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THROUGH THE YEARS WITH NES

By NBF News
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•Nweke
The first edition of the Nigerian Economic Summit was held in 1993. It held in February of that year and was convened by then Head of the Interim government, Chief Ernest Shonekan. As Head of Government, Shonekan muted the idea of an economic summit as a platform for private sector advocacy and intervention in governance.

It was his belief that one of the essentials to resolving Nigeria's economic problems was the creation of a forum which would enable key players in the private sector to dialogue with top government officials. His idea, which was put into place in anticipation of a successful transition to democratic governance, was facilitated by a core group from the public and private sectors.

Since 1999, the Summit has held every year till date. It has consistently advocated changes in government and has helped government develop policies that had been implemented to drive the economy.

For instance, On Deregulation/Sector reform, the Summit was unequivocal in its focus on deregulation of the economy so as to rescue it from suffocation and free private resources itching to flow into potential areas of profitable investment in the economy. Summit advocacy led to positive responses in the following sector, among other:

Aviation sector which has seen the growth of private airlines in the country. But for private investment, the Aviation sector would have completely collapsed.

Financial sector has been largely opened up including the rendition of the role of the CBN in retail banking.

Communication sector which has seen an explosion in courier services and telecommunications.

Power sector reforms which now permit investment by independent power producers and the unbundling of NEPA.

Oil and Gas sector reforms which are still ongoing although there is still a long way to go.

Agriculture sector reforms which has led to a reduction in fertilizer subsidies, government withdrawal from direct production and elimination of commodity marketing boards.

Education sector deregulation that has seen the growth of private tertiary institutions, secondary and first grade primary schools.

Another area of intervention by the Summit which has yielded positive fruits is on the issue of long term vision for the country. This gave birth to the Vision 2020 and Mass Participation. The Summit was able to successfully market the need for a long-term vision for the country. In doing this, the Summit took cue from the Malaysian experience where long term vision and planning has proven a success. The acceptance of the idea led to the establishment of the Vision 2020 committee which spent nine months producing its proposals. The committee had representations from a cross section of Nigerians as well as other stakeholders and although subsequent changes in administration affected implementation of the Vision, its recommendations still have much to offer.

Investing in Infrastructure has also been one other area of serious concern to the summit. For this, the Summit had advocated economic liberalization and increased competition that paved the way for the explosion of the telecommunications industry. The advent of the global system for mobile telecommunication greatly increased the country's teledensity and is still flowing. It also created employment, attracted substantial inflow of investment and revolutionized the telecommunications industry. It is an achievement, and an evidence of the good ends of deregulation, that can be replicated in other sectors.

One other issue that had bogged investors in the country has been the Cost of Doing Business in Nigeria. This was, also for the Summit, an issue of serious concern. High business costs had hampered export development and the expansion of businesses while also constraining the growth of employment. The Summit, however, has consistently advocated change and also made several recommendations aimed at reducing the cost of doing business in the country. Some of the recommendations include:

Improvement in infrastructure such as electricity supply, roads, port facilities, water supply etc.

Reduction in corporate tax.
25% five year rebate on import duty.
Reduction in capital gains tax
Repeal/amendment of anti-corruption laws
Abolition of excise duty
Abolition of export inspection fees etc.
The Summit had also in the series, taken a critical look at Nigeria's Investment Climate and made recommendations that would encourage investors and position the country as a destination for investment. Some of such recommendations include:

Repeal of the Nigerian Enterprises promotion Decree (the indigenization law) which restricted foreign investments in Nigeria.

The enactment of the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Act, 1995 which removed the restriction on foreign investment and provided general framework for facilitating and promoting investment in Nigeria; the repeal of the Exchange Control Act, 1962 and its replacement with the foreign Exchange Act, 1995 which liberalized foreign exchange controls in Nigeria.

Attraction of private investment by embarking on a comprehensive and credible Privatisation programme.

Pursuit of consistent policies and macro-economic stability and Repeal of anti-investment laws, among many others in this area of concern.

The Summit noted that one area of major concern to most Nigerians, including foreign agents, is the public sector, which was observed as being in need of urgent reforms. To this end, Public Sector Reforms occupied the thought of NES making it bring the issue to the front burner for national discourse. As An effect, the Summit advocated reforms of the public sector so as to position it for effective service delivery as a key necessity for private sector led growth and the creation of a market driven economy.

The Summit advocated and recommended the reduction and, or, elimination of corruption and the enthronement of good governance and transparency; redefinition of the role of government in a market economy, right-sizing of government bureaucracy and the monetization of fringe benefits of public servants. More specifically, the Summit advocated:

Combating Corruption, by prosecuting acts of corruption, payment of competitive wages, upgrading of retirement benefits and adoption of transparent procedures for public procurement. This gave birth to the bureau of public Procurements (BPP).

Break the NICON/Nigeria-Re monopoly
Establish openness in governance
Embark on a credible privatization programmeb Eliminate ad-hoc agencies

Pursue policy consistency
Reduce inflation to single digit
Resolve the issue of oil producing communities
Re-establish the rule of law
Allocate resources to most productive ventures
Ensure hitch-free voters registration/elections
The question of Privatisation/Deregulation programme of government had been addressed at the Summit in the past. This became necessary to reduce waste of public funds on non-performing assets, increase public revenue, improve technology and the management of several public sector enterprises. The NES focused its recommendations in this regard on processes that will speed up the privatization process and the achievements of desired goals. Persistently, the Summit called on government to demonstrate commitment to achievement of the programme.

In 1995 for instance, the Summit recommended that the implementation of the privatization programme should be both consistent and continuous. NES also insisted on a national commitment to the privatization process. It also advocated a review of existing laws and regulations to facilitate foreign participation in the privatization exercise and advice that commercialisation should only be applied to the extent of preparing an enterprise for ultimate privatization.

Further to this, the Summit called for a review of the policy on contract leasing, recommending instead that it should be applied only to carefully selected enterprises where no other mode of privatisation is appropriate. Consistent with its advocacy, the NES in 1995 further asked government to strengthen the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) and in 1996 urged government to issue an unambiguous policy statement on the privatisation exercise asking that the BPE should remain the sole agency for facilitating the transfer of ownership of all Public enterprises to private hands.

The Summit moved ahead to request of government to introduce the policy of Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) as a strategy for the privatization of roads and railways and also Repair-Operate-Transfer (ROT) for the power sector. It was observed that in the privatisation process, both recommendations were adopted.

Sectorally, the Summit at the 11th NES advocated the recapitalization and consolidation of the insurance sector in aid of growth and strengthening of the financial sector of the economy. Government responded to this with a 1000% increase in the capital requirement for the establishment of an insurance company in the country.

The 11th NES also advocated the privatisation of the Nigerian Ports Authority for improved performance; privatisation of the Nigerian Electric Power Authority (NEPA); and reduction in the transaction costs in the capital market. Government saw the need for these and responded with the concessioning of some ports in the country, adopted the recommendation on NEPA leading to the creation of generation, transmission and distribution companies out of NEPA and also, caused a 50% reduction in the transaction costs in the capital market.

Before that, the Summit at its 10th meeting strongly recommended the acceleration of the enactment of a pension reform law to revolutionise pension issues in the country and in the long term, achieve eradication of issues of pension payments and associated risks. This recommendation led to the enactment of the Pension Reform act of 2004 which was later signed into law by the President, leading to a total overhaul of the pension management system in the country.

As concern mounted over the viability of the aviation sector and safety issues therein, the Summit took the bold step to advocate change and make sure the sector was saved from total collapse. To this end, the 12th Summit rose with a recommendation to improve the aviation sector through the procurement of navigational and safety aids; and also to create and enforce a statutory minimum operating capital requirement for domestic airlines in the country.

This recommendation was later adopted by government leading to the TRACON (Total Radar Coverage of Nigeria) project, which has now improved international rating of the Nigerian airspace and aviation industry. Government also created a capital base of N500 million for domestic airlines, an improvement from the previous base of N20 million.

Other achievements of the 12th Summit were the recommendation of the adoption of the PPP model for government in the management of infrastructure. The recommendation found favour with the federal government. Later, Lagos state would adopt same. Today, many more states are adopting the model. Added to this was the recommendation for the enactment of fiscal responsibility law to enforce discipline in fiscal management.

The law was passed into law in 2007.
The 13th Summit also recommended the enactment of a law prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities; and also, for the amendment of the land use decree. Both recommendations were adopted leading to the enactment in 2009 of a law against discriminating against persons with disabilities while the late President Umaru Yar'Adua, in 2009 initiated a land reform bill to the National Assembly seeking to excise the land use act of 1978 from the constitution.

The strategic intervention in 2009, in the agriculture sector, with the institution of a N200 billion commercial agriculture credit scheme, was a direct effect of the 14th Summit, where the idea of establishing an agric credit scheme was canvassed, adopted and recommended to the government.

Generally, the Nigerian Economic Summit series has had tremendous impact on the economy such that it has grown to become the single most authoritative platform for canvassing economic change by the private sector. This has strategically re-positioned the NESG to become the apex private sector think-tank for advocating change in the management of the economy. Certainly, the vision of Chief Shonekan, in setting up the Group in 19993, has blossomed to become a strategic intervention in pushing the Nigerian economy through the storm.