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The Governor of Cross River State, Senator Liyel Imoke, has joined his colleagues to announce the State budget proposals for 2012. This time, the governor has pledged commitment to dogged adherence to budgetary provisions, rather than pursue implementation of programmes that could be described as alien to the budgets.

Of course, that would amount to inconsistency, and a violation of the Fiscal Responsibility law, that stipulates unbending loyalty to implementation of programmes and plans.

At the presentation of this year's budget proposals to members of Cross River State House of Assembly, in Calabar in December last year, the governor, who tagged the budget, Budget of Delivery, noted that the government's recurrent obligations have risen astronomically due to the new wage regime for public servants, noting however that despite the State's loss of oil revenue, which has deprived it of about N20 billion, the administration has continued to grapple with financial challenges, while still on track to meet its challenges.

This, the governor said, is being made possible with the introduction of a new budgeting system, which is now operational across Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Ahead of the presentation, and in order to be precise about its preparations and implementation, the government in October last year assembled stakeholders to scrutinize the State's budget and look at ways to improve on its planning, execution and appraisal.

This is not to say, though, that in the past, budgeting used to be an exclusive action of the government. There have always been inputs from relevant organs of government which, in conjunction with the State legislature, work out modalities for budget forecast and drafting. The State Governor, Senator Imoke, who is at the forefront of this transformation, is not unmindful of the words of Robert Schuller, who said, 'Whatever you do today, do better tomorrow.' He instituted methods for improving on past budgeting processes. This is pivotal in the implementation of one of the governor's seven-point agenda, which accentuates accountability in public finance expenditure.

One of the gains of the summit is this year's achievement of a reasonable degree of fiscal discipline and transparency, coupled with the implementation of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), which has helped the government to remain consistent with the seven-point agenda. It had a theme: 'All Inclusive Budgeting for Sustainable Development in Cross River State.'

Months after the summit, the government has not wavered in the implementation of the 2011 budget, tagged Budget of Consolidation, despite challenges associated with rising and falling oil prices and the rigour of accessing federal government's financial allocations. 41 per cent of the total budget in the year was earmarked for the economic sector in view of its potentials to create business opportunities and grow the economy.

What was achieved, though, in reshaping the economy in the year far outweighs the finances ploughed into the State. For instance, with the aid of the State Economic Blueprint and the Cross River State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy 1 and 2 long term plan, no less than eleven rural roads with expansive kilometres have been completed within the life of this administration while 18 are ongoing, all totaling over 500 kilometres, completed with bridges. Another 474 kilometres covering 29 rural roads in 17 local Government Areas are also being handled by the Ministry of Works, under the Cross River Rural Access and Mobility Project (CR-RAMP).

Also realising that a healthy nation produces a healthy economy, the governor has built, renovated and upgraded several hospitals, clinics and health centres, and ensured the provision of modern facilities, drugs and qualified personnel to cater for the health needs of the urban and rural dwellers. The State Primary Health Care Programme is so effective that the two pilot Local Government Areas have witnessed zero per cent infant maternal mortality rate.

On the education sector, no fewer than 60 comprehensive secondary schools have so far been renovated, equipped with Science and Computer laboratories and libraries, configured in a way to encourage readership.

Within the period, over 167 rural communities across the Local Government Areas in the State have been electrified. Solar powered water boreholes have also been provided across the State. Also, social welfare scheme under Project Hope and Comfort. In addition to all these, among several others, are the traffic light projects in Calabar South and Calabar Municipality undertaken to curb traffic-related accidents and congestion.

In the words of Governor Imoke during the presentation of this year's budget proposals to the State House of Assembly, 'In the 21st century, it is no longer acceptable for us to see our people living without access to electricity, our clinics lacking basic medicaments and schools not properly equipped and managed'. This, I think, triggered the exceptional attention that was given to infrastructural development, health and agriculture. In the N144.626 billion budget, infrastructural development got N25.900 billion for boosting roads construction, bridges, water and public transportation, against the N24.059 billion that was earmarked in 2011 for the sector.

Special attention is to be given the health sector as government intends to keep up the strengthening of its partnership with the Medical and Dental Council to upscale facilities in public health institutions. Other bodies that the State will also partner to deliver on the sector include the TulsiChanrai Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Cross River State Government intends to revolve its wealth and job creation drives around agriculture. It has pledged to partner major private sector agricultural firms and investors to rapidly develop the sector with emphasis on agro-processing, while hoping to further establish agricultural estates in parts of the State. Again, there are plans to closely monitor the CARES programme in order to identify and empower key beneficiaries. Plans are also underway to let Ministry of Agriculture make available at least 50,000 hectares of arable land for commercial farming and to establish an integrated agricultural project in each of the senatorial districts in the State for the purpose of creating job opportunities and developing entrepreneurial capacity of youths.

Other sectors of the economy which are also critical are forestry and environment, tourism, investment promotion, transport, information and orientation, social development, youths and sports, women affairs, land and housing, mortgage finance and estate development, Information Communication Technology and Security. The government has not overlooked them. It has, for easy comprehension and appreciation, summed the total 2012 budget in terms of total recurrent and capital expenditures as economic (N68.254 billion), social services (N38.332 billion), regional development (N13.683 billion) and general administration (N26. 356 billion).

To the governor, the boosting of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) will widen existing revenue sources, modernize processes and educate taxpayers with a view to encouraging compliance. This revenue, he said, would be prudently utilised to efficiently manage public debts through the State Debt Management Office. He put the debt figure awaiting servicing in 2012 at N13 billion, restating government's commitment to remaining responsible by honouring the terms of debt agreements and maintaining a sustainable level of debt commensurate with the rate and pace of the development in the state.

Regarding tourism development, which is the pride of the State, the Government has pledged to be consistent with the development of the sector, stressing that the annual Calabar Festival is now synonymous with Christmas festivities, and there is now increasing private sector participation and eventual ownership of the industry by corporate bodies. And with the over N1 billion earmarked for the sector this year, Government intends to invest in the development of tourism sites across the State, such as Qua Falls, Agbokim Waterfalls, Afi Mountain Resort, Alok Monoliths, among others.

There is no doubt that the State financial resources are lean, but with forethought, much can be achieved. In the words of Francis Bacon, 'the wise man will always make more opportunities than he finds.' This is typical of Governor Imoke

Oham writes from Calabar..