Okonjo-Iweala in 100-Page Reply to House on Economy

By The Rainbow

The Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has finally responded to the 5o questions posed to her by the Finance Committee of the House of Representatives on the state of the economy.

In a 100-page response, the minister said that contrary to the opinion of critics the economy has shown remarkable and measurable progress under President Goodluck Jonathan.

'This can be seen in the fact that more jobs are being created; roads, rail and other infrastructure are being improved; the country is saving for the future and planning better for the present,' she said.

According to a statement by her Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, the minister  backed up her response with documents.

The minister said the document provides, in extensive detail, including tables and graphs, answers to the committee's well-publicised questions.

.She said,  'The Jonathan administration, contrary to the impression given by some critics, is making an impact in the areas that, according to credible opinion polls, Nigerians are most passionate about.

'For instance, on job creation which is a central focus of the administration, a total of 1.6 million jobs were created last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of which 250,000 were seasonal jobs created in dry season farming in 10 northern states.

'In manufacturing, the Onne Oil and Gas Free zone created an estimated 30,000 direct and indirect jobs. The government special intervention programme YouWin supported young entrepreneurs, creating over 18,000 jobs. The SURE-P Community Services programme has also created 120,000 job opportunities.'

Okonjo-Iweala added that  federal highways have witnessed vast uplift, which she said had been confirmed by many Nigerians who travelled during the Christmas and New Year holidays.

'Key highways which have witnessed significant progress include Kano-Maiduguri Road, the Abuja-Lokoja Road, the Apapa-Oshodi Road, the Onitsha-Enugu-Port-Harcourt Road and the Benin-Ore-Shagamu Road. Preliminary work has commenced on Lagos-Ibadan road and the Second Niger Bridge.

'The Railway Modernization Programme involving the construction of standard gauge lines is underway. The 1,124 km Western line linking Lagos and Kano is now functional, while work on the Eastern line linking Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is about 36 per cent complete.

'The Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge line has attained 68 per cent completion, and the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Line which is presently 77 per cent completed, will be completed next year.

'The annual passenger traffic on our railways has increased steadily, rising from 1 million in 2011 to 5 million in 2013,' the minister's spokesman said.

Okonjo-Iweala also addressed the issue of debt, which was one of the charges  made by the Chairman of the Finance Committee, Hon. Abdulmumin Jubrin, in the media.

The minister dismissed the allegation that the country is racking up debts under her watch, saying there was no substance to it.

According to the statement,  'In fact, the opposite is true. Right from her Senate confirmation hearing in 2011, the minister had identified rising debt as a major challenge, which the country needs to confront.

'Under the leadership of President Jonathan and working with the Debt Management Office and the Budget Office of the Federation, the minister followed through with a robust approach which includes progressive reduction of borrowing, quick settlement of due debts and the retirement of N75 billion of maturing bonds via a Sinking Fund dedicated to paying off substantial bonds. 'These measures have produced clear results as shown in the reduction of borrowing from N852 billion in 2011 to N571.9 billion this year.'

Nwabuikwu further pointed out that the minister drew the attention of the committee to the fact that many of the 50 questions had been adequately answered at various fora, including meetings and open hearings organised by the House committee.

'The minister's detailed response in spite of this, is a reflection of her well known high regard for the National Assembly as an institution,' he added.

Also, in her preamble to the 100-page response to the committee, the minister informed the committee that most of the responses to the 50 questions were already in the public domain and had been extensively debated by the government, journalists, civil society organization and the private sector.

She said: 'We would have thought that honorable members of this committee, which focuses on our nation's finances, would have been adequately informed on these topics.'

In an obvious punch to the committee, the minister told the  committee that a lot of the questions were repetitive in several instances, and in some cases, were directly contradictory.

In her words, , 'It is therefore unclear if the House committee has a coherent policy agenda for our nation's development, or whether these questions are simply meant to stir confusion and detract us from the Transformation Agenda of the current administration.'

She also slammed the committee for personalizing their questions, instead sticking to the broad focus of the economy. 'This is disappointing and trivialises important discussions needed for Nigeria's development. In our responses, we choose to do otherwise. We focus instead on policy issues and provide empirical data to support our discussions where necessary,' she said.

She further said,  'We believe such protracted exchanges are a distraction to the executive and ultimately a disservice to Nigerians. 'We would recommend more measured and civil exchanges in the future, which are informative for Nigerians and also enable the executive to focus on its goal of implementing programmes and projects across our nation.'

In spite of these concerns, Okonjo-Iweala concluded the preamble by stating that she was pleased to provide the responses to the various questions and hoped that they will be informative for the committee members and for all Nigerians.

Last December, the finance committee had presented the 50 questions to the minister and asked her to respond to them.

Her excuse that she was not well-disposed health-wise to deal with the question immediately led to some exchange of words.

The committee later asked her to take it home and return with the answer within two weeks.

Ever since then, the House and the committee had made it clear that they would not consider the 2014 Appropriation Bill until the minister responds to the questions.