in the last 6 months.
5. While it is true that we hit the ground running from the very minute the oath of office was administered, setting out the appropriate institutional frameworks for immediate evacuation of the mountains of refuse that had taken over the streets of our major cities, amongst other key deliverables, we were also not unmindful of the fact that the budgetary foundation of the government for the 2023 fiscal year did not come from us. We were therefore constrained in so many ways, even when we tried as much as the law allowed to redirect government expenditures to areas of utmost priorities to meet the immediate demands of responsible governance.
6. Mr Speaker, Honourable Members, we are fulfilled to announce that several roads that were previously impassable, including MCC by Old Express, Umuimo and Udeagbala roads in Aba have been completely reconstructed and opened for public use. To mark our first 100 days in office, we rehabilitated and commissioned Cemetery Phase 1, Shallom and Emelogu Roads, all in Aba.
7. In October, we made good our promise, shortly after our electoral victory, to contract a reputable civil engineering company for the rehabilitation of the long- abandoned Port Harcourt Road in Aba. Mr Speaker, Honourable Members and fellow Abians, it gives me great joy to report that for weeks now, Julius Berger, one of the biggest names in road construction and civil engineering projects have been at work on Port Harcourt Road, deploying the most sophisticated equipment and engineering professionals to the job because we made it clear that in the New Abia, we either get the best or nothing.
8. With a completion timeline of not more than 18 months, our expectation is that by the beginning of 2025, we shall see a boom in economic activities along that corridor, with many of the businesses that left years ago returning, in addition to several new ones.
9. In Umuahia, we are speedily completing the Ossah- Abia Tower/Okpara Square road reconstruction and expansion project for smooth flow of traffic into the capital city. It is our firm belief that the major entry points to the capital city should make a statement. It is in the light of this that work would soon start from the boundary in Onuimo to the Abia Tower. This is in addition to several palliatives works going on in most parts of the city to improve intra-city transportation, as well as support business activities along important economic corridors.
10. Beyond our modest progress in the restoration of urban road infrastructure, we are also working in several communities across the state to enable the seamless movement of our people and transportation of agro-commodities from the rural to the urban centres and improve travel experience from one part of the state to another. With the coming of the new mayors, we hope to see even greater progress in the rehabilitation of rural roads.
11. We are very particular about road construction because of our understanding that roads are major economic enablers, aiding trade and commerce, supporting agriculture as well as boosting the appeal of our major cities to both residents and investors.
12. Our ambition has been constrained by the very limited resources at our disposal but we have been very innovative in our approach to dealing with the challenges that confront us. To make up for the shortfalls in resources, we returned the core engineering team of the State Ministry of Works to the field, under the Direct Labour Agency, creating an environment that encourages them to deploy their professional expertise more practically and I can tell you that the results have been fantastic.
13. In addition to expanding the network of motorable roads in the state, we have also taken special interest in healthcare delivery services and education. In health, we have successfully renovated the long-abandoned Abia State Specialist Hospital and Diagnostics Centre, the Eye Clinic at the facility can now compete favourably with the best anywhere in the country and across the state, gradual renovation and rehabilitation works are taking place across the general hospitals.
14. Furthermore, access to healthcare in the state has improved especially with the free medical services initiative of the administration which will run until the end of the year in all public healthcare facilities. Thousands of Abians in rural and urban communities have benefited from this project which covers diagnostics and laboratory services, counselling and supply of drugs.
15. In the education sector, we are also making tremendous improvements in the teaching and learning environment with strategic investments in the renovation of schools across the 17 LGAs of the state. We are also working hard to return professionalism to the teaching profession through regular training and retraining programmes. We are determined to improve the competences of our teachers in tune with the demands of the modern world.
16. For our administration, the focus is to turn the schools into a fit-for-purpose environment for the training of world champions, young men and women with the skills to compete with their peers from all parts of the world.
17. We are working to phase out rote learning and over the next few years, we shall migrate to new learning platforms and methods that are designed to not just make learning more effective, but also prepare the pupils and students for the realities of the world they are living in.
18. In the education and health sectors, the morale of the personnel has been boosted with regular payment of salaries and other entitlements. Our teachers and health workers, like their counterparts in other sectors, now know when to expect their salaries and can plan accordingly. Not for once have they been disappointed in the last 6 months.
19. Umu nne m Ndi Abia, we have also made great strides in security through proper support to the security agencies including procurement of operational vehicles and other hardware necessary for effective security operations in all parts of the state, including prompt response in periods of emergencies.
20. We launched Operation Crush in August this year to deal with the menace of violent crimes. I am glad to report that our determination to make the state safe for residents and investors has seen us diminish the capacity of the criminals to strike in any part of the state. Although we still have pockets of challenges in a few places, the verdict is that Abia is now one of the safest places to live and do business.
21. Our Light UP Abia has seen us invest extensively in the procurement and installation of solar-energy powered lights for major streets in our urban centres. We have since extended the project to LGA headquarters across the state and the logic is simple: in addition to extending business hours for our entrepreneurs, proper street lighting also aids security as no criminal likes to operate under the light.
22. I promised on my inauguration that our government shall work to expand the frontiers of opportunities for our youth population. I am glad to report that in the last 3 months, we have, through the ministries of digital economy and SMEs, budget and planning and several other organs of the executive arm of government pioneered initiatives that are structured to improve the skills of our youths, especially their ICT skills, to enable them profit from the boundless opportunities of the new global economic system.
23. Working in conjunction with major partners including global tech giants, the state has successfully trained thousands of youths in various ICT skills to support their readiness for the global job market.
24. We are desirous to see a boom in the ICT space in the state and this explains why we have created a robust system that exposes our young people to the abundance of opportunities in the sector for gainful employment and successful entrepreneurship. The target is to steer our young people away from the temptations of dishonest living and offer them a platform to apply themselves to dignifying ventures.
25. Across communities, we have expanded the structure of our partnership programmes with multilateral organisations to promote transparency and accommodate more vulnerable households in the light of the continuing shocks of the post-COVID-19 pandemic and the removal of fuel subsidy by the federal government. We have committedly supported as many vulnerable households and individuals as our resources can carry in pursuance of the administration’s social support system aimed at reducing extreme poverty which continues to assault the dignity of our people in several communities.
26. Today’s budget presentation is therefore significant in many ways; first it is the first full year budget by our government. We have deliberately structured the key items in the budget to reflect the priorities of the administration on very important frontiers especially road infrastructure, human capital development, health and human services, social support initiatives, digitalisation of the service delivery mechanisms of the government for efficiency amongst other objectives which are strategically tailored towards opening up the economy to local and global investors.
27. Our goal is to consolidate on the modest gains made in the 2023 budget cycle, especially in the last six months where our strategic investments in public infrastructure and social services, in addition to consistently meeting our obligations to civil servants and pensioners have combined to enable us keep the economy afloat in what has been a very difficult season as a result of certain realities that are not of our making, especially the removal of fuel subsidy, massive depreciation of the Naira and the many other economic headwinds the country is grappling with.
28. As Mr Speaker and Honourable Members of this House are also aware, we have seen a steep rise in inflation which has no doubt distorted economic plans and projections made by businesses, governments and households at the beginning of the year. Adjusting to this sharp rise in prices of goods and services has been very demanding especially for a new government with immense responsibilities on its shoulders, working with a budget made by its predecessor on the basis of assumptions that no longer hold.
29. On the basis of facts available to my office, we have done quite well in the implementation of the 2023 budget of N160.5 billion and the projection is that we would go well past the 60% budget implementation mark achieved in 2022. We have remained transparent and open in the presentation of our budget performance report and this has helped in giving the citizens a good understanding of how public resources are being used. The target is to do better in 2024 by making the most of the feedback we got from the public over the last two quarters.
30. The 2024 budget proposal which we christened the “Budget of New Beginning” targets the expansion of our public infrastructure in line with our new development targets, scaling up access and quality service delivery in the social sector, with special focus on education and health where we are proposing to commit more than 20% and 15% of the aggregate budget spending respectively.
31. The State is proposing a total expenditure of Five Hundred and Sixty-Seven Billion, Two Hundred and Forty Million, Ninety-Five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Seventy-Two Naira (N567, 240, 095, 972. 00) in the 2024 fiscal year.
32. The above figure, in nominal terms, represents more than N400 billion rise from the 2023 estimate of N160.5 billion although when adjusted for inflation and fall in the value of the naira, the reality becomes starkly different.
33. The key distinction in the 2024 budget estimate, however, is in the direction of spending. While the 2023 projection allocated 53% of the entire budget for capital expenditure, our target in the 2024 fiscal year is to spend 84% of the total expenditure on capital projects and commit 16% to recurrent expenditure, as against 47% in the 2023 estimates.
34. Of the proposed figure, government’s estimated total revenue is N166,077,717,058 including earnings from our IGR channels, Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), grants from multilateral organisations and income from other revenue sources that will be available to the state government over the course of the accounting year.
35. We plan to finance the deficit of N401, 162, 378, 914 partly by new borrowings estimated at N385, 271, 027, 214. 50% of this borrowing will be sourced externally, whilst the balance will be procured domestically.
36. It must at this point be stated that all borrowing in the 2024 fiscal year would be committed strictly to capital development projects with direct impact on the economy of the state, especially roads, schools and medical facilities. The projection is that the impact of these projects on the general economy in the medium to long term would generate the sufficient returns that would enable the state meet its obligation to the creditors smoothly and ultimately pay off the loans in due course.
37. The assurance I want to give Mr Speaker, Honourable members and to every Abian is that under my watch, not a dime shall be borrowed to finance recurrent expenditure. All borrowing will be negotiated on terms that are favourable to the state.
38. Rebuilding the state’s public infrastructure requires the sort of targeted financing we cannot immediately access within the state so there is the need to borrow to fund the projects that would kick-start the economy and make us competitive on a global scale.
39. More importantly, the citizens and other stakeholders would have the opportunity to monitor how the funds are being spent and the impact of the projects on their communities, from inception to completion. This is very important to guarantee transparency and as a listening government, your inputs would always be very important in our decisions.
40. In the 2024 fiscal year, the state proposes to commit 44.76% of the budget on the economic sector with the larger chunk of the resources going into works, (16.97%), land and housing (9.9%), agriculture (5.12%), and finance, (5.23%).
41. We shall be committing major resources in the 2024 financial year to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some of the most important roads along the major economic corridors of the state. The budget has provided for completion of some of the projects we started in 2023 including Port Harcourt Road Aba, Ossah Road, Umuahia-Uzuakoli-Abariba-Ohafia Road, Ozuabam-Ndi Okereke- Arochukwu Road, the dualisation of Umuikaa-Umuene-Omoba Road, Dualisation of Owerrinta-Umuikaa Road, Nunya-Eluama-Isuikwuato Road, Onuimo-Abia Tower Road amongst others as well as the commencement of new road projects in all parts of the state.
42. For housing, the state shall be partnering with reputable private developers to develop new mass housing projects in our major urban locations. We are not just looking to erect blocks of flats; our target is to develop sophisticated urban locations that answer to the housing needs of our upwardly mobile youth population, young families and diaspora population.
43. In agriculture, we are proposing to designate Bende, Ukwa and Umunneochi LGAs as Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZ). Our SAPZs will be structured to serve as major hubs for the production, aggregation, processing and distribution of major agro-commodities produced in these areas for improved value in the local and international markets.
44. The government proposes to commission Site-dedicated infrastructure in each of the zones including gas-solar powered energy plants, quality road infrastructure, optic fibre, water treatment facilities and ancillary support structures to drive the activities along these agro corridors.
45. In the same vein, 40.07% of the total budget is proposed to be committed to the social sector with the bulk of the resources going into education (20%), healthcare (15.04%), youth and sport development, (3.17%).
46. Items proposed in the social sector include the renovation of 300 public primary and secondary schools across the 17 LGAs of the state, infrastructure upgrade at the State College of Education, the retooling of 3 technical schools across the 3 senatorial districts, the procurement and installation of world class modern health facilities at 3 general hospitals across the 3 senatorial districts of the state, the construction of a standard medical village to stem the tide of medical tourism, the construction of the Nsulu Sports and Entertainment Complex, construction of community sports hubs in all the 17 LGAs of the state, construction of digital skills and innovation centres across the 3 senatorial districts and so much more.
47. Our intent is clear: we are prioritising the projects that have direct impact on the economic and social life of the citizenry in line with our commitment to using the levers of government to serve the needs of the common people.
48. Mr Speaker, I want to specially appreciate this Honorable House for the speedy passage of the Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA) Bill. I am also glad to announce that I have signed the bill into law and going forward, GADA will serve as the administrative vehicle to drive the social and economic development of Aba in line with my campaign promise to give priority attention to the rapid development of Aba and ultimately return it to its glory days. There has never been any doubt about what we intend to do in Aba and I am expectant that with the setting up of GADA as a legal administrative structure, developments in Aba will be better streamlined as we find in other major cities across the world.
49. As I promised at a media briefing earlier in the month, we shall be implementing a pay rise for our civil servants to reflect the present economic realities in the country. This shall be implemented in the New Year and provision for that has been made in the 2024 budget. The government will continue to prioritise the welfare of its employees even as we expect to see greater commitment from our civil servants who are major stakeholders in the implementation of our governance agenda.
50. We shall continue to support the conventional security establishments to improve the security of life and property in all parts of the state. Let me repeat my earlier warning that criminality in whatever guise shall have no place in the New Abia. We are open for business and any threat to this goal shall be met with the full weight of the law.
51. We understand the economic realities in the country and shall continue to do everything in our powers to support individuals seeking to make an honest living through hard work in legitimate endeavours. The government is already making arrangements to revive as many of our moribund industries as available resources and economic reasoning permit.
52. We are currently in discussions with those with stakes in these companies to see how we can restructure the existing agreements and have the establishments come back on stream because we are a pro-business government, committed to actively supporting the private sector to massively create jobs for our people.
53. Mr Speaker, Honourable Members and Ndi Abia, I invite us all to look to the future with great optimism. We are coming from a very difficult place but none of the difficulties of the past can diminish the potentials of this great land. A new beginning awaits us and I request everyone to come on board as we work to rebuild and restore the glory of our fatherland.
54. As I lay this bill before this Honourable House, may I reassure you Mr Speaker and the Honourable members that you will get all the necessary cooperation from my team as Abians look to the speedy and diligent consideration of the 2024 budget proposal.
55. Mr. Speaker, Honourable members of the house, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening and may our good God continue to bless you all.
Dr Alex C. Otti , OFR.