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‘Private sector must participate in implementing economic policies’

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Taiwo Adeniyi

Newly-elected President of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Taiwo Adeniyi, in this interview with Gloria Nwafor, talks about how important it is for government to involve the private sector in implementing policies. He also speaks on plans to create a business friendly environment for employers.

What measures should the government take to mitigate challenges associated with COVID-19 pandemic on businesses?
The country as a whole does not exist in a vacuum. One of the things to do is to learn from other people’s experience. We have had the worst economic periods with issues on economy and health, where the workforce cannot be all at work at the same time. That again creates some gaps. What we are saying to the government is, if there is anything that can keep the economy going, it is the private sector; attention should be paid to the private sector.

From our last interaction with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, a number of plans are in the pipeline, but they are always very good on paper. It is at the implementation stage that we begin to have issues. It will be important for government to involve the private sector in implementing those robust plans; otherwise, if it falls in hands of politicians, it will be useless. It is important that the private sector is carried along all the time. The private sector is interested in running their business, and all that will allow them to run their businesses efficiently and proficiently is what they would be looking for, not for personal gain of any sort. As we paddle through this difficult moment, it is important that we learn from the experience of other countries, look at what they are doing, and see what we can do. Learn from experiences in the past, how did we handle them, and how can we better handle them? This is a period that will definitely come to pass.

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What is NECA doing to support members whose businesses have been shut down or struggling to survive due to the Coronavirus lockdown?
Quite unfortunately, we are private sector operators. We found out that every business is different from the other. There is really not much that we can do in that direction, other than to keep talking to government to support us with palliatives, stimulus packages, and grants that can help revive businesses. What we can do on our part, is to identify those businesses and make recommendations to government; more like guaranteeing that we know those businesses, that is what we can do and endure that government is not throwing away money. Other countries have given grants to credible companies to sustain businesses. When you give grants and you monitor through the mechanisms of associations such as ours, you are sure to get good results out of it.

Then for big businesses, we have a body called Organised Private Sector (OPS). We have made a position paper to government on that, part of which was our interactive session with the Minister of Industry, Trade and investment, and he brought us to terms that the government is already working on all of our demands. If they go by the things they told us, truly we shouldn’t have any issue; which means that a number of businesses struggling now should come up. The funding are targeted on these businesses to come up, because as we have more of them, we have more job creation in place. They have also created a window that has to do with women empowerment, because it is said that when you empower a woman, you empower a nation. We are expecting to see results from this third quarter.

As the new president of NECA, what should employers expect to see in your administration?
I am not new to NECA. I was the honorary treasurer before I became the first vice president; I was acting president and now President of NECA. So, when you talk about what new things we are bringing on the platform, the first thing is to continue on the good work that we’ve been doing, and to assure our employers that we will be more committed to ensuring businesses are done the way they should be done. Whatever that is needed, we will mediate between the employers of labour and the government of the day; in terms of labour demands, regulatory demands and government demands. For instance, some of the current issues that we have now are more of regulatory, which are demands of the government. It is for us as NECA to represent our employers. We look out for what it is that can make the business environment a lot more friendly for our members.

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What measures should the government take to curb rising cases of unemployment and poverty rates as well as avert more job losses?
Just before COVID-19 pandemic era, government took some decisions regarding the Value Added Tax (VAT), which was increased from five per cent to 7.5 per cent. We had suggested to the government that this lockdown period be a time that we delay it for two years so that there can be more money for organisations to run their businesses? The whole essence of that was for cash flow improvement. Yes, we can waive it for the period. Although, it can be argued that where will the government get the money to run governance? But at the same, if you collapse organisations that are supposed to bring the 7.5 per cent VAT, it will all amount to zero achievement. But rather than it being zero, it will be a case of two years, and then you come back to your decision. Now, we have critical issues with forex availability, can the government create a window for organisations such as NECA members or even manufacturers to enjoy easy pricing, provided that it is meant for procurement of raw materials or services to keep you in operation? Government can do that and it would have solved a whole lot of problems. Again, the government should relax some policies and regulations that are business unfriendly.

For instance, the government introduced the Nigeria Police Fund, this is the period for the government to look at some of those headings to know which ones they will suspend or delay. Can they review the tariff systems to accommodate this period for them to feel the pains of employers of labour? They should look at removing deductions from organisations. For example, one per cent of payroll goes to the NSITF. Can the government either reduce or suspend it for the period so that more money would be available for employers to keep their businesses running? When the business environment is thriving, it will give room for job creation and also avert imminent job losses.

How has the Association’s collaboration with the government ensured that the ease of doing business in Nigeria is yielding desired results?
Our collaboration with the government has been to ensure that the ease of doing business platforms that the government has created are effective and are yielding desired results. There is a forum where the government meets with employers of labour and other stakeholders in the economy quarterly. There, we are allowed to air our views on issues that borders on the operating environment; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo chairs the committee. While the government is trying its best, a lot more still needs to be done. We have made position papers and submitted them to the government from areas of regulatory to cumbersome policies. We are waiting for the outcome.

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In this article:
NECATaiwo Adeniyi
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