By Akpadem James, Media Adviser to Minister of Budget and National Planning.
Federal Government agencies will work with the private sector to support research with a view to developing high quality indigenous products and technologies, the Minister for Budget and national Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, told members of the Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA) on Tuesday.
Udoma in a keynote address at the Annual General Meeting and 60th Anniversary of NECA in Lagos, which focused on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), said Government is committed to supporting made in Nigeria goods and services; and is working vigorously on policies that will enable the achievement of the goals set out in the ERGP.
While indicating that the Plan is intended, not just to get the economy out of recession, but to put Nigeria on a strong, diversified, inclusive, and sustained growth path, the Minister pointed out that its success will depend on the responsiveness of the private sector to the initiatives being rolled out by Government under the Plan.
The acting President, he said, has set the ball rolling by issuing a number of Executive Orders in aid of ease of doing business in the country, one of which is in support for local content in public procurement by MDAs. This is to support local production to increase employment opportunities, particularly for the youths.
In this direction, the Minister said government believes strongly in working together with all sectors of the economy, as it strongly believes that the ERGP needs the active participation of all for it to achieve its ambitious goals.
Acknowledging the role of NECA in this regard, he said: “You represent many of the leading industrialists and manufacturers in Nigeria. It is your success that will encourage new investors to come into Nigeria. Your success is therefore our success. You can therefore count on a listening ear from Government as we work together to transform this economy to become the engine of production of our region and indeed, our continent.”
He said Government is very appreciative of the platform NECA has been providing for consultation with the private sector when developing policies on the economy, as well as policies on labour issues. “We also acknowledge, and are appreciative, of the willingness of members of your Association to serve on committees that Government has set up, from time to time, to review and develop government policies”, he added.
The Minister mentioned such committees to include: the Presidential Committee on the Resuscitation of the Economy [1999 – 2003]; the Presidential Committee on Harmonizing Skills and Competences for development ; the Wages, Salaries and Emolument Relativity Panel [2004 – 2006] as well as the active participation at the Quarterly Presidential Briefing Sessions which the current Administration introduced to dialogue with the private sector on the economy.
He recalled that when campaigning for the 2015 elections, President Muhammadu Buhari promised three things: to fight corruption; to restore security; to fix the broken economy. The ERGP, he said, is the blueprint the Administration intends to use to fix the broken economy; stressing that there is no doubt that successful implementation of the ERGP will revitalize the economy and put it back on the path of sustained, inclusive, and diversified growth and development.
Explaining that in the last two years government has been working very hard to lay a solid foundation for attracting private sector investments and improving the ease of doing business in the country, he said government has already established the Presidential Enabling Business Council (PEBEC) to specifically ensure policy alignment towards improving the investment environment and is also embarking on massive infrastructure development aimed at reducing the cost of doing business as well as tackling insecurity to protect lives and investment across the country.
“We want, by our policies, to attract a much larger share of available investments into Nigeria. And we want you to join us in telling the Nigerian story. The story of a country that is ready to partner with genuine investors, whether Nigerian, or foreign, to work together to transform the Nigerian economy”, he urged NECA.
He also mentioned that government is taking steps to ensure a return to a predictable budget cycle of January to December; a move that should help the private sector to plan. “For this purpose, we have already commenced the process for the preparation of the 2018 budget. Our aim is to submit it to the National Assembly by October this year, to allow them sufficient time for deliberation and passage” he indicated.
Senator Udoma emphasised that the health and success of the private sector is important to this Government and government believes in working with the private sector, wherever possible.
Government, he said, is already working in this direction as the development of the Special Economic Zones will generally be made in joint venture with private investors. Same with the capital projects in the 2017 Budget which will be in the form of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects including the Bodo – Bonny Road, which is a joint venture with Bonny LNG Ltd, for which we have voted the sum N7 billion.
Another is the provision of N9 billion as Government’s contribution to a joint venture with the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority and other private sector participants for a programme to reverse medical tourism by upgrading and equipping high quality medical centres in various geo-political zones of the country.
Government has also set aside the sum of N100bn as its contribution for a new social housing fund which is private sector led. The target is to raise up to N1 trillion for the Fund. “All these are clear indications that we welcome, as indicated in the ERGP, private sector participation in all sectors of the country”, the Minister added.
Also, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige in his goodwill message, lauded NECA’s role as a social partner which has discharged its responsibilities appreciably and whose moderating and collaborative role has guaranteed industrial peace in the system.
At 60, he charged NECA to do some stocktaking particularly in respect of centralizing its operations advising that establishing more zonal offices would bring the association closer to employers who abound in all parts of the country.
He also said the association would do well to draft the informal sector under its umbrella and by so doing help in bringing them into the tax net.
The President of NECA, Mr Larry Ettah, lauded government’s effort at working towards economic recovery and sustainable growth; but while hailing the ERGP as a concrete move towards economic rejuvenation, he noted that nothing quite significant came out of such lofty visions and goals of past efforts.
He recalled comments of past presidents of NECA who severally drew attention to the very common issues still persisting till now, and hoped that the ERGP will change the fortunes of the country and give it a different narrative going forward.