We have stopped the bleeding of the nation’s resources —Laolu Akande, SSA to VP

Posted by News Express | 10 July 2016 | 4,789 times

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Mr. Laolu Akande, a Senior Special Assistant in the Presidency attached to the Office of the Vice President, recently had a chat with a group of reporters in Abuja. Below is an excerpt.

Question: The Vice President is doing a lot on the economy and apparently, the impact of this administration’s Economic Management Team has not been felt on the nation's economy, one year after. What can you tell Nigerians about this?

Laolu Akande: The Economic Management Team started taking shape after ministers were inaugurated. That means it is not up to a year. That was probably October or November 2015 or thereabouts. We have to understand that the attitude of this Presidency is to consider the management of the economy as a government responsibility. It is not something that this government believes should be done by bringing in some of the private interests into the economic team to take a decision that they will be directly involved with. So our stand is that the management of the economy is a government responsibility and we engage the stakeholders in the economy.

For instance, we have started meeting on constant basis with Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN. There have been meetings with arms of the economic sector of the country. There have been meetings with the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG and some other economic interests with companies, making presentations. But generally, this thing is a government team and the team has been able to set out before the budget trying to figure out what the budget ought to focus on.

After the budget was presented and eventually signed, there was also the publication of the strategic implementation plan which was produced in a reader friendly format. All of these are some of the outcomes of what Economic Management Team does and it is also in the team that you have the one of the platforms where the fiscal and monetary policies can be reviewed. But don’t forget that the monetary policy is always the duty and responsibility of the Central Bank.

At times, more than once in a week, almost certainly most of the time, the team meets every Monday and makes proposal and suggestions to the President but then, the team is actually like an adhoc committee of the Federal Executive Council and that is why we don’t throw a lot of media around it because it is a committee that is meant to advise Mr. President. So the team for instance defined six themes around the economy and used that to build the budget and reflate the economy.

The first is Policy, Governance and Security which includes issues such as ensuring a stable and predictable currency exchange rate and securing the nation among others. The second one is Economic Diversification which includes achieving targeted self sufficiency in agriculture produce and increasing private sector investments. The third is infrastructural development which includes the completion of several NIPPs, the Lagos – Calabar coastal railway among others. Oil and Gas reforms is the fourth one and it includes privatisation of refineries, Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), ensuring gas availability to power the plants. The Ease of Doing Business is the fifth one.

In this regard, the President has recently constituted a Presidential Council headed by the VP to look at fast tracking Pre-investment approvals across the country, eliminate bureaucratic delays and so on. The last one is social investment meant to assuage unemployment pains, development of human capacity, improve school enrollment among other objectives.

Nigerians out there tell you that the economy right now is not in a good shape. How do you tell them that the government is working towards ensuring that the economy is boosted?

As much as we try not to say this, we know as a matter of fact that members of the past administration, some of them have come out to say they did not save for the rainy day. So we are dealing mostly with situations that have been caused even before this administration took over power. The President and his team have worked hard and planned not only to save cost, not only to tighten public expenditure but to also diversify the economy like never before. So we are sure and we believe that going forward, things will begin to pick up again. It is taking a while because of the extent of the damage. If the country took a sharp drop as much as 70 percent drop in its foreign earning, you can begin to understand some of the difficulties that the country is going through, where states used to share a huge sum of money which have come down incredibly.

For instance, I believe in April I think the whole foreign earning was just about $550 million, which is very low. So these are the problems and a lot of what is happening right now in the country is as a result of some of the decisions that were taken in the past but the administration has clearly changed the direction of this country and going forward we expect better things.

This is the second year of the administration and the same song of what the past government did or didn’t do is still responsible for where we are. When would Nigerians expect the first fruit of this administration?

The first fruit is already in place because we have stopped the bleeding. I think to some extent, that question presupposes that the bleeding is still continuing. The bleeding of the resources of this country has stopped. I believe that a huge factor that explains where Nigeria is today economically is corruption. We can't run away from that and the President has made it clear and I think everyone in the country now understands that and it is not going to continue.

Effectively, he has reduced the corruption in Nigeria. Look at the TSA, for instance, it has managed to save, I think in the region of over N3 trillion that would have been lost if we didn’t have the TSA implemented. We are cutting cost with many ghost workers in the federal payroll detected; about 40,000 ghost workers have been discovered in the FG payroll. And I understand that the process is continuing. So one of the things that the President has delivered is that the bleeding has stopped and that is so important.

The Constitution requires that whatever is made is deposited into the Federation’s Account in which case, you can’t keep aside any money. So how can this government accuse past government of not saving?

Well, there are several ways of managing your resources adequately in a prudent way. First, when a barrel of oil was being sold for over $100, what did we do with the money? It is a very simple preposition. And as much as some of our friends in the media will tend to suggest to the contrary, there is no way you won’t have to look back to look forward. That is the point. How many of the infrastructural projects that were made have been implemented for the betterment of people? How many were delivered? And how many roads were built for instance in the last 8, 9, 10 years? These are the ways you would say that managing your resources well to take care of the future and I think when you look at the idea of the Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) it is a good idea which this country needs. That is why we say Nigeria would have safeguarded much more than what we have. So when you spend your resources adequately on your people, when you spend your resources on infrastructure, in that sense, you are saving. What I am saying is that we had a lot of wrongs in the past.

Let’s look at the government’s social welfare scheme. Many would have thought that with the media hype that characterised it, by now, you should have been able to point to certain number of people that have benefited from the scheme. What is delaying the scheme?

You have to agree that we do have some delay in the whole process because of the timing of the budget approval. For instance, when we came in at the end of May, there was no way the government could implement some of those social welfare schemes because it was not budgeted for. So we had to wait for the budget process to kick in so that we can begin to put our ideas forward which was done and since the budget has been signed now, we are taking off. For instance, we have started the 500,000 jobs for unemployed graduates and people have been applying and I can tell you that the process will continue for the rest of July and the application process should end sometime at the end of this month and we would go to the next stage of picking the 500,000 unemployed graduates.

The school feeding is also in the process. We are in the process of sitting down with the States that will start the first phase of it, trying to work out the modalities of how that is done. We have I identified the states that would start. The Social Registers are already developed with the World Bank and the states where the registers have been developed working with the World Bank are to start the conditional cash transfer scheme. So that is also in progress. As soon as funds become available, we would begin to announce very soon the commencement of these programmes.

What is the time frame of these projects? Besides, do you think that N23, 000 earmarked as the salary can sustain a graduate looking at the harsh economic realities on ground now?

I believe the intention of the President is to make impact in the lives of Nigerians. For instance, in terms of the Conditional Cash Transfer the party manifesto was meant to be much more millions. So it is going to continue after this year. The 500,000 jobs for unemployed graduates is also a continuous programme.

So, we expect that the people are going to exit after two years and I also think a new set of people after the two years will come in but it is going to get to a point that the economy would have picked up and sufficiently advanced to create private sector jobs. So, yes, we can’t begin to talk about the termination of the programme now because it is just starting. Hopefully it is something that is going to go on for a while.

On the issue of the N23,000, the way we conceived the allocation of 500,000 jobs for unemployed graduates especially teaching a few other areas is not so much to see it as a full time permanent job. It is like a volunteer job and then people get paid. The idea is to intervene. The idea is to say that N23,000 is better than nothing. They will stay in their community and help to teach, help in health sector and agric extensions, etc. N23,000 is not a lot of money but it is an intervention to ameliorate the situation. We believe within two years, all things being equal and by the grace of God and all the programmes of this government in the economy, technology, agriculture, more jobs, real jobs, better jobs would be created.

One thing that you are also not taking into consideration is the fact that we planned to pay N30,000 but an idea came that why don’t we actually do more in terms of preparing and equipping those selected 500,000 graduates by giving them a laptop or an iPad that would be equipped with different kinds of Apps that can help them to develop new skills. So N7,000 would be taken out of the N30,000 and would be used to give them maybe an iPad or a laptop.

We are working with Microsoft and some technology firms abroad and at home on how to equip them with good and useful skill that people can be empowered through and by that, even though he or she leaves in two years, he or she would take away that iPad, that laptop and be allowed to continue to improve themselves. So we are looking at it as something that is a little bit more exciting than just those two years. We intend to create conditions that would give opportunity to people to actually discover their hidden talents, some of their gifts by exposing them to cutting edge technology in different aspects of life.

Some people believe that the recruitment would have been better handled by the NDE or ministries instead of the office of the Vice President. How do you react to this?

The first thing about this process is that it is transparent and that is why we are using a platform that everybody can go and check. That is the first thing. That is why we are insisting on online applications. The National Directorate of Employment (NDE) is involved. The ministries are involved. When we have a project that cuts across ministries, we need co-ordination and that is what the Presidency is doing. So it is for the reason of bringing about effective co-ordination of some of these programmes that Mr. President has asked the Vice President to co-ordinate this programme, to bring the ministries together. It is not just something that is done by one ministry and you don’t want a situation where everybody would be going in different ways. The Presidency exists for the purposes of coordinating the job of government. So, that is why it is being co-ordinated. So each of these programmes have inter-ministerial interactions and working effectively and efficiently to deliver on the programme of Mr. President.

The Vice President co-ordinates the economy under this administration; is he not concerned about reports of illegal recruitments in some government agencies such as CBN and FIRS?

Some of these reports are inaccurate. (But more importantly) What we have is that government is working to ensure that we develop going forward a more transparent process. We are committed going forward to ensure that some of these procedures are refined, fine tuned and made to become more transparent.

How has it been serving the government in the last one year?

Well, it has been exciting especially for someone like me having lived out of this country for 17 years. (Based in New York until June last year) So, to have the opportunity to serve a President and Vice President both of who are men of high integrity, it is a privilege and it is also a very unique opportunity to work with the President and Vice President: people that you know will not go back and cut deals. I think it is good that we have a President that has integrity; we have a leader at this time who everybody knows is very honest; someone whose only agenda is how to make this country great again. I must tell you that it is extremely inspiring in the last one year. I count myself blessed.

How do you cope with the pace of the Vice-President who is apparently a workaholic?

I think the Vice President himself is inspired by the President. That is the truth. I remember I had a discussion with him even before he gave me the job and he told me he had always regarded the then General Buhari for his frugalness, integrity, honesty, his clear desire to touch the lives of people. So I believe the Vice President sees this as an opportunity that Nigeria has, having a leader of President Buhari’s calibre. He wants to throw in everything that he has got to make this administration work, to support the programme of the President. That is why you see the Vice President working endlessly because he believes that having someone like President Buhari at the head of affairs of this country is a great opportunity that shouldn't be lost.

•Photo shows Laolu Akande.

Source: News Express

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