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Sure-P - The Difference Is Not Clear

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ANALYSIS

One year out of the four-year lifespan of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, is gone already, but the reason for setting it up remains unclear. Ostensibly, it is the current administration's response to the fuel subsidy protests of January 2012: to use the funds that would be saved from the partial removal of subsidy on premium motor spirit (PMS) to assuage the pains of Nigerians.

Hurriedly put together, the SURE-P committee was given the responsibility of working out modalities to utilise and manage the anticipated saved funds. Notable personalities such as Dr Christopher Kolade and Major General Mamman Kontagora (rtd) were brought on board as chairman and deputy chairman respectively. The committee's mandate includes determining, in collaboration with other stakeholders, subsidy estimates for each preceding month and ensuring the funds are transferred to the Central Bank of Nigeria, ensuring orderly disbursements of funds for the programme, as well as monitoring and evaluating the execution of the projects.

So far, the programme has been dogged by challenges. Even in its 2012 Annual Report published early this year, the SURE-P committee said that a lot of initial progress had been made in certain areas of intervention, but it outlined challenges that could hinder further progress. These include low literacy levels and capacity of some professionals to be recruited, insecurity in the far north and south-south which is impacting staffing levels, non-payment of compensation to communities located around areas of construction works as well as controversy over which ministry to domicile certain schemes. Its focus in 2013, it stated, is appointing an external auditor, strengthening internal administration, and the sustainability of the programme.

Unless the programme targets specific areas, it would not be deemed to have started by the time it ends in 2005 or 2006. To succeed, SURE-P should borrow a leaf from the defunct Petroleum (Special) Trust Fund (PTF) of the late 1990s. While we acknowledge the SURE-P committee's efforts, we are not unmindful of the fact that the same actors in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are implementing its projects. There is no sign that massive corruption has ended in government MDAs. And that was what the PTF cleverly avoided.

In removing the subsidy on fuel, government had put forth many arguments: that maintaining the subsidy irrespective of the realities of the market had resulted in a huge financial burden; that subsidies did not reach the intended beneficiaries because of corruption; and that it discouraged competition and private-sector investment in downstream activities. But how far has government gone in achieving the objectives?

The situation has not been any different from what had been. Little or no funds have been saved, intended beneficiaries are not benefitting while a few are getting corruptly enriched. Besides, there is unprecedented theft of the nation's oil. Huge amounts are still paid as "subsidy", even though almost N2trillion allegedly stolen in 2011 has not been accounted for. The only evidence that "subsidy" was paid has been the rise in the number of private jets in the country.

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