Monday, 4th December 2023

‘Govt is not serious until subsidy thieves are punished’

By Muyiwa Adeyemi
02 August 2023   |   4:05 am
I think two key policies that have the possibility of positively impacting the economy are the fuel subsidy removal and the abandonment of multiple exchange rates. The approval of these policies by the public and international community is understandable.
Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun


World Bank consultant, Prof. Ladipo Adamolekun, spoke with MUYIWA ADEYEMI on how the Federal Government can effectively deliver on its promises, and the place of strategic deployment of palliatives to ease the current socio-economic tension, among sundry issues.

What is your assessment of policies and reforms of President Bola Tinubu since he assumed office on May 29?
I think two key policies that have the possibility of positively impacting the economy are the fuel subsidy removal and the abandonment of multiple exchange rates. The approval of these policies by the public and international community is understandable.

However, on fuel subsidy, there are two next steps that we cannot afford to be silent on for too long. First, what is happening to fuel subsidy thieves, they must be punished? Even if you cannot identify or punish all of them, but make examples that will show seriousness of government and it will further strengthen that policy.

Second, is the fallout and impact on the ordinary citizen and the impact on the cost of living that affects ordinary citizens. Palliatives have been mentioned but there is no follow up to that. Fuel subsidy removal is the way to go, but the necessary accompanying measures should not be delayed and it should be on the front burner. I repeat fuel subsidy thieves must be punished.

Are you saying the oil sector should be probed?
I’m not sure it is a question of probe. I think people know the fuel subsidy thieves, except there is no intelligence in the country. Okay, I want to assume that you don’t need any elaborate probe to identify or to pick up some of these rogues and make a public example.

You remember Buhari government said they know them, even former Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami said they had a list of oil subsidy thieves, was the list out? Probe is a way of dodging the issue. The information is out there.

Before the subsidy was removed, the World Bank was said to have approved some money to Buhari administration, but it was not released, which I am sure President Tinubu should pursue. The issue of palliatives for the ordinary citizens should be taken more seriously than this.

What kind of palliatives are you looking at? 
I want to assume that the President has experts to dig into this. There are people with international experiences. They are not re-inventing the wheel. What we lack that I know of is that our data is unreliable. It is not robust.

There is a need to fine-tune our database in order to identify those the palliatives should be correctly targeted. For instance, you remember the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) of the Buhari administration. I can confirm to you that what I saw in the field showed poor targeting. I don’t think I would go into the details, I can confirm to you that if you go to the World Bank or AfDB office, you will have adequate information.

There should be information to the media about what is happening and some timelines because subsidy is gone but those accompanying measures should not be further delayed.

When you are talking of World Bank, IMF offering advice to Nigeria, some believe that advise coming from these institutions are purely capitalists in nature and not good for Nigeria’s economy?
Having worked in the World Bank for close to 20 years, I can tell you categorically that a government gets what it deserves from those institutions.

It is not the World Bank that made it possible for Korea to grow from developing to developed country. It is the way Korea organised itself to use the resources made available by the World Bank, to use their technical insights made available.

The same thing when I was in World Bank, South Africa asked for advice, but they didn’t borrow money. World Bank dictates to countries that accept dictations. If you don’t put your first team forward, you won’t know what to ask for. If they give you, you won’t know whether it fits your country or not. So, it is the quality of the team that Nigeria put forward that will affect the relevance and effectiveness of the lessons.

Do your own homework; get your top people there. I think that is the short answer I will give you.

So, Nigeria should blame her experts and government officials for not getting the best for country from the World Bank.
Yes, that’s just how it is. I think working close to 20 years is not a short experience.

Talking about reforming the economy of Nigeria, what are those areas you want the government to look into?
We just talked about fuel subsidy removal. The manifesto of Tinubu is sensible about the private sector driven economy, but state intervention has huge relevance. How you balance the quality of people you have to work with, you cannot do it by yourself.

The next one was the multiple exchange rates. It was also a bleeding point for the economy and unifying it as he has done is also a step in the right direction.

However, an accompanying step has not been taken. What has happened to Emefiele? His human rights demand that he should be taken to the court. You don’t just detain someone indefinitely, but more importantly, he has done things that deserve punishment. Under his watch, the Central Bank was rotten from the head. How do we trust the quality of people he left behind?

How can you be governor of Central Bank and go to court to say they should allow you to participate in partisan politics? The dependence of the Central Bank is a key issue in monetary policy, reducing inflation, and reducing fiscal crises. Take for example, the problem of our debt, if the CBN had been run, as it should be, we should not be where we are.

Since the 1970s, the independence of the CBN has been found worldwide to be a critical pillar of good economic management. But don’t violate his human right and let him get the punishment he deserves. You remember his currency swap policy, what was behind it? Apparently, Buhari simply approved it without understanding the real issue behind it.

Do you remember all those photo ops of Emefiele and Buhari trying to tell the public he has presidential approval. When I visited my bank in Akure recently, I was given old naira notes.

We need to overhaul the CBN, you don’t need more than two or three technical people to put the more senior directors through thorough interviews to find out if they even understand what an independent Central Bank means to the economy. If you don’t have a functioning and independent CBN, all the things you are asking about the economy will be affected.

Will you say the civil service is equipped and strong enough to interpret and implement some of the reforms and policies of the government?
I am aware that the Presidential Policy Advisory Council (PPAC) submitted a report to the President shortly after he was sworn in. The President set up this committee after winning the election. It is a very good initiative from him.

And one of their important recommendations is the establishment of a Presidential Performance and Delivery Unit (PPDU). That is a step in the right direction to deal with the issue we have just raised. But it might come out that I am saying too many things should be on the front banner, but again we are in a very bad situation that you can’t be waiting to do things.

So, focusing on improving the quality of the civil service, which is the instrument for delivery is not something you leave until your 7th year in office like Buhari did and you are familiar with the lamentation that he made.

It is as if the new President is learning from that and there is plan for this PPDU.  However, I have read their report submitted to the President and there is a major flaw. With due regard to the quality of people on the panel who did it, the fundamental error is that they said it should be headed by a cabinet minister. Now, a PPDU is supposed to bear, to prod the cabinet to deliver. So, saying a member of the cabinet to head it is not right. If you make the head a minister, he will be an equal of the other ministers.

There are countries that have set example of how to improve performance and delivery. UK under Tony Blair is a very good example, the head of that type of unit is specially selected and reports directly to the President, I mean the head of government in UK. And he invites them whenever there are issues to be brought to the attention of ministers. I am familiar with what they are trying to do and it should happen within first six months.

If President Tinubu did not staff the agency with quality people and let it start running as soon as possible, then there will be challenges in the implementation of his policies. Delivery is important and that is what will make Nigerians feel the impact of the reforms and that is why the establishment is named Presidential Performance and Delivery Unit (PPDU). They are the ones that will reform the civil service and make it work as expected.

You need to search for the experts to staff it, not people sending their CVs around can deliver that kind of responsibility. Even in political appointments, portfolio should be attached to the list of the ministerial nominees that will be sent to the National Assembly. This will assist them to determine their competence and capability. But I insist that PPDU must be under the President and must report to him directly to achieve what it is meant to achieve.

Looking at Nigeria’s politics and democracy, will you say, it is getting better and advancing?
I will say that after 24 years, we are still at a low stage. This is unfortunate, but let me give you an example, the executive-legislature relationship since 1999 has been acrimonious. Remember the removal of senate presidents under Obasanjo’s regime several times. Saraki’ s senate presidency, its alliance with Ekweremadu against the ruling party. But now the incumbent President was a senator and he should understand the essence of working together with the legislative arm of government.

But there is a worrisome dimension to the way he is approaching it, you must have followed the extent to which he was involved in appointing the leadership of the National Assembly including appointment of principal officers, that is an aberration in the classical understanding of relationship between the three arms of government.

The ideal thing is to be independent, not antagonistic; it must be in a position to perform its oversight functions. Unfortunately, they also have turned themselves to contractors through constituency projects. There is need for caution not to becoming a clearing-house to executive proposals.

Should a former governor in Senate or appointed a minister still be collecting pensions?
That is not how it is being done elsewhere and the cost of governance in Nigeria is hugely inflated. In fact, it is an unnecessary burden on the ordinary Nigerians, who are facing challenges arising from fuel subsidy removal.

Again, there is a burden on the President to reduce cost of governance by reducing the number of his appointees. It is a very bad practice because life pension for former governors falls under the umbrella of cost of governance. I am told that the Speaker of House of Representative, Tajudeen Abass has thirty-three aides. To do what? The legislative budget is a burden on the budget. We have the best-paid legislators in the world but their performance rank among the least 10, but their salaries are in the ranks of top 10. The data is there.