Merits, defects of Nigeria’s economic recovery, growth plan – Experts

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Civil society groups and economic experts have expressed different opinions on the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, NERGP, unveiled a fortnight ago by the Federal Government.

Minister of Budget and National Planning Senator Udoma Udo Udoma [Photo Credit: Channels TV]
Minister of Budget and National Planning Senator Udoma Udo Udoma
Some who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES commended government for finally giving the country a plan for the economy, but others pointed out inadequacies in the plan, including the absence of timelines, legal backing and performance monitoring indicators.

The lead director, Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, Eze Onyekpere, said the NERGP was a welcome development that government was finally proposing a plan for the economy.

“We have been saying we needed a plan for the recovery of the economy since the first day this government came into office. That they have finally given the country a plan is a good development,” Mr. Onyekpere said.

However, he said the real challenge was whether the recommendations and policy issues in the plan were realistic, considering the short time frame, or whether the policies were not too ambitious in their targets.

The Chief Executive Officer, Global Analytics Consult Limited, Tope Fasua, thought the plan was timely, and its intentions great, but said it is unwieldy and has an ending like another budget statement seeking to cover all sectors.

Mr. Fasua said by now government ought to have developed ‘killer apps’ that go directly to unlock aspects of the economy, arguing that a strategic plan should be sharp and specific, leaving the annual budgets and MTEF (medium term expenditure framework) to deal with the rest of the issues.

“Nigeria needs a plan that will boost labour productivity, get the youth engaged, and ensure economic sustainability,” he said.

Given the way artificial intelligence is replacing people at work these days, he said government, through the plan, appears not to have given serious thought to the problem yet.

Besides, Mr. Fasua said he was uncomfortable with some of the figures used in the plan, like unemployment statistic at 16 per cent, which he said tended to understate the situation.

“If we are talking about youth employment being the greatest issue, why are we not talking of post-secondary unemployment, which is about 70 per cent?” he asked.

The Managing Director, Cowry Asset Management Limited, Johnson Chukwu, criticized the plan for lacking in specifics, particularly on timelines and how the various policies and targets would be realized.

Mr. Chukwu said government should take ownership of the plan, by allowing the office of the Vice President to take responsibility for its full implementation.

He said the view that the private sector would be involved in the implementation of policies was vague, as nobody stated exactly in the plan how that would be achieved.

Also, Mr. Chukwu spoke about the proposed sale of public asset, without any mention of the asset to be affected and defined criteria, to know which asset would meet the criteria and how those asset would be sold.

Apart from the absence of clear timelines on policies and programmes to help monitor progress, Mr. Chukwu said aspirations, like making the country self-sufficient in fuel supply, did not address the ‘how’ question.

“Is the government going to build new refineries or revamp the existing ones to realize its domestic fuel sufficiency aspiration?” he asked.

For the Chief Consultant, B. Adedipe Associates Limited, Biodun Adedipe, the plan has passed the test of a strategic plan, by providing answers to the five issues often associated with the country’s past planning effort.

He identified the issues to include: “Where we are and how we got there. Where we are going. How we intend to get there. How do we organize and control activities? And, what we need to get there”.

Mr. Adedipe was of the view that the weak area of performance measurement in previous plans was “strongly addressed in the NERGP.”

However, to strengthen governance, he said he would love to see performance management reflected not only “defined, clear and measurable deliverables for every ministry, department and agency of government,” but for same to become targets by which every minister and public office holder would be measured.

By measuring performance every quarter, Mr. Adedipe pointed out, it would translate to 48 scores in four years of the NERGP (2017-2020).

He set his performance measuring ranges as 80 to 100 per cent for excellent (green mark), 60 to 79.99 per cent as good (amber mark), and below 60 per cent unacceptable (red mark).

“Any political and accounting officer who scored three consecutive red marks should be redeployed or replaced,” Mr. Adedipe suggested.

“With such an approach, a strong message will gradually and steadily shift focus from politics and political patronage to true governance. If the right metrics are measured and the scorecards will count, Nigeria may begin to emerge from the rhetoric to actual greatness,” he said.

He warned against branding the plan as Buhari’s, rather a Nigerian plan, saying he was confident that if well executed from the outset, most of the country’s interest groups would buy in and take ownership.

For political economist and CEO of Economic Associates Limited, Ayo Teriba, the “Federal Government has no plan, but a set of objectives.”

He warned Nigerians not to take the plan too seriously, without asking when work on the policies and programmes would be done.

The biggest shortcoming of the plan, Mr. Teriba explained, was the absence of sufficient crisis response mechanism, as it was based on the strategic implementation plan, SIP, earlier approved to take care of the short-term fiscal issues in the 2016 budget.

“Basing the NERGP on the SIP obstructs the ability of government to respond to crisis,” he said. “The plan was caught between what the government had intended to do with the SIP before the economic crisis (recession and devaluation) in the first half of 2016 and what it wants to do between now and 2020.

“In trying to fashion a policy direction, government should be realistic enough to do away with all those ideas, do a diagnostic of what brought the country to that point and come up with a crisis response strategy,” he said.

Most of the policies and programmes, he noted, had 2020 as target, arguing that this amounted to a “mere wishful thinking, mere projections without any proposal to take any action any time by anybody. There is no indication who would do what and when?

“The plan is silent on timelines. A plan should be a sequence of actions that follow up on each other towards an objective. Anybody taking the plan too seriously, without asking when work would be done, by who, is in a dreamland,” he said.

Mr. Teriba also criticised the absence of an enabling law backing the plan, pointing out that this makes it look like a joke.

“If government cannot implement an annual budget without an enabling law, how would you think the NERGP would be implemented without a law backing it up? The plan is a joke. The Federal Government has no plan, but a set of objectives,” he said.

On the way forward, Mr. Teriba said government must propose what and how it would do for the crisis in the economy to end, by taking steps to repeal certain existing laws, while new ones were enacted.

“The National Planning Commission cannot sit down and write something and call it a plan without a legal backing. That is not how countries are run. That’s a big weakness in the NERGP,” he observed.

Part of his recommendations are that the foreign exchange crisis, which was one of the main problems that drove the country into recession, must be addressed by the plan.

He faulted the country’s over-dependence on exports, saying the reason the fall in global oil prices brought the country’s economy to its knees was because the country depended too much on exports, to the exclusion of foreign investment.

“Nigeria needs to look beyond exports of any type and bring more investments to the economy, like what is happening in India and China. The greatest unease about the plan is the mindset that government will do everything in terms of providing infrastructure.

“Nigeria must open up infrastructure currently under government monopoly, so that foreign investment can come in. The best way is that it will be a public-private sector partnership. We have to move beyond PPP. Open up the sectors for private investment, to ensure sustainable economic growth,” he said.

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