Vanguard Newspaper 14 April 2018
14 — SATURDAY Vanguard, APRIL 14, 2018 Continues from page 5 Muda Yusuf, Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industries, LCCI WE are an oil critical country. Without oil, there is still not much we can do. However, we need to worry about the non-oil sector of the economy. The population may be very huge, but we need to worry more about investment in human capital, because if you look at the biggest economies of the world today, most of them have big population. Look at the United States of America, China, Brazil, and in Africa, Ethiopia and all of that. We need to worry about the quality of the population, which has to do with investment in human capital. That, we need to underscore. On taxation, I do not agree with the speaker that we are not paying taxes. We need to redefine it to know who is paying and who is not paying. We need to look at it from the context of the structure of the economy. This economy is a dual economy. When I say dual, it is principally the formal sector of the economy and informal sector of the economy. The formal sector of the economy is over taxed. When you talk of taxation, it is not just about the conventional tax, company tax, etc. Businesses pay a lot of levies Muda Yusuf and fees annually. These things put a lot of burden on businesses. We have a situation where we have almost 50 percent of the informal sector who are not captured in the taxation policy or in the tax length. We have a few informal sector percentage providing tax revenue to support the economy. The issue therefore is about broadening the tax length and making sure Who said what! that we get the other segment of the economy to also be on board. Then we also need to worry about our institutions. Institutions are very critical for the quality of policies that are formulated. They are very critical for the quality of policies that are being implemented. When these things are interfaced with the public sector, it can be enlightening. Opeyemi Agbaje, CEO, RTC Advisory Services SPEAKING on the population control as earlier cited, I believe population control will not happen because we are in Nigeria, and also because it is built as an instrument of political control, and an instrument of large illiterate, unemployed idle army, that can be used to terrorize Nigerians. Basically, there are three principal structures needed to move the country’s economy forward. The number one imperative is hinged on political and constitutional reforms. Without these reforms, we would continue to spend 70 percent of our resources on recurrent expenditure; have dysfunctional state governments who have responsibilities but no powers as well as the Federal Government Opeyemi Agbaje wasting a large part of its resources on secondary schools and universities’ development. The second imperative is on social policy to improve education, skills, healthcare and to generate employment for Nigerians, in fact to turn our population into an asset rather than the liability that it threatens to be. Right now, it is structured in a way that you become the governor or legislator and then collects the revenue and resources of the state. That system will not provide the needed development for the country. The final imperative and I think that has been the core of our discourse today, is economic policy to restore private capital as the basis of our economic development to promote economic competitiveness especially for exports, so we can change the structure of our external sector to increase government revenue. If we don’t change the structure of our taxation system in Nigeria, and turn this country into a country whose revenues are generated through the strides of its citizens, we are not going to get things right.” Tony Okpanachi, Managing Director, Development Bank of Nigeria I think the prescrip tion to population control is just being simplistic because we are already in there. No matter the way you look at it the population is still going to grow. We are already in it, what are we going to do or where do we go from here? That is the perspective I am going to look at it. So if you look at the demography and the composition of the population, you will discover that most of them are youths. So, if you want to talk about increase in government revenues, increasing taxes to be able to fund some of the projects, you also have to make them productive in such a way that they are able to contribute in their own way, to be able to pay their taxes. That is why I think we should be able to look at which areas of the economy will be able to create employment more and where the Micro and Small scale enterprises come to bear. If you look at it, almost over 60 percent of the employment was created by that sector. So an institution like the Development Bank of Nigeria, DBN, which is set up to focus strictly on that segment of the economy is a decision in the right director. Ms Patience Oniha, Director General, Debt Management Office SINCE December last year, in terms of releasing capital into the economy, we had redeemed about N400 billion of government securities and those monies are in the system. What should bother us is, with more money available in the system, with interest rates on government securities down from 18 percent to 14 percent at most, what is constraining lending to the private sector? Is it that the banks are not willing to take the risk? We have released money and the interest rates have come down, then what is it that is constraining the flow of capital at lower rates? Rates have dropped and to the real sector that is where production will come from and I can assure you that is one of our objectives. Ms Patience Oniha On government securities being tax free, we actually pushed for bonds issued by corporates to be tax exempt and they are actually tax exempt. So the issue is, why is all of that money, despite the benefits of government reducing its borrowing in Tony Okpanachi the domestic market, not getting to the real sector to create jobs and stimulate growth? Bode Agusto talked about the role of inflation in economic growth with the point that in some countries low inflation led to growth with reference to Singapore. I think that with the economic theory and the examples we have seen, sometimes you need inflation to fuel growth and that has worked in some countries like China and some other countries. So, sometimes inflation can be a good thing. In terms of bringing interest rates very low, considering the short term, to attract investors you need to have a rate that compensates for inflation. I think that is a bit of a journey. I say that broadly in terms of some of the macro issues. Issa Aremu, General Secretary, NUTGTWN I am excited with the pre sentation of Olabode Agusto on a number of issues, and I am happy he demystified the notion that Nigeria is not an oil rich country, that is very important. However, I was checking some figures here. Saudi Arabia has 32million people, also an oil rich country with external reserve of $450billion. Libya with a population of 6.2million, has an external reserve of $70billion. We know oil rich countries like Kuwait, Oman,UAE. Check their numbers on their reserve, they are in the three digits. So we cannot be compared to them, but the problem with Agusto’s presentation is that when Agusto keeps referring to we, that we also includes us . Muda Yusuf said much that we are not paying tax. I said you should speak for yourself. Nigerian workers pay taxes at source, it is automatic, we pay as you earn, PAYE. We have first class, second class and there are low class and secondly when you say we are all not rich the numbers do not add up. For those who can pay $2million for three bedroom apartments in Banana Island and they can also pay in Euro about £80,000 for maintenance, for them Nigeria is oil rich, this is also factual, there is nothing personal. In 2010 when General Theophilus Danjuma disclosed and I want to quote him here: “That I retired from service at age 41, because I got to the top early. I started shipping business and became reasonably rich. Twelve (12) years ago I was allocated an oil block by the late Head of state, General Sanni Abacha, near Sao Tome and Nigeria. We discovered Issa Aremu a lot of oil and because of the prevailing oil price, we made over $1billion. I paid my taxes and ended up with $500million. I have the problem of what to do with this Money.” Now, to the general, Nigeria is oil rich , oil block was allocated to him, so you need to be clear about that. More stories on Sunday and Monday
SATURDAY Vanguard, APRIL 14, 2018—15 OVIE AGAS: Firing the Engine of Governance BY JULIUS OWEH The chief aim of government remains the security and welfare of the citizens and this fact is brought home in a representative government where those in power draw their mandate from the electorate. Governance is about policy formulation and implementation and one key critical office is the office of the secretary to the government, be it at the federal or state level. Within the week, in line with the Okowa administration trademark of rendering stewardship to the people, a ministerial press briefing began on Monday, with the secretary to the state government, Honourable Festus Ovie Agas flagging off the event. Agas is a trained journalist from the prestigious University of Lagos, and a lawyer to boot. He was once a legislator in the State House of Assembly and a polished politician. During the thicket of the governorship primaries of the PDP in the state, he stood behind Senator Ifeanyi Okowa and this uncommon loyalty was rewarded with the post of secretary to the state government. The ministerial press briefing is packaged by the Ministry of Information under the captainship of Honourable Patrick Ukah, the Information Commissioner. Agas told the press that the fundamental policy thrust of the Delta State government was anchored on the legacy of wealth creation and Prosperity for all Deltans and is captured in the 5 points always known as SMART AGENDA. He said that his office was more of coordinating the administration and implementation of government policies and programmes. The secretary to the state government explains the philosophical underpin of the office :‘Customarily, the office of the secretary to the state government plays the vital role of assisting, guiding and supervising the activities of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), as well as ensuring that policies and programmes of government are effectively implemented for the overall benefit of Deltans. In playing the role as the engine room of the state government, my office has ensured that the vision of the administration of His Excellency, Senator Dr Ifeanyi Okowa as well as policies and programmes are not only clearly understood, but are also implemented as intended‘. Agas rolled out the achievements of the government in peace building and security, wealth and job creation, technical and vocational education, Delta State contributory health scheme, regular and prompt payment of salaries, pensions, biometric verification of staff, widows‘ support scheme, provision of soft loans for market women, CBN anchor borrowers programme, infrastructure development, upgrade of Asaba airport, Town Hall meetings/grassroots and outreach programme. A reading through the listed achievements of the Okowa administration is like a summary of the activities of all government ministries and departments, bringing to the fore that indeed and in truth, the office of the secretary to the state government is firing the engine of government activities and development. On peace building and security, Agas said that various efforts were initiated by the government to achieve peace bearing in mind the time honoured saying that without peace, there cannot be any meaningful development. He mentioned the 41-member peace building and advisory council that has been modified to include settlement of disputes among communities. He speaks further on the council: ‘The work of the council has greatly strengthened the peace building activities of government. Moreover, with respect of the widening conflict between herdsmen and farmers, His Excellency has constituted a security interventionist committee headed by the local government council chairmen, and which also includes traditional rulers, security agencies, presidents-general and other relevant stakeholders to engage the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeder Association and ensure that the attacks were prevented‘. In the areas of wealth and job creation which is part of the ‘prosperity for all Deltans‘ catchphrase, Agas disclosed that many young Deltans‘ lives have been affected and these people were contributing to the growth and development of the state. This is how the secretary to the government explains the impact of the programme: ‘ Despite the lean purse of the administration, it has redoubled efforts in engaging Deltans especially the youths in meaningful ventures through various skill acquisition programmes such as Youth Agricultural Entrepreneur Programme and Skills Training and Agricultural Programme. Through these schemes, over two thousand and five hundred hitherto unemployed youths have been transformed into owners of businesses and even, employers of labour. The state government established a department of monitoring and mentoring under the Governor‘s office to properly monitor the implementation of these programmes and mentor the beneficiaries. The •Agas In the areas of wealth and job creation which is part of the ‘prosperity for all Deltans‘ catchphrase, Agas disclosed that many young Deltans‘ lives have been affected and these people were contributing to the growth and development of the state success of the schemes have attracted commendations and support of many national and international institutions, including the World Bank which became a co-sponsor for the third cycle of the programme‘. According to Agas, his principal is a medical doctor and that informed the floating of the state contributory health scheme for workers. The purpose of this scheme is to improve the availability and access to quality healthcare services for all Deltans. He explains more of the benefit of the scheme: ‘This scheme is central to the administration`s vision of universal health coverage in the state. While most public officers have enrolled into the scheme, the informal and private sectors are being mobilized to enrol. Annual premium is about seven thousand Naira only which may be paid installmentally. The state government is bearing the premium of pregnant women, children under 5 years and widows. Before the year runs out, physically and mentally challenged persons as well as the elderly above 65 years of age will be enrolled on a freepremium basis. Moreover, the 62 general hospitals, 107 primary health care centres, 10 private hospitals and the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, have been accredited for the programme with due care taken to ensure fair distribution of the facilities across the state.` The issue of pensions for senior citizens who spent their salad years in the service of the state was also touched by the secretary to the state government. He said that workers who retired under the old pension scheme are being paid up to date. He concurred that there were challenges in the payment of pensions for those who retired under the contributory pension scheme. Agas, however, disclosed that the state government has been releasing N300 million monthly towards defraying the commitments to them while the re-computation of the actuarial value of their past services were done in line with the current salary scale. He opened on the challenges of paying pensions regularly :‘I will also like to observe that government has been regular in releasing its 10 per cent counterpart contribution towards the claims of serving workers which amounts to approximately N322 million monthly while also ensuring the release of the workers 7 1/ 2% contribution into their retirement savings accounts. To my knowledge, Delta and Lagos States are the only two states in the country to have achieved this level of commitment. In all states, the payment of the accrued claims from the old pension scheme into the new scheme has been a challenge because of the huge outlay of funds required......I therefore appeal to the retirees involved with this claim to bear with us as we work towards resolving the actuarial valuation shortly and thereafter, find a way forward towards defraying it. ‘ Another important aspect of the press briefing by Agas was government passion to help the plight of widows in the state. He maintained that this very important programme was dear to the heart of the governor and as part of prosperity for Deltans‘ project. He explained what the government has done to put smiles on the faces of the widows :‘By this programme, the state government has created a pool of twenty (20) per ward, evenly spread out throughout the two hundred and seventy (270) wards in the state bringing the total beneficiaries to five thousand and four hundred (5,400). Each of the beneficiaries receives a payout of five thousand Naira (N5,000) monthly to ameliorate their dire conditions‘. After listening to the press address of the secretary to the state government, one begins to think aloud what the commissioners would say in their own stewardship. The press briefing aptly captured ‘the activities and achievements of Delta State government‘ was indeed a summary of Okowa administration achievements in three years. Maybe the commissioners would give detail implementation of government programmes and policies. As it is customary press conference, reporters were given opportunities to take the SSG to task and as a professional journalist and a lawyer; the questions were answered to the satisfaction of journalists. A reporter asked the SSG about the new secretariat building and that Agas was one of the contractors, and the rumour mill was agog about impending visit of EFCC to him. He defended himself: ‘ I am not a part of the new secretariat building. I do not have the privilege of such petitions. I do not place premium on gossip. I am yet to get any invitation from EFCC. This government is anchored on openness, transparency and accountability. Ours is an open book and you can read it. Please do not cry for me about any EFCC arrest. We follow due process. ‘ Agas also clarified the position of the government about the closure of the Asaba airport for five weeks beginning from April 9th, 2018, saying that after the work, the Airport shall become Asaba International Airport. That the airport was undergoing a major upgrade especially, the resurfacing of its runway and the provision of some technical facilities such as the Voice Communication System(VCS), the Automatic Weather Observation System(AWOS) and Low Level Windshear Alert System (LLWAS). On a lighter note, a reporter commended the State Information Commissioner for the new look of the conference hall of the Ministry and hoped that such dividends of democracy shall also impact on reporters. Both the Commissioner and the SGG quaked with laughter. At the end of the briefing, many reporters agreed that the SGG did justice to the matter at hand.