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Stakeholders disagree over World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking

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People move on a street of Marina in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja

Stakeholders yesterday disagreed over the higher ranking of Nigeria by the World Bank in its 2020 Doing Business Index (DBI).

The global bank, in its report which was released yesterday, ranked Nigeria 131 out of 190 countries, up 15 places from 146th position last year. The report also named Nigeria as one of the top 10 most improved economies in the world for the second time in three years.

Nigeria is one of only two African countries to make this highly prestigious list. With this year’s leap, the country has improved an aggregate of 39 places in the World Bank Doing Business index since 2016.

The DBI is an annual ranking that objectively assesses prevailing business climate conditions across 190 countries based on 10 ease of doing business indicators. The index captures ease of doing business reforms that have been validated by the private sector and offers comparative insights based on private sector validation in the two largest commercial cities in countries with a population higher than 100 million. Therefore, the report features Lagos and Kano for Nigeria.

Welcoming the announcement, President Muhammadu Buhari noted that “the movement of 15 places to 131 as well as the recognition being given to Nigeria as one of the top 10 most improved countries that have implemented the most reforms this year is significant because we were not even able to achieve some of the key reforms we had pursued, but what we have done so far is being recognized. This validation confirms that our strategy is working and we will continue to push even harder to deliver more impactful reforms.”

With the impending ratification of the Companies and Allied Matters Bill and the introduction of the Business Facilitation (Omnibus) Bill, 2019 in view, along with other ongoing regulatory, judicial and sub-national reforms, the President declared that “the announcement by the World Bank indicates that our mandate to move into the top 70 doing business destinations by 2023 remains achievable.”

Briefing Buhari on the rankings, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment and Vice Chair of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), Otunba Niyi Adebayo, had stated: “The steady improvement in Nigeria’s ease of doing business score and rank is a testament to the reforms implemented by this administration over the past four years in line with the reform agenda being implemented at national and sub-national levels across the country since the establishment of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) by President Buhari in July, 2016.

“The PEBEC works towards the fulfillment of the projections of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP 2017-2020), which is striving to deliver sustainable economic growth in Nigeria by restoring growth, investing in our people, and building a competitive economy as we work towards delivering Mr President’s mandate of bringing 100 million people out of poverty. The 2020 Doing Business report from the World Bank has reaffirmed the commitment of the newly constituted PEBEC to making Nigeria a progressively easier place to do business and removing the bureaucratic constraints to doing business in the country as we forge ahead in this Next Level.”

The PEBEC chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, with 13 ministers as members among others, has through its secretariat collaborated with ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), National Assembly, judiciary, state governments and the private sector to carry out over 140 reforms so far in a bid to remove bureaucratic constraints to doing business.

On the new ranking, Dr Jumoke Oduwole, Special Adviser to the President, Ease of Doing Business/Secretary PEBEC, said: “The private sector remains the fulcrum of the ease of doing business interventions. We are committed to more engagements among reform-implementing organs of government and the private sector players, and we are happy to see that these have resulted in a more favourable validation of the reforms by the private sector. This result will serve as encouragement to sustain the deepening of these reforms and make it even more tangible for businesses and the citizenry.”

But some private sector operators have said that the harsh realities remain, while the operating environment is awash with many contradictions. They argued that despite the ranking and government’s efforts to ease the pains of businesses, some of its regulatory agencies are doing the direct opposite.

The agencies’ actions, they said, most times bother on illegality and blatant disregard for court pronouncements, thereby stifling the environment and making it unfriendly for businesses to operate.

While applauding government’s recent reforms, which reflected in the country’s ranking, the Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, said that for businesses to remain competitive, government should check the excesses of some regulatory agencies, promote social dialogue and continuous engagement with the organised private sector as well as create an environment favourable for investment and employment generation.

He advised government to establish a clearing desk in the presidency where organised businesses can give regular and useful feedback on the implications of monetary and fiscal policies on the operators in the real sector. He said greater focus should be given to the real sector to enable it thrive through the provision of single interest credit facilities for expansion.

He Stated: “Government should beware of destroying businesses through imposition of more taxes, invasion of company’s premises to collect taxes even when there are pending litigation, and disrespect for due process and the rule of law, among others.

“Government should ensure that the new rating translates into development in the country, facilitate passage of pending bills that would have positive effect on doing business; critical attention should be paid to infrastructures.”

The Deputy General Secretary of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Chris Onyeka, said the ease of doing business in Nigeria had not improved and so government should not start giving kudos to itself.

He noted that it was only a lazy student that would be jumping up from being still far from the top.

“For government to start praising themselves, Nigerians must feel the impact of good governance and economic reforms. Ease of doing business in Nigeria has not improved, the government cannot give kudos to itself. We are not seeing economic reforms on ground, because when we talk of ease of doing business, those in business should be able to tell you they can see it.  Look at what is happening to importation, they just closed the border overnight without informing importers.

“For Nigerians to attest to the ease of doing business, we must feel inflation not on the high side, and good governance. It is not what you see on paper but what you can feel,” he said.

Onyeka stressed the need to improve governance processes to reduce avenues for people to enrich themselves through corruption.

“We advise government to do more so that they can stand on their promises to Nigeria. What they have done is not enough. Basically, is only a lazy student that would be jumping up for being far from the top, some people are on the middle of the way and they are not jumping up, you that is still far is jumping up, we have not done well. If you want us to clap for you, you should be very close to the top,” he added.


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