‘We are committed to reforms on ease of doing business’
Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Industry, Trade and Investment, in this interview with TOPE TEMPLER OLAIYA says the Federal Government is committed to implementing reforms that will make doing business in the country easy. She also spoke on the gains of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) 60-day National Action Plan on Ease of Doing Business, which was implemented from February 21, 2017 to April 21, 2017.
What is the PEBEC about?
PEBEC is chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) and has as members cabinet ministers, which include the Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of State for Industry Trade & Investment, Aisha Abubakar; and her counterpart in Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed. Others are the Head of Service, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, and several heads of MDAs, while I serve as the secretary of the committee.
We last week released a report card on the 60-Day report, which highlights 31 completed reforms across the council’s eight priority indicators of starting a business, construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, paying taxes, trading across borders, and entry and exit of people.
Our core mandate was looking at ways to remove critical bottlenecks and bureaucratic constraints to doing business in Nigeria, and moving Nigeria 20 places upwards in the World Bank Doing Business Rankings.
One of the focus areas of the action plan is the process of starting a business, what implementable strategies have been devised to eliminate bottlenecks in this regard?
Starting a business is one of the eight reform areas, which the PEBEC prioritised over the last 60 days. Starting a business is crucial because it is invariably the first step taken by a business owner seeking to formalise his or her idea. The quicker, easier and cheaper it is to start a business, the better it is for MSMEs and the better it is for the economy.
The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) is the MDA responsible for implementing reforms in this area. As you know, the CAC is under the supervision of the honourable minister of industry, trade and investment, Enelamah, who is the vice chair of PEBEC, and one of the most passionate champions of this administration’s commitment to leaving a legacy of a progressively easier environment for businesses to thrive.
Over the last 60 days, the PEBEC has actually gone well beyond devising strategies to implementing tangible reforms with measurable impact. On Starting a business, PEBEC’s 60-day target was to reduce the number of days it takes to register a business from almost two weeks to just two days. And I am glad to say that CAC has achieved that by making some much-needed changes.
The CAC online portal now has a document upload interface, which makes it unnecessary for prospective business owners to visit CAC offices to physically submit the required registration documents. Stamp duties can now be paid for directly on the CAC portal; SMEs no longer need to hire lawyers to process their registration documents, and the CAC has consolidated the several incorporation documents which a business owner previously had to fill into one single form in order to save time and costs.
The CAC has also enabled a public search window on its portal to avoid duplication of names or choosing of prohibited names. We are aware of the complaints about the frequent downtime experienced on the CAC portal. The agency is working to fix that problem and ensure that the portal is reliable for its customers as well as engaging the services of a private vendor to host its servers with a commitment of up to 99 percent uptime.
What strategy has PEBEC come up with to reduce the constraints of registering property?
The PEBEC is well aware that secured interest and title to lands are crucial to attracting investments. What we have done in this first phase of the plan is to collaborate with the governments of Lagos and Kano states in the areas of registering property and dealing with construction permits. The governors of the two states have always displayed great appetite for reforms and are never wavering in their support for the enabling business environment secretariat (EBES), which I coordinate.
Lagos state is committed to eliminate unnecessary procedures in the property registration process and to reduce the number of days it takes to register property from 77 to 30 days. They have eliminated the requirement for sworn affidavit as a procedure for conducting title search at the Lagos land registry. The lands registry and service centre is being reconstructed and the governor has said he intends to commission it by May 1.
There are some targets the Lagos government committed to which haven’t been met yet like the reduction in time needed to get governor’s consent and the consolidation of payments. It is a work in progress, and I am confident that they will be achieved soon.
How soon will Nigerians begin to see results of the action plan?
Nigerians are already seeing the effects of our reforms. It is a gradual process, and some reforms have more immediate impact than others. However, reforms around starting a business are already being felt as I mentioned earlier. Those who travel through our airports now use the consolidated arrival and departure forms introduced by the immigration service. We have had several businesses and tourist visitors make use of the visa-on-arrival procedure.
The Abuja airport just reopened last week after six weeks, and in addition to the repairs on the runaway, select infrastructural improvements took place with repairs of elevators, carousels, ACs, among others to ensure an improved traveller experience.
On trading across borders, PEBEC set a target to reduce import and export times by up to 50 percent. Now, goods coming into the country are now required to be arranged in pallets to ensure quicker physical examination; vessels importing into the country are required to send their cargo manifest in advance to ensure optimal cargo placement; Approval has been obtained to reduce number of documents required for imports and exports due to the realisation that there are far more documentation requirements at our ports than at those of most of our peers.
We intend going forward to look at other critical sectors of the economy, especially the MDAs that have direct impact on businesses and the lives of Nigerians like National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON).