Economic Summit Offers New Options for National Devt

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The 23rd Nigeria Economic Summit (NES) organised by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) in collaboration with the Ministry of Budget and National Planning ended in Abuja on Thursday with fresh recommendations, which are expected to be integrated into government’s development programmes. Ndubuisi Francis reports

Since its inaugural edition in 1993, the Nigeria Economic Summit (NES) has become the undisputed platform to harness and share ideas for national development. In recent years, recommendations from the NESG-organised summits have become ready tools to support the government in national planning.

That the annual NES fora have continued to provide veritable platforms for the pubic and private sector players to interface, dissect socio-economic challenges and proffer solutions to advance national development cannot be over-emphasised.

The 23rd edition, with the theme, “Opportunities, Productivity & Empowerment: Actualising the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan”, which ended in Abuja on Thursday recorded three days of intense sessions from top public and private sector players traversing every sectoral groups.

Among several recommendations, which the 23rd NES endorsed, the federal government has promised to implement.

Part of the recommendations is the establishment of a research data bank for indigenous patents and products, the harmonisation of the 14 critical bills that have already been passed and transmission thereof to the president for assent.

Also recommended was the imperative for increased involvement of members of the private sector in Legislative Reformed activities through increased participation in the 10 working groups of NASSBER.

The summit equally called for the implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) and NESG to create a collaborative framework that will promote sub-national economic competitiveness and ease of doing business.

The summit saw the need to reduce the complexity and cost of securing Certificates of Occupancy (CofO) and increased funding to universities, research-based organisations on seeds development.

The 23rd NES event rolled off the ground with a welcome address by the Chairman, NESG, Mr Kyari Bukar, who recalled the recommendations and outcomes of last year’s edition, including the call for strategies that promote inclusive growth and thus higher levels of local production and consumption.

According to him, one of the key points from last year’s NES was the consensus by participants for government to craft a clear and comprehensive framework for economic diversification, which the federal government responded to by articulating the four-year Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) which formed the focus of this year’s summit. Mr. Bukar also highlighted some of the current activities of the NESG, including its work with NASSBER on legislation deliberations, working with the National Assembly to review acts through the 10 policy commissions, among other activities.

In his opening remarks, the Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo alluded to the current administration’s commitment to working with the private sector in achieving the goal of restructuring the Nigerian economy.

While applauding the NESG for providing the platform for engagement between the public and private sectors to improve their working relationships, he acknowledged the government’s acceptance of the private sector as partners.

Udoma, who endorsed the choice of the theme of this year’s summit stated that with the ERGP, the government aims to achieve buoyant economy, providing maximum welfare for all citizens. The goal, he said, was to begin with a growth rate of 7 per cent by 2020 and thereafter continue on that trajectory, ultimately reaching 10 per cent in succeeding years.

He acknowledged the concerns over the proper implementation of the ERGP and assured that the current administration was committed to the faithful implementation of the plan, further supporting the NES23 theme and focus.

In his speech, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, said one of the critical things that the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) had proposed to the government in support of the local content initiative was what they described as margins of preference for local content goods.

He said: “In order words, what they are saying that if you prefer locally made goods then you must take care of the problems that local content goods have, in order words, they are usually more expensive than the imported made goods, so you have to take care of that by what they call margins of preference.”

He disclosed that the government was looking at that proposal and the percentage for procurement purposes, adding: “But we do agree with the principle that if we are going to promote local content goods, then we must find ways of preferring them to imported ones and we think that the margins of preference is a sensible way to do so.

Osinbajo noted that while the federal government on its part was determined to build a modern economy, its ability to do so was hamstrung by the fact that its annual budgeted expenditure of N7 trillion is only a small part of a multi trillion naira economy.

“The private sector is clearly the bigger contributor to the economy. It thus follows that the private sector must be enabled and encouraged to play its decisive role if our development efforts are to succeed,” he stated.

According to him, the economy has now returned to the path of growth after a continuous slide from 2014, adding: “As is now well known, we exited recession in the second quarter of 2017 with a GDP growth rate of 0.55 per cent while inflation has similarly declined continuously from its peak of about 18 per cent in January 2017 to about 16 per cent today.

He also noted that last year, there were concerns about the availability of foreign exchange and a rapidly deteriorating exchange rate, noting that the situation has been turned around and stabilised.

Osinbajo stated that foreign exchange reserves had risen to about $33 billion and end-users have increased access to foreign exchange partly due mainly to increased export earnings and remittances as well as the introduction of a dedicated transparent window for Investors and Exporters (NAFEX).

He said: “The results have been encouraging as the inflows of capital in the second quarter of 2017 of about $1.8 billion were almost double the amount of $908 million imported in the first quarter of the year

The VP also spoke about the ease of doing business initiative, saying it was a key achievement for the government since last year’s NES.

With the initiative. Osinbajo noted that so much efforts had been committed to improving the business environment, including registration of business, obtaining construction permits, fostering trade across borders, and the visa-on-arrival process that has been quite effective.

Other key achievements, he noted, included investment in railway to ease transportation of agriculture products across the country and the commencement of the presidential quarterly business forum where key issues that affect the private sector are discussed with private sector stakeholders.

Actions Towards Economic Revitalisation/Growth

The summit plenary commenced with a panel discussion, which centered around aspects of the economy and the government’s actions towards revitalidation.

Among the panelists were the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; Chairman, Heirs Holdings, Mr. Tony Elumelu, and Mr. John Rice, Vice Chairman, General Electric (GE).

It was moderated by Ms. Kadaria Ahmed, Director, Daria Media.

Osinbajo stated that the current administration rechanneling emphasis from resources dependence to productivity.

According to him, government’s focus was on driving productivity in agriculture and manufacturing, and had made progress in infrastructure and investment, especially in railways. The administration, he observed, is driving productivity through the passage of executive orders for government agencies to deliver on mandates.

He highlighted some of the progress made with regards to provision of electricity with introduction of new practices such as the independent metering system. Other policies and actions included the introduction of the single window process in Customs, greater focus on investment in agro-allied industries, and improved generation and distribution of electricity. He concluded with he administration’s commitment to achieve all we set out to do in the ERGP within the next couple of months and certainly within a year. The Vice President said investment in infrastructure was the most critical issue to be addressed for the growth plan to be actualised.

For Elumelu, prioritising small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) is a must for the much-needed economic transformation/growth.

He noted the importance of localisation, adding that the concept should seek to integrate everyone, create jobs especially for young unemployed people, and restore hope for SMEs.

According to him, growth occurs when SMEs are integrated into the economic agenda, noting that it should not just be on paper, but must be all-inclusive.

For John Rice, Vice Chairman, GE, the organisation has been localising its business in Africa and Nigeria in particular for a very long time particularly because of the population size, human capital and sundry resources.

On the factors necessary to attract investment, he was concerned about the execution speed of the Nigerian government, particularly with regards to the power sector.

He noted that electricity supply must be prioritised if Nigeria is to achieve sustainable development. “Sustainable inclusive growth is impossible without electricity,” he said.

Access to Capital

The issue of financial inclusion also took the centre stage in one of the panel discussions.

The panelists were the Group CEO, Ecobank Transnational Inc, Mr. Mr. Ade Adeyemi;

The CEO, Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN),Mr. Tony Okpanachi; CEO, Helios Investment Partners, Mr. Kamar Bakrin;

Mr. Nasir Yammama, who is the Founder, Verdant AgriTech Limited.

Others were, Ms. Ngozi Edozien (CEO, Invivo Partners Limited). The panel was moderated by Mr. Cliff Ayozie, the Business Editor, Nigerian Television Authority.

Bakrin’s presentation underscored the need for Entrepreneurs to de-risk their business proposals and the opportunities they are presenting to investors. He concluded by saying, SMEs should make themselves more investable by lowering risk and showing that the business requiring investment have the ability to scale.

For Mr. Ade Adeyemi, entrepreneurs must have a very laudable ideas worth investing in. According to him, “people bank ideas, not collateral. Entrepreneurs need to develop more on their ideas and figure out their competitive advantage.”

Adeyemi recommended credit guaranteed scheme for medium and small scale enterprises.

Outcomes

Some of the recommendations of NES23 were that government should stop participating directly as provider of capital but rather give credit guarantees through development finance institutions such as DBN, and provide capital through the financial institutions, especially for Medium Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs).

The MSMEs also must organise together as cooperatives in applying for credits to strengthen their ability to secure capital from financial institutions.

Another recommendation was that government should conduct the Marginal Filed Bid Round with transparency, thorough diligence on bidders (technical and commercial) and allocate some assets to the host communities.

The summit believes that the ability to develop the field over an acceptable period of time should be key to evaluation and award.

The issue of promoting willing buyer and willing seller agreements for gas without government interventions on gas prices and provide long-term incentives to develop gas for domestic usage, was also highlighted

Again, NES23 recommended that there was the need to accelerate investment in gas and renewable energy by providing fiscal incentives (10 years or more tax holiday).

Also recommended was the need to remove all regulations that are stifling the development of off-grid electricity solutions

to encourage the use of renewable energy with a view to increasing access to electricity and reduce poverty.

The need for the private sector to increase funding and mentorship for MSMEs to be able to scale up, and improve productivity and create jobs came to the fore.

The Ministry of Budget and National Planning was asked to ensure the take-off of sector-focused Malaysia-styled labs.

There was equally a recommendation on the need to accelerate the progress being made by Presidential Enabling Business Council (PEBEC) by benchmarking speed as a measure for ease of doing business, supported by effective compliance monitoring.

The digitalisation of government processes in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) was also recommended, while government should provide tangible incentives to investors such as tax credits, and implement the “Margins of Preference”.

Equally recommended was the use of an Executive Order to enable NCP/BPE to assume sole responsibility for PPP project development and transaction execution on concessions while ICRC focuses on regulation and monitoring.

With the situation at the seaports in Lagos, the summit called for the Intensification of the implementation of the Executive Order on 24-hour Port Operations to increase speed of ports’ operation as well as a declaration of a state of emergency on intermodal transportation to ports.

While calling for the establishment of a research data bank for indigenous patents and products, the summit also recommended the harmonisation of the 14 critical bills that had already been passed and transmission thereof to the president for assent.