Home Editorial EDITORIAL: FCT Minister shouldn’t beg for funds

EDITORIAL: FCT Minister shouldn’t beg for funds

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From Our Housing Stand 22

While presenting the 2020 Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) budget proposal to the House of Representatives Committee on FCT penultimate Thursday, the FCT Minister Muhammad Bello pleaded for allocation of more funds to the territory. His reason is that there are numerous projects to be executed so doing the job means additional funds.

Apparently, his plea is based on need  to match infrastructure with the growing population of Abuja residents. He said to fulfill its mandate of building a world-class capital city for Nigeria, FCTA must get huge funds.

Viewpoint Housing News agrees with Bello that FCTA occupies a unique position in Nigeria so it should be given due considerations and adequately empowered to do its work. The work, no doubt is huge. Providing standard infrastructure for a territory of 8,000square kilometers is no small task.

Bello is not the first minister to seek more funds for FCT. Those before him did same. In fact, it has become a favorite pastime for those in leadership positions to lament paucity of funds for the responsibilities they had undertaken to execute.

It is cool to receive income from central government transfers. However, the law empowers the minister to collect revenues locally. And with current realities, it is out of fashion for a minister to sit in office and lament dearth of funds when there are numerous revenue sources.

One of the the dangers of depending on central government transfers to fund budget is the likelihood to wholly embrace national policy priorities. This can stymie local innovation and make it difficult for Abuja to respond to its peculiar realities.

This is, therefore, no time to rely on handouts from the federal government. The third millennium is age of critical thinking. If creative enough, the administration can generate what can adequately serve it. Abuja city government should generate a diverse portfolio of income streams so that it is not dependent on any given flow of revenue. The minister should think about how revenue can be generated not just from different taxes but also on a diverse range of economic activities.

Actually, municipal revenues are city leaders’ best asset. The minister can increase the funds at his disposal, including new taxes on tourism, property, levies on businesses, and fees linked to the provision of specific services.

But this must be done carefully, navigating through legal, technical, and political constraints. Government should weigh the pros and cons of its different strategies.

And the tax collectors are key. They should be well trained.

The minister can collaborate with neighbouring states of Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa and Kaduna to explore revenue avenues. He can place tax on the numerous unoccupied houses in Abuja. But this should not be done in a way that it slows or places undue burden on the real estate sector.

Another revenue source lies in issuing of title documents on sub-divided plots. The administration can step up title issuing by giving Certificates of Occupancy (C of Os) to title holders in the numerous estates in Abuja. Government can do this by sub-dividing the land in the estates and giving certificates to subscribers. This will be of benefit to the offtakers because they can now acquire instruments they can use for various purposes.

In similar way, government might retrieve lands in custody of the local councils, recertify them and issue titles. The numerous unlicensed motorcycles in Abuja are another source of revenue. But the minister should beware of potential conflict areas with the local councils.

Above all, the minister should realise that collecting taxes is a difficult job, and one that lies at the forefront of many citizens’ dissatisfaction with poor local public service provision.

The minister should therefore, endeavour to be prudent and transparent in the management of the territory’s resources. It is only when the people clearly see how the taxes they pay are utilised that they will support the government. Voluntary compliance is more likely when citizens consider their payments worthwhile. It therefore, becomes very important that the minister builds public support for revenue generation.

For example, Park and Pay fees introduced in Abuja in 2013 were quashed by court due to outcry and legal action by dissatisfied residents of Abuja. It was a bad case for government.

The minister should generate adequate and relevant data and knowledge on tax in FCT and there should be a clear picture on how local entrepreneurs are to continue producing goods and services, and ensure their employees receive a fair wages.

Long-term stability and self-sufficiency is key, so government should manage expectations of tax and levy generation to ensure that targets given to tax collectors can be communicated reasonably to citizens.

Good enough, in view of the poor performance of the 2019 National Budget, the minister promised to reprioritize and rollover only essential on-going projects without making provision for any new projects in the 2020 budget estimated at N28.4 billion.

The minister should as matter of importance clear slums and upgrade Abuja infrastructure to cope with the increasing numbers of residents. Roads leading to many estates and malls are still dirt and bumpy. Such should not be of a well-planned federal capital city. If the FCT Minister can do all this, he will not have to beg. Rather, he will make huge revenue.

FCT is racing towards Lagos’ status where revenue base is so huge. Abuja can therefore, achieve a lot learning from Lagos. 

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