Professionals and the public interest, by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Posted by News Express | 10 September 2014 | 3,203 times

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Unlike some other African countries, Nigeria is blessed with a rich network of professionals many of whom, such as ICAN, have existed for years. In the 7 years that I have been a public servant in Nigeria, I have found with great pleasure, that the great majority of Nigerian professionals take their professions very seriously and act with the utmost professionalism. I am sure many of you would agree with me that the professionalism that some of our medical practitionershave exhibited in the past 2 months has been exceptional and inspiring as they have worked hard alongside the government to control the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease in the country. In the same vein, our bankers, many of whom are accountants and members of ICAN, have been instrumental in building and restoring confidence in our financial system which has played a significant part in Nigeria’s strong economic performance.

Unfortunately, I have also come across some Nigerian professionals whose actions have fallen short of professionalism in the course of my work. There are professionals who resort to blackmail and abuse of government and individuals when they fail to win contracts that are competitively bid. There are individuals/professionals who have resorted to divisive ethnic and sexist sentiments to blackmail and undermine the government when policies have not favoured their narrow interests. For example, so called “professionals” have attempted to undermine new approaches designed to put this country in tune with international good practice. Take for example, governments attempt to support competitive recruitment processes that promote transparency and merit. Only yesterday, I was left shocked by the lack of professionalism exhibited by an individual who had gone through one of these competitive recruitment processes without success. Rather than gracefully accept defeat in a professional manner, this individual decided to personalise the matter and attack the whole process.

Such behaviour undermines the public interest and as professionals you must understand that professionalism means supporting good policy that is in the wider public interest even when it does not necessarily benefit the immediate interests of you or your own association. Professionalism also demands being constructive in criticisms of policies that you do not support without personalising issues. In the course of this weeklong conference as you revisit the ethics and body of rules governing your profession, I hope that you would also discuss these matters as they relate to the promotion of the public interest.

Update on the Economy

The professionalism and continued support of ICAN and other such professional bodies is indispensable to this Administration as we push forward the Transformation Agenda. I am glad that thus far, this support has been unreservedly forthcoming. I can proudly and confidently say that the progress and achievements that we have recorded would not have been possible without the support of Nigerian professionals such as you. Let me share some of these key achievements with you at this juncture.

Housing and Construction. We have taken giant strides in unlocking the housing sector and we anticipate that this would have significant multiplier effects on the economy particularly in creating additional jobs for architects, electricians, masons etc. In January this year, this Administration launched the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company (NMRC) to facilitate the provision of affordable housing and in July, the first 10,000 mortgages were launched. We are confident that, very soon, many more hardworking Nigerian families will realize their dream of owning a home. In launching this sector, we have relied on a number of professional bodies such as the Mortgage Bankers Association of Nigeria (MBAN), the Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN), the Nigerian Institute of Architects (NIA), the Council of Registered Builders of Nigeria (CORBON), and the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (NIQS) to name a few. I want to thank these professional bodies for their support and professionalism. This is the kind of collaborative effort and support that would be instrumental to the government as we implement reforms in various sectors of the economy.

In the Power Sector we have successfully completed one of the most comprehensive and transparent power privatisation programmes worldwide- with the privatisation of 4 power generation companies and 10 power distribution companies. To provide comfort to private investors in the power sector, we have also strengthened power market intermediaries such as the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET), which is backed with over N120 billion in financing. The liberalisation of this sector has opened up new investments. This year, the 450MW Azura-Edo IPP signed a power purchase agreement with $1 billion backing from 14 high quality investors including: Standard Chartered, IFC, First Rand Bank, Siemens Bank, and Nigeria’s FCMB.All Nigerians would like to see uninterrupted power, and I know we are not there yet. But in the same way that the privatisation of the telecoms sector took some time to begin yielding benefits, I am very confident that our power sector will take off successfully in the coming years.

Communications Technology: For ICT, we constructed 500km of fibre-optic cable to rural areas and total of 266 Public Access Venues were established in 2013. We also deployed a fibre-optic high-speed internet network to connect 27 Federal universities, and provided computing facilities to 74 tertiary institutions and 218 public schools across the country. Finally, we have established innovation centres to support entrepreneurs in the ICT sector, and launched a $15m Venture Capital fund for ICT businesses. As a result, we have seen a growth in phone subscriptions and internet access buy 35 percent and 46 percent respectively since 2014. I know that these advancements will be instrumental in building on the skills of our youth cross various fields and professions.

We have also made significant progress in improving our Transportation Infrastructure:

For roads, we have completed more than 32 road rehabilitation projects and we have several more ongoing. Some of these include the Kano-Maiduguri road, the Abuja-Lokoja road, the Apapa-Oshodi road, the Onitsha-Enugu-Port-Harcourt road and the Benin-Ore-Shagamu road, among others. We also successfully launched construction of the 2nd Nigeria Bridge. As a result of these efforts, we have seen a reduction in road traffic accidents and their resulting deaths by 50% and 28% respectively.

For railways: the Western line linking Lagos and Kano is now functional; and work is progressing on the Abuja-Kaduna Standard Gauge line (72% completed); the Itakpe-Ajaokuta-Warri Line (to be completed by end-2014)and the Eastern line linking Port Harcourt to Maiduguri (Enugu to Umuahia track has been rehabilitated). We now have 200 communities connected by rail and the number of passengers carried by rail has risen significantly to 5 million in 2013, an 80% increase from 2009.

For inland waterways: We have dredged about 72 km of the lower River Niger from Baro in Niger State to Warri in Delta State; and have also completed construction of the Onitsha inland port. As a result, we have increased cargo volume on the inland waterways from 2.9 million metric tons in 2011 to over 5 million metric tons in 2013.

In the aviation sector, we are completing the upgrade of 11 terminals. In the past year, the Enugu Airport became operational as an international airport with a new terminal under construction. We have also commenced work on the construction of four new international airport terminals: in Lagos, in Kano, Port Harcourt, and in Abuja.

In Agriculture, the government is striving for food security through the Agricultural Transformation Agenda and we have already seen a decline in the food imports bill from N2.38 trillion in 2011 to N1.5 trillion in 2013. In this respect, the Government’s Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES) is providing subsidized inputs to farmers via an e-Wallet program – 10.5 million farmers have been registered and an estimated 6.4 million farmers have received subsidies. We have been successful in increasing rice production and improving the cassava value chain.  In the 2013 dry season, we engaged over 250,000 farmers producing 1.22 million metric tonnes of dry season rice. We have also seen increased investments in High-Value Cassava Processing and increased cassava exports. The government promised an additional 20 million MT of food by 2015 and 17 million MT have already been produced by the end of 2013.

In the Oil and Gas Sector, we have completed work on important projects such as the 136km gas pipeline from Oben to Geregu, the 31km pipeline from Itoki to Olorunshogo and the acquisition of 250 square kilometres of 3D-seismic data for the Chad basin. In addition, the government has also initiated the Ogidigben Gas Industrialisation Project which will provide a petrochemicals complex in Delta State.

We have also made significant progress in Job Creation. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, about 1.2 million jobs were created in 2013 (and a total of about 1.9 million jobs have been created since we started tracking the jobs data in Q3 2012). Many of these jobs came from the agriculture sector, from the manufacturing sector, and the services industries. In addition, the Government’s special intervention programs have also created jobs, such as: YouWiN (27,000 jobs) and the SURE-P Community Services Scheme (120,000 jobs). The government’s Graduate Internship Scheme in addition to reducing unemployment, is also important in enhancing the quality of professionals that our tertiary institutions produce. This Administration will not relent in its effort to create more jobsas we recognise that we have a large number of new entrants into our labour force each year (about 1.8 million) coupled with the existing stock of unemployed.

These structural reforms and developments in the real sector have only been possible in the backdrop of a stable macroeconomic environment.Nigeria’s economy is now the biggest in Africa since the rebasing of our GDP. Inflation have managed to curb inflation within the single digits at 8.3 percent (as at July 2014) while the exchange rate has remained fairly stable. Our fiscal deficit is low at about 1.2 percent of GDP, and our debt-to-GDP ratio is also low at about 12 percent. We are also rebuilding our fiscal buffers – Whilst the excess crude account declined in 2013 due to unexpected fall in oil revenues, they have steadily increased this year and now stand at $4.05 billion.

The Nigerian economy is increasingly diversified and the IMF projects that the non-oil sector will grow by 8.3 percent in 2014. The oil and gas sector now accounts for less than 20% of GDP. The services sector accounts for about 50% of GDP and other sectors such as manufacturing and the creative industries are growing very quickly.

We will forge on in our implementation of sound macro-economic policy and we call on ICAN’s support particularly as we work on improving government revenues. An FIRS diagnostic carried out in 2012 revealed that as many as 65% of registered tax payers have not filed their returns in 2 years, 75% of MSMEs are not in the tax system and 35% of companies operating under the Pioneer Status Incentives abuse their tax exempt status. The FIRS is currently working with McKinsey to plug these holes through a set of 7 key initiatives and increase non-oil revenues by at least N75 billion this year. We have already begun to see positive results and we recognise that our success will be dependent on the support, professionalism and integrity we get from ICAN members who audit many of these companies’ accounts.

Being excerpts of a speech delivered by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy & Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (shown in photo) while declaring open the 44th Annual Accountants Conference of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) on behalf of Presdident Goodluck Jonathan, on September 9, 2014 at the International Conference Centre Abuja.

Source: News Express

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