Making The Lagos ETF Law Work
The recent signing of the Employment Trust Fund Bill into law by the Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, is not only commendable and a step in the right direction, it should also serve as a recipe for other states in Nigeria, especially at this time of fiscal doldrums, rising unemployment and youth restiveness across the country.
The N25 billion Employment Trust Fund Law, according to the governor, is designed to address the high rate of unemployment in the state through granting of soft loans to individual residents for the purpose of making them self-employed, which will in turn create wealth. These loan facilities, according to the government, range from one hundred thousand naira to one million naira or as may be applicable in each case.
The beauty of this law is that only one percent interest would be charged on the loan. Equally gratifying is the fact that this initiative would be funded by the state government through an annual budget of N6.25bn which shall be injected into the Fund each for the next four years. To walk his talk, the governor has also appointed a 10-man Board of Trustees to manage the Fund.
There is no gainsaying the fact that a mega city like Lagos State, with over 20 million in human population, deserves a program such as this, however, genuine steps need to be taken to ensure that this noble idea does not go the way of past similar policies. Transparency and meritocracy should be deployed by the Board in administering the Fund. For instance, it must ensure that such sentiment as religion, tribe, gender or partisan politics do not play major roles serve as in determining eligible beneficiaries.
Mechanisms must also be put in place to ensure that those who receive the loans deploy same for the purpose they obtained them for. To this effect, it is recommended here that effective bio-data capturing of the beneficiaries should be ensured, while a team be set up by the Board to monitor how the loans are being utilized and the result therein. A technical team to be saddled with the responsibility of scrutinizing the proposals by the applicants and offering technical advice and/or assistance should equally be put in place.
Similarly, efforts must be made by the Board of Trustees, in conjunction with the state government, to ensure proper and effective public awareness campaigns about the conditions and requirements for the loan facilities. This will help eliminate the issue of corruption that usually bogged down an innovation like this. The board should also, on annual basis, set a goal for itself with respect to the number of beneficiaries for the loan each year, and this should be followed up by quarterly reviews to ensure that these targets are realised. For example, given the nature of fund at its disposal, nothing below 30,000 direct employments should be targeted each year by the board.
Effective management of the Fund also entails that the state House of Assembly has a crucial role to play beyond the passage of the bill into law. To this end, its committee on labour and wealth creation (or a special committee for this purpose) must ensure an effective oversight function on the proper utilization and disbursement of the fund.
Experience has shown that the frequent “disappearance” of funds allocated for government project such as this in recent times is largely the failure of the parliamentarians to discharge their oversight legislative function. Official bureaucracy that clogs the easy access to government scheme like this must be avoided or at best minimized. The procedures in accessing the fund should be made a bit flexible just so the essence and objectives of the Fund are not defeated.
In conclusion, the state government and the Board of Trustees should partner with local labour unions, community leaders and traditional rulers in identifying the real and genuine beneficiaries for this fund. Every effort must be made to prevent politicians and other unscrupulous elements from hijacking this initiative. Thankfully, the composition of members of the Board of Trustees is a strong signal that the government is determined this time to avoid the errors of the past where partisanship had always clogged the progress of related policy. But more fundamentally, it is the collective efforts of critical stakeholders, including the media, that would ensure the successful implementation of this programme.
Okoro Gabriel, Esq., Lagos