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Governor Amaechi's speech

By Ibim Semenitari
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It is with great delight that we welcome you distinguished participants and very respected speakers to the first ever Rivers State Investors Forum.

I also most heartily welcome our keynote speaker, The Rt. Hon Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to this event. Rivers state is indeed honored to have such a distinguished personality in Port Harcourt and I personally would be listening with keen interest to the invaluable insights that you would be sharing with us in your keynote.

Rivers state is the nerve centre of the Nigerian economy, accounting for 10 per cent of the Nation's GDP, according to World Bank statistics. The state accounts for over 40 per cent of crude oil produced on-shore in the country and 100 per cent of the liquefied natural gas exports from Nigeria. The state is also quite attractively positioned, being the economic hub of the South - South and South - East regions of Nigeria. With its accessibility by land, air, water and rail, it is definitely your ideal business destination.

Yet this is the first time Port Harcourt is hosting an event of this nature – a private sector led, private sector driven collaboration with government. Such an initiative is as exciting as it is significant. Collaboration between government and the private sector is a powerful tool for attracting the requisite financial investment needed to drive development in the state. This is why I must commend the organisers of this forum who have put everything in place to ensure its success. The Rivers State government is grateful to you for this and we assure you of our commitment to reap every benefit of the gains of this forum.

When this administration assumed office in October 2007, we met a state that had been brought to its knees by the criminal conduct of a few individuals. These were people who selfishly dispossessed the larger populace to feather their own nests. Oil theft was rife as were the more heinous crimes of kidnap and murder. Government seemed to have lost the political will to bring the perpetuators of these crimes to book. Naturally, the economy was the first casualty of this sad state of affairs. Businesses had fled, as many of you seated in this room can attest to. Government had to act and fast too, if we were to be able to deliver on our promises to our people.

But there were other challenges. It was obvious that a good number of our people had no livelihood. Infrastructure was in a state of decay and the larger oil and gas economy did not support the majority of the people. Despite efforts of previous administrations, there remained was a manpower gap caused by an education sector in ruins.

One thing was clear. In spite of the many investment opportunities in our state and its great potential, there still remained several constraints, which were of concern to potential investors. Our task as government therefore was to ensure a stable development of the state's economy by putting in place policies and structures, which will in turn translate to improvements in the quality of life of our people.

While there were things, which we as a state could do about some of these problems, there were others for which we face constitutional constraints because they fall under the responsibility of the Federal Government.

For instance, a State Level Doing Business Survey found that we had one of the most cumbersome regimes for registering property in the country. In response, we are at an advanced stage of adopting a new land policy and new procedures for property registration. Very soon, it will take only a few weeks to register property in Rivers State.

Similarly, with regard to the shortage of skilled labor force, our State has already invested massively in education and health systems. The construction of modern schools, health centres and hospitals have been one of the hallmarks of this administration. However, we realize that the construction of structures alone does not guarantee quality education. We are therefore also investing in teaching and learning materials, as well as in the training and supervision of our teachers.

While working at transforming our educational institutions, we have also invested in sending our children to first-rate schools within and outside the country to enable them acquire quality and skilled education. This is reflected in a recent independent Socio-economic Assessment that found that Rivers state had one of the highest per capita education expenditures in the country.

Then there are those problems over which we have little control, but where we can do our part to resolve them. For example, with regard to improving access to finance, the Rivers State Government is doing its part to provide training and credit for small and medium enterprise and micro businesses as a means of addressing poverty. In addition the Rivers State Government is committed to ensuring prudence in the management of its fiscal regime.

We are aware of the negative impact that fiscal mismanagement could have on the overall macroeconomic conditions for our country. We have therefore embarked on far reaching reforms to improve our public financial management systems. We have passed the Fiscal Responsibility Law as well as the Public Procurement Law and we are now implementing the elements of these laws. Evidence of this is the report of a recent World Bank supported Procurement Assessment that ranks Rivers State as the most advanced state in the implementation of procurement reforms.

In addition to our financial sector reforms, our legal and regulatory framework is geared towards making the environment more investor friendly. Our tax harmonization policy as well as the Rivers State land use prohibition of extortion law 2010 is evidence of our proactive action to safeguard our investors. While the tax harmonization policy seeks to eliminate multiple taxation and reduce the tax burden on investors, the prohibition of extortion law prescribes a three-year jail term for anyone who is found extorting money from landowners, developers and contractors working at land sites and operating business premises.

Another very exciting offering is our public private partnership law, which provides the regulatory framework for collaboration between the state and the private sector. Our PPP law provides for viability funding gap where necessary, showing our determination to lean heavily in favour of the investor. Please take advantage of this law and invest in such areas as the Greater Port Harcourt City, water, agriculture, transportation and power amongst several others

With regard to power, as all of us know, responsibility for this infrastructure lies with the Federal Government. The Rivers State Government realizing the critical importance of power in the health of a modern economy has made and is making tremendous effort towards a reliable affordable and uninterruptable power supply by investing hugely in generation, transmission and distribution. In this context, we are pleased with the on-going power sector reforms where distribution will now be opened up to the private sector.

Currently Rivers state has generation capacity in excess of 400-mw, transmission lines of 237km and is improving distribution facility as well. We will continue to support the Federal Government in its efforts to deal with the power problem, both in the areas of improving generation as well as in distribution capacity. For example, we have supported the Federal Government in attracting an independent power plant such as the Afam-6 to generate power from Rivers state.

Thankfully we have already begun to reap the benefits of our commitments to these projects and programmes as the change in our state is evident. Now we can proudly proclaim that Rivers State is working again, and that Port Harcourt is back. This was the same Port Harcourt that was the fault line for the Niger Delta crises, which attracted enourmous bad press about the failures of government and leadership. We therefore count on you as third party advocates, to tell the story of the changes that have occurred here in such record time, for which we deserve to be the poster child for Change that Works.

So tell our story starting now, and affirm that in Rivers State, yesterday is history, today is working and tomorrow holds a lot more promise. Our pains of yesterday have provided the platform for the success you see today and our investments in securing tomorrow.

While welcoming you all to this forum, may I invite you to enjoy not only the conference but also the sights and sounds of Port Harcourt. Your comments and feedback are critical to us and we look forward to learning from you ways in which we can make our state even more attractive to you. While thanking you for your kind attention, I wish you all successful work and fruitful negotiations. God bless you.