By Obinna Chima
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, yesterday stated that ongoing efforts by the federal government to institute reforms in the economy have continued to be resisted by those she described as â€œvested interests within and outside the system.â€
Adeosun said this in an article she wrote titled: â€œPositioning Nigeria for a prosperous future,â€ made available to THISDAY at the weekend.
But the minister maintained that the government would not be deterred, insisting that the reforms would continue.
She said: â€œBut we are not fazed. The work of reform goes on. It is, to borrow from the Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, morning yet on Creation Day. Not very long from now, Nigerians and the world will look back on this recession we have just emerged from, and realise that it was the turning point in Nigeria’s journey to true growth and greatness.
â€œLet me point out that the most important elements of any reform effort tend to be the least flamboyant. We are confident that in the months and years ahead, Nigerians and the world will see the full impact of the foundational resetting that the Buhari administration has been focused on since 2015.â€
She pointed out that since mid-2014, when the price of crude oil fell dramatically, the countryâ€™s finances became challenged.
According to her, the country historically depended on crude oil for as much as 70 per cent of governmentâ€™s revenues, and 90 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.
Adeosun explained: â€œThe outcome, pressure on governmentâ€™s finances, was by no means unusual. A similar fate befell most oil-rich countries around the world.
â€œWhere Nigeria possibly stood out was in the fact that during the preceding three years when oil prices were in excess of 100 dollars per barrel, the government did little in terms of saving and investing for the future.
â€œOur Sovereign Wealth Fund, which was established in October 2012 with just US$1 billion, did not receive any further inflow during the oil price boom. Instead, billions of dollars were squandered through corrupt oil and defence contracts. It is a terrible thing for a country to fall on hard times without a savings buffer.
â€œThere was nothing unexpected about our downturn. It was the inevitable result of the choices we made or didnâ€™t make during the years of boom.â€
But Adeosun stated that what was remarkable, yet not as talked about, was the way the Buhari administration worked so hard to exit the recession, reset the economy and reposition it for a brighter future for the present and future generations of Nigerians.
In her opinion, the Buhari administration had been laying the foundation for an economic growth that would make a real impact in the lives of citizens.
She added: â€œThe downturn has inspired unprecedented levels of fiscal responsibility, in line with President Buhariâ€™s determination to fight Nigeriaâ€™s endemic corruption.
Â â€œShortly after taking office, he issued a Presidential order mandating the immediate implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) system, consolidating thousands of government accounts scattered across deposit money banks into a unified system that is transparent and easy to centrally monitor and track.
â€œUnder the old system, it was common for government accounts to be converted into personal use, but under the TSA this is impossible. Also, the proliferation of accounts encouraged rent-seeking rather than questionable practices.Â
â€œBudgetary reform has also taken a lot of our time and attention. We are pioneering the use of software to prepare our annual budgets, which allows greater transparency and the ability to track changes.â€
The minister added: â€œWe have insisted on using biometric verification in the deployment of our Social Investment Programme, which includes a job scheme for unemployed graduates, a School Feeding Scheme for Primary School Pupils, a Conditional Cash Transfer scheme targeting a million of our poorest citizens, and a Micro-Credit scheme for artisans, farmers, and traders. In the past, the Social Investment payments would have been done as cash handouts.
â€œA similar insistence on biometric verification for the federal payroll has resulted in the detection of tens of thousands of bogus beneficiaries â€“ or â€˜ghost workersâ€™, as we often refer to them, in Nigeria â€“ and savings running into billions of naira every month.
Â â€œWe are pursuing unprecedented cooperation with foreign governments and powers, as part of our transparency and the anti-corruption drive. For the simple reason that a disproportionate amount of public funds looted in Nigeria end up in the United Arab Emiratesâ€™, Nigeria has signed bilateral agreements with the UAE Government on extradition, exchange of information, and repatriation of stolen public funds.
â€œOne strong demonstration of our political will has been a Whistleblowing Scheme we launched months ago that empowers citizens to report public corruption. The impact in terms of recoveries has exceeded our expectations. The tighter rein on public finances allowed us to invest US$500m in our Sovereign Wealth Fund, during a recession.
Â â€œA lot of the work we have done over the last two and half years has been focused on dismantling the old ways of doing things, rebuilding them, and empowering and fortifying our institutions with technology to block loopholes, discourage abuse, and prevent a relapse into the destructive ways of the past.â€
According to her, the new Nigeria which the citizens desire would not happen without the kind of foundational reform being laid by the present government, that imposes on its citizens new ways of thinking and of doing things.
â€œThe early results are already being seen. A concerted focus on agriculture has seen our rice imports from Thailand dropping by 90 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and replaced by locally grown variants.
Â â€œAs oil has let us down, we have started to do what we should have done decades ago, invest in agriculture and mining. Throughout the recession, agriculture recorded healthy growth. As we emerge from the recession, its impact is certain to multiply and position Nigeria for a prosperous future,â€ she said.