James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, has said the federal government has identified new revenue initiatives that could fetch it between N13 trillion and N18 trillion from both oil and non-oil revenue sources.
This, according to her, will be done under the federal government’s Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative (SRGI) that was launched last year.
She also emphasised the commitment of the federal government to the achievement of the 15 per cent revenue-to-GDP target by 2023.
Ahmed said during a web conference with the theme: “Leveraging Data to Drive Inclusive Policy, Revenue Generation and Improved Governance,” organised by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with Softcom, that the country’s revenue to GDP stood at eight per cent since 2018.
She added that this is significantly below those of its comparator countries and the continent average as well as below the ERGP target.
The minister stated that there are ongoing efforts to work towards achieving the 15 per cent target, which still represented major change in policy behaviour driven by data to purposely target revenue generation.
“Clearly, this pandemic has brought to the fore the need and the urgency to further diversify the sources of government revenue and the wisdom of our Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative which we launched in 2019. Unfortunately, too often, we have let emotions rather than data drive the need to diversify our revenue sources.
“Analysis of revenue data showed that in 2018, Nigeria’s revenue to GDP stood at eight per cent, significantly below our comparator countries in the continent as well as the continent’s average. It was also below the Economic Recovery Growth Plan (ERGP) target of 15 per cent GDP. In fact, even at 15 per cent revenue to GDP, Nigeria will still lag behind comparator country. But there is an ongoing effort to move towards that 15 per cent. Under the SRGI therefore, we have identified various revenue initiatives that would potentially generate N13 trillion to N18 trillion across both oil and non-oil revenue sources to ensure that we achieve the 15 per cent revenue-to-GDP target by 2020,” she added.
According to her, the economic and fiscal challenges currently confronting the country resulted from limited resources in the face of unlimited needs and wants.
She added that to meet public needs and deliver good governance, government must make certain expenditures.
Ahmed said the revenue to meet these expenditures had been severally diminished, especially as a result of the effect of COVID-19 as well as the crash in crude oil price.
Ahmed, however, said the provision of accurate and reliable data remained critical to informed policy choices, plugging revenue leakages as well as identifying new sources of revenue for the government.
She said in spite of the current challenges, the government had taken steps to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians by adopting a data-driven approach to prioritise responses.
The minister said the production of reliable and accurate data would remove unnecessary emotion from the discourse around public policy and facilitate result-oriented decision-making in the face of uncertainty.
She said quality data would also provide a basis for comparing alternative policy choices and allow for monitoring and evaluation of government’s performances relating to planned targets.
Ahmed stated that the goal of government policy is to ensure that policy decisions are driven not by ideology but by data.
She commended the leadership of the NBS under Dr. Yemi Kale for the remarkable progress recorded in data production system in recent times, despite the challenges of producing the official statistics in the country, adding that the statistical agency has continued to manage and sustain the delivery of data both in quality and timeliness.
The minister added that data will continue to positively shape the current administration’s policy choices, behaviour and provide the benefits of inclusive growth and good governance to Nigerians.
She noted that while data should be informed and lead to change in policy behaviour, “denying what the data says for policy reasons make any sense…Unfortunately, too often, we have let emotions rather than data guide the debate on diversification of revenue sources.”
The World Bank Country Director, Mr. Shubham Chaudhuri, also at the forum, commended the federal government’s transparency policy and open treasury portal initiative, which he said had allowed Nigerians more access to information on fiscal administration for the purposes of accountability.
He said: “Just in the last six months, what the federal government had done in terms of opening up the administrative and fiscal data of government to the public has truly been remarkable.”
He also commended the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for publishing its financial accounts for Nigerians to see how monies were being generated and spent.
He said: “That kind of basic administrative and fiscal data will not only enable the government to do better but also for citizens to be better informed and hold government more accountable for what is being done with public funds.”
He added that the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the need for real time data for policy intervention in the country.
Kale, on his part, said as the apex body of official statistics, a key function of the NBS is to centralise and mainstream the data generated within the public sector, adding that this could provide the most useful insight into opportunities for revenue generation, and highlight gaps that exist within the tax collection system.
According to him, technology and innovation are expanding the boundaries of administrative data and the speed and accuracy of value creation, adding that blockchain technology and artificial intelligence (AI) could help governments predict areas for intervention, detect tax liabilities from different groups efficiently, assess fraud risks that underpin corruption, and monitor processes internally.
But he said despite the ability to impact on the process of good governance, the country’s data production architecture still faced some challenges, particularly the resistance to data sharing internally, which is reinforced by the realisation that with transparency comes accountability, or the common misconception that sharing data means the loss of ownership or visibility as it relates to the information being shared.
He identified improved data sharing and capacity as central to achieving the nation’s collective goals of leveraging data for revenue generation and policy impact.
The NBS boss stressed the need to address the capacity and skills gap within government, which is required to ensure timely and reliable transmission of administrative data.
He said the twin shocks of the health and economic crisis coming amidst historically low oil prices, provided a unique opportunity to develop frameworks that solidify better use of data to drive the country’s response to these challenges.
Kale said: “An often-downplayed aspect of data which is critical to its positive use in policy outcomes is the issue of trust. Before data can be leveraged towards meaningful use, both internal and external users must trust the data and ensure that the data is used in ways that reinforce public trust.”