Saturday, April 15, 2017

If Buhari’s ERGP will not be a paper tiger

On April 5, 2017, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari took a bold step towards revamping the comatose economy by launching the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan. The ERGP is the blueprint that enunciates the details of how this government intends to get the country out of recession and put it on the path of prosperity.
At a brief ceremony held inside the Aso Presidential Villa, the president, in the presence of key government functionaries, said the ERGP focuses on agriculture with a view to ensuring adequate food security as well as energy, industrialisation and social investment. He said the ERGP is an ambitious plan that seeks to achieve a seven per cent economic growth by the year 2020. Buhari opined that the roadmap is not just aimed at getting the country out of recession, but to put it on the path of strength and growth, away from being an import dependent nation. He stated further that the ERGP clearly sets out what his government is committed to doing by creating an environment for businesses to thrive. He called on state governors to draw inspiration from the plan and articulate their own plans that will lead them to real growth.
Commenting earlier, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, said the plan has put together in “one place, for easy access, all the sectoral plans that the government has been working on, from inception, including the strategic implementation plan for the 2016 budget.” He claimed that many of the initiatives in the plan are contained in the 2017 budget proposal which was submitted to the national assembly last December. According to the minister, “The broad objectives of the ERGP are to restore growth, invest in our people and build a globally competitive economy”. Udoma also stated that the president has already approved the establishment of a unit in the presidency that will monitor the implementation of the plan.
I have had the rare privilege of analysing this document before and after its launch. I have discussed it in the Sunday Guardian of March 19, 2017 as well on Radio Nigeria and Love 104.5 FM Abuja. My personal view about the ERGP is that it is a laudable initiative. As I observed in my earlier comment on the document, the roadmap looks good, with all the niceties, sound-bites and desirable action plans. However, experience from the past has shown that we are long on rhetoric, but always short on delivery of all our noble plans.
I could recollect that we have had several developmental plans in the 1960s and ‘70s and in the ‘90s we had Vision 2010. Under President Olusegun Obasanjo we had National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy. Thereafter, we had Vision 20:2020 aimed at making Nigeria one of the 20 strongest economies by Year 2020.  Under President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s we had the Transformation Agenda. How have they all fared? Woefully! I do hope this ERGP will not follow suit of failed promises and unrealised ambitions.
In truth, I am excited about the promised diversification of the economy, ease of doing business, increase oil production, reduction of inflation, effective collaboration between the public and private sector, as well as between the federal and the state governments, the leverage on science, technology and innovation and building of a knowledge-based economy. It is also heartwarming that the economic blueprint is consistent with the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals given that the initiatives address its three dimensions of economic, social and environmental sustainability issues. It is also laudable that the document is a product of wide consultations.
One of my worries however is that ERGP came late. As I observed in my Guardian newspaper interview earlier cited, “Launching this, two years into this administration, with 2020 deadline is a big minus. This administration will face election in 2019. Should it lose reelection bid, the ERGP may be in jeopardy, more so that there is no law backing it up. Even if there is, there is nothing that stops a new administration from repealing such law and coming up with a fresh plan.”
Another major concern I have about the ERGP is that while the plan aimed at a partnership with the state, it left out the 774 Local Government Areas. This is a significant composite unit of the country that is being neglected. This seems like a costly omission. Furthermore, the global ascendancy of protectionism may impact negatively on many of the projections as several countries of the world and political groups like European Union embark on economic protectionism, which will necessitate review of trade agreements and economic partnerships. Widespread restiveness, terrorism and pervasive insecurity will pose a major threat to the realisation of the many beautiful recommendations in the ERGP.
If this Buhari’s economic blueprint will not be mere paper tiger, the nuts and bolts of its implementation has to be tightened. Vertical and horizontal synergies have to be built among the three arms of government as well as the three tiers of government. The private sector will need to be incentivised through an improved investment climate devoid of undue bureaucratic bottlenecks. The Small and Medium Enterprises as we know is the engine of growth in every society. To stimulate this economic cluster, cost of doing business needs to be scaled down through provisioning of adequate social infrastructure such as electricity, potable water, as well as good road and rail networks. Access to single digit interest rate loan facilities and a robust import substitution policy are needful.  It is also imperative to normalise our budgeting process. Our financial year should be January to December and not the warped system we currently run. Government will also need to eschew wasteful spending and combat corruption in truth and indeed.

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