Improving Business Environment through Effective Legislation

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James Emejo reviews activities of the National Assembly Business Environment Roundtable (NASSBER) within the past one year of its establishment to, among others, help enhance the ease of doing business in the country

It no longer news that the current business environment has been labelled as hostile by both local and foreign investors, a situation, which had among other things delayed governments efforts to effectively diversify the economy from oil.

All commitments by the previous administrations to expand the industrial base of the economy had not worked and small businesses, which are critical for the transformation of the economy are unable to thrive, partly because access to finance is difficult.

Some of the variables, which had contributed to the hostile business environment are power, multiple taxation, dearth of infrastructure including roads, exchange rate crisis, policy inconsistency by successive governments and lack of strong legal, regulatory frameworks for businesses as well as insecurity.

This could partly explain why the World Bank in its 2016 Ease of Doing Business Report ranked the country in the 169th position out of the 189 countries surveyed.

Worried by the development, and considering its role as critical to reversing the trend, the leadership of the 8th National Assembly had taken it upon itself to make legislations to position the country as investment destination of global economies by simplifying those things that make doing business a horrific experience in the country.

It was as a result of the foregoing that the legislature had recently contracted a team led by Prof. Paul Idormigie to conduct a Business Environment Legislative Review.

The outcomes of subsequent investigations identified institutional, regulatory, legal and constitutional instruments as major constraints to the ease of doing business in the country.

This eventually led to the establishment of NASSBER as a forum to support the creation of an environment in which both large and small businesses can thrive.

It exists to prioritise the enactment and amendment of legislation in order to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and costs, which can stifle the growth of local businesses.

The platform afforded for the first time, the opportunity for legislators from the House of Representatives and the Senate to interact with representatives of private sector businesses to evolve the legal framework needed to create a supportive business environment.

In his recent evaluation of NASSBER, one year after it was launched, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, said the roundtable had made positive contributions towards improving the business environment, stressing that both chambers would promote legislations that would improve the country’s business environment.

He said:”Looking back the last 12 months, NASSBER is but a success story of novel synergy, dialogue and engagement between the legislature, development partner, the private sector, the bench, and citizens. The National Assembly will continue to play a central role not only in governance but also ensuring that we deliberate and act on frameworks that will improve Nigeria’s business environment through the review of relevant legislations and provisions of the constitution.

According to him, “A little over a year ago when NASSBER was inaugurated, we were very confident it was the right step to take if we were indeed committed to bringing our economy out of recession, and stimulating long-term economic growth that is inclusive and sustainable for the shared prosperity of all Nigerians.

He urged them to provide the strategic guidance needed to move NASSBER initiative forward, noting that they were on course to having the law as a proactive instrument to promote development and, thus, influence and change present realities.

The speaker added that the outcome of the group’s efforts would lead to an agile private sector that can respond to global opportunities.

He said:”As a result of this effort, I am more confident that our economy would attract ‘agile private sector that can innovate and respond to global opportunities’, as contemplated in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) of this government. “

Also, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said six infrastructure reforms bills including the Nigerian Railway Bill, Nigerian Ports and Harbour Bill, National Road Funds Bill, National Transport Commission Bill, National Inland Waterways Bill and the Federal Roads Bill currently before the National Assembly would modernise the nation’s infrastructure base and create at least 580,000 new jobs for Nigerians in the next five years when passed.

According to him:”The bills are also projected to cause a 2.5 per cent reduction in national poverty levels, as it will save lives, reduce wasted man-hours while reducing the cost of food and other essential goods and services as a result of cheaper logistical costs.”

NASSBER has largely taken credit for its inputs into the bills.

The group has also unveiled an ambitious plan to promote the Made-In-Nigeria initiative by working to modernise the country’s law to reflect the changing face of the economy; improve the competitiveness of Nigerian companies by strengthening weak infrastructure and regulatory framework.

In its annual report which was obtained by THISDAY, it said:”NASSBER is young and still learning how to be most effective. During the coming year, we will build on the achievements of this first year and develop our capability so that we can maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of our activities.”

Essentially, it seeks to complete the passage into law of priority bills which have already made significant progress through the National Assembly.

The NASSBER platform has further led to accelerated passage of priority bills, better understanding of the significance of involving the private sector and reflecting practitioner views in the technical review of respective bills among others.

As at May 31, 2017, 13 priority bills were being worked upon by the group while the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets Bill was signed into law by the acting President Yemi Osinbajo on May 30, 2017.

The objectives of the bill was to facilitate access to credit with secured movable assets, boost financial inclusion and facilitate perfection of security interests in movable assets as well as establish a collateral registry and provide for its operations.

Other bills as promoted by NASSBER are at various stages of progress.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation Act 1955 Repeal & Re-enactment Railway Bill, 2016 was passed by the Senate in July 2016, representing the first NASSBER legislation to be passed by either chamber of the National Assembly.

Also, the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill was passed by the House in March while the National Inland Waterways Authority Bill was passed by the Senate in May.

Furthermore, the Nigerian Independent Warehouse Regulatory Agency Bill has already been passed by the Senate.

Specifically, the enactment and implementation of the competition law in the country is expected to cause a 10 percent reduction in prices in uncompetitive sectors and almost N150 billion in income effect as well as well as 11.8 percent reduction in poverty levels over five years.