Posted by By Ayo Olesin and Chijama Ogbu on
The recent resignation of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Economic Team, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.....
The recent resignation of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the Economic Team, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, will not derail the ongoing economic reforms in the country.
The Chief Economic Adviser to the President and Chairman, National Planning Commission, Dr. Osita Ogbu, gave the assurance on Tuesday during a visit to PUNCH Headquarters in Lagos.
He said that many aspects of the reforms had already been institutionalised and pointed out that there were several bills still pending before the National Assembly designed to guarantee the continuation of the programmes.
He said while the former minister’s exit was “highly regrettable,” the reforms were anchored on teamwork.
He, therefore, rejected insinuations in some international publications that the resignation of Okonjo-Iweala, formerly finance and later foreign affairs minister, was an indication that the reform programme was in jeopardy.
Ogbu said that the ongoing economic reforms have led to macroeconomic stability and dismissed fears that they might not be sustainable.
He however acknowledged that infrastructure delivery had not met the expectations of Nigerians but stressed that it would be wrong to say that the Obasanjo administration had not achieved anything in that regard.
He attributed the perceived slow delivery of infrastructure to the level of decay inherited, indecision on privatisation of key sectors, and lack of investments in the expansion and upgrade of facilities.
He said the government was tackling the rehabilitation of the railways head on, with massive investments planned for track expansion and upgrade.
Ogbu said that private sector involvement would only come after basic infrastructure issues had been resolved.
The power sector, he said, will be the next high growth area in the economy and will require a major realignment of specialised skills to fill new jobs that would be created as on going investments mature.
He pointed out that massive investments in the power sector by both the Federal Government and in Independent Power Plants by oil and gas multinationals would result in an increase in power generation to 10,000 megawatts before the end of 2008, up from 4,500 megawatts at present.
Ogbu, predicted that the growth in that sector could replicate what happened in the telecommunications sector after its liberalisation.
He said that there would be a need to produce skilled manpower, especially in engineering and other energy sector disciplines.
He, however, said that Nigerians should expect to pay more for electricity, though he maintained that the cost to consumers would be lower in real terms considering the fact that Nigeria was virtually running on generators.
Responding to observations that the reforms were yet to be felt significantly at the state and local government levels, the Chief Economic Adviser said government was thinking of how to encourage the lower levels of government to plug into the momentum of change through incentives and competition.
He said that the NPC would continue its assessment of states on key performance benchmarks, with the next exercise due in October.
He said that the new thinking was to distribute resources such as excess crude earnings based on the capacity of state governments to deliver in areas such as transparency, policy development and implementation and budgetary performance.
Ogbu noted that development partners and donors would use the results of the last assessment to determine states that should benefit from their programmes.
He said that more attention should be focused on states and local governments by the media and the general public in order to exert pressure on them to deliver the dividends of democracy.
Addressing concerns raised about the declining value of the United States dollar, in which most of the nation’s $38billion external reserves is held, Ogbu said part of the reserves were held in non-dollar assets and that efforts at involving local banks in foreign reserves management “would make more sense” on the long run.
He however expressed concern about the public perception of the Obasanjo administration, which he said was due in part to perceived negative media reporting, which he claimed was a challenge to government, especially when relating with prospective overseas investment partners.
He called for more understanding of government activities and programmes.
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