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A peep into Jonathan’s vision

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A peep into Jonathan’s vision

On July 8, 2011 · In Politics

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor

Whatever gloomy impression skeptics of the Goodluck Jonathan administration may have had of its potentials in managing the economy were on Wednesday assuaged as the administration”s economic team was partly unveiled.

The outgoing Managing Director of the World Bank, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo, erstwhile Managing Director of the global finance firm, Goldman Sachs, Dr. Olusegun Aganga and erstwhile Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Power, Prof. Barth Nnaji gave a near superlative performance at their Senate confirmation screening last Wednesday. The trio easily shone out in the midst of the uninspiring screening of many of the other nominees. Some of the nominees even those with questionable pasts were asked to bow and go.

Senator Danjuma Goje, left with Dr. Okonjo-Iweala after the screening on Wednesday.

Given her unceremonious exit from the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2006, there were insinuations that Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala would not be inclined to return to public office in Abuja.

Indeed ahead of her formal nomination there were alleged moves by perceived interest groups to frustrate her return. The opposition it was learnt was mobilized by those habouring fears that her presence in the federal cabinet could frustrate their aims in the Jonathan administration.

But as she appeared last Wednesday, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala gave a plausible and patriotic reason for her return to Nigeria. She cited her anguish at the wide gulf between the rich and the poor in Nigeria and her determination to use the platform of public office to reverse it.

Noting her grief on the wide gulf between the rich and the poor in Nigeria, she said: “We have coefficient of inequality. It is this is inequality that is holding us down. People keep asking why I want to come back to work, but the reason is simple. In a country where the rich keep getting richer and the poor keeps getting poorer, we need to bridge the gap. We live in a country, where the rich can just wake up and decide to travel abroad, just as their children school abroad and have access to good healthcare. On the part of the poor, the reverse is the case.”

In addition, Iweala said, “The children of the poor don”t have good schools to attend to and no good healthcare system in a country of one hundred and fifty million people. That is the inequality we are talking about. We must change this because I know it is possible to do so. I will ensure that we improve the lot of the common people, in order to prevent our young people from moving abroad.”

One of the major issues raised by Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala during her confirmation hearing was the country”s fixation with recurrent expenditure which she said was denying the needed flow of investments into the real sector of the economy.

“I am really worried about the issue of making sure our budget is not eaten up by recurrent expenditure. How can we invest in capital if we’re spending all our money on recurrent expenditures,” Okonjo-Iweala told the hearing noting that Nigeria was presently spending almost all of its earnings on recurrent expenditure.

“Can we run a budget that is not negative? Absolutely. We can do it, we have done it. We have been able in the past. I strongly believe that we should try as a country as much as possible live within our means. Right now we need to work very hard because the budget that we have is such that the current expenditure is almost 74 per cent of the budget therefore there is not as much left for capital, so we need to work hard to put in place policy that will make it possible to continue to implement fiscal policies that will enable us to tackle the various challenges in the economy while at the same time living within our means.”

But perhaps one major revelation that interested her audience was her response to the question on why she exited the Obasanjo government in 2006.

“I did not run away, I was here, I resigned, I served the country for about three years and when I determined that I could no longer perform and give to the country the way that I would want, I resigned, which is the honourable thing to do, so I did not run away,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala, who was brought into the Obasanjo government as Finance Minister was midway shifted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a development that was said to have aroused her disapproval. “When the circumstances are appropriate to serve, you serve and if they are not appropriate, you go and do something else. I think three years plus of service is quite substantial, not only in Nigeria, but elsewhere in other countries, it is regarded as a good amount of time to have given the country and I intend to implement and if I am cleared I will do my job.”

Aganga who appeared after Okonjo-Iweala also lamented the lopsidedness of the national budget on recurrent expenditure which he said was responsible for the nation”s economic downturn.

Aganga noted that the Nigeria’s huge personnel cost at 75 percent average is a drain on the nation”s resources which he said has become a burden and an impediment to infrastructural development.

He said: “The level of expenditure has increased significantly. Five years ago it was N1.6 trillion. In 2009 it went up to N3 trillion. In 2010, N4 trillion and in 2011 it is going to go to N4.4 trillion that is hard given the level of revenue we have today.

“The second challenge we have is the level of our recurrent expenditure. In 2009 it represented 30 percent of total expenditure, in 2010 it represented 73 percent of expenditure and 2011 it is going to be 74 percent of the expenditure. What that means is that the amount we are investing in infrastructure and development is less than 30 percent of total expenditure, so how can you develop as a country? That has been the case for the last ten years.”

Professor Nnaji on his part while responding to questions from Senators confirmed the inextricable tie between industrial production and power but confessed that 90% of the nation”s industries had wound up on account of lack of power.

Noting government”s efforts in the sector, he said that massive investment was needed into the sector but said that government could not do it alone and hence the need to create the enabling environment for investors to come in. he said that was the reason for the increase in electricity tariff. He, however, affirmed that government would continue to subsidise electricity tariff for the next three years before a complete withdrawal.

Responding to questions on the opposition to his nomination by some sections of the power sector, he alleged a collusion between some elements among one of the unions and those he claimed were determined to allow the poor power supply system to continue.

While noting that a total of 10 billion dollars was required yearly for the next ten years to build up the sector, he said the country has an installed capacity of 5,000 megawatts while the current production level is 2,400MW.

Given the erudition of the trio, Nigerians who may otherwise may have sunken their hopes on Nigeria may yet have reasons to cheer. Well, that is given a conducive working environment and the sincerity of their words. - News in, about, for Nigeria and Nigerians.
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Tags:     Goodluck Jonathan     Ngozi Okonjo     Olusegun Aganga     Prof. Barth Nnaji