Is the EGRP another dying growth plan?

UDO-UDOMA

On April 5, 2017 at the State House Abuja, the federal government formally launched the much touted Economic Growth Recovery Plan (ERGP: 2017-2020). The event had in attendance all the bigwigs in the government including the President, Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, governors, and virtually all federal ministers. To clarify the motive for developing a new economic plan for Nigeria, the Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator UdomaUdoUdoma said the EGRP is a fulfilment of President MuhammaduBuhari’s promise to re-invigorate the Nigerian economy. In essence the formulation of that plan is a requisite step to fulfilling one of the three strand campaign promises of the president, which are the restoration of security, fight corruption and reinvigoration of a broken economy. The attendance at the formal launch of the plan and subsequent utterances from officials of government suggest that the EGRP is, conceivably, the official policy document of the current government. This is further established by the depth and breadth of the areas the document covers, albeit ambitious. The plan, whichcore objectives are to restore growth, encourage investment in Nigerians, and build a globally competitive economy, is predicated on five priority areas. It is designed to stabilise the macroeconomic environment, achieve agricultural growth and food security;expand energy infrastructure capacities (power and petroleum); improve transportation infrastructure anddrive industrialization principally through local and small business enterprises.

Specifically, the government aims to ramp up oil production to 2.2 mbpd in the short term and 2.5 mbpd by 2020 in order to increase export earnings and government revenues by an additional N800 billion annually. The government is to privatise selected public enterprises/assets, and revamp local refineries to reduce petroleum product imports by 60 percent by 2018 with the ultimate aim ofbecoming a net exporter by 2020, while preventing reversion to the fuel subsidy regime.Greater attention is to be paid to non-oil sectors such as Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, and especially the entertainment industries. An essential component of the plan is the proposition to leverage on science and technology to drive growth and development in the country which aligns with global policy focus.Real GDP is projected to grow by 4.62 per cent on average over the period of 2017 – 2020, from an estimated contraction of 1.54 per cent in 2016. Real GDP growth is projected to improve significantly to 2.19 per cent in 2017, reaching 7 per cent at the end of the Plan period. Ultimately, by the expiration of the EGRP in 2020, the plan is expected to have delivered on the following: stable macroeconomic environment, restoration of economic growth, agricultural transformation and food security;power and petroleum products sufficiency, improved stock of transportation infrastructure;industrialized economy, and improved foreign exchange inflows. The expectation is to provide a lifeline for the 17.6 million unemployed/underemployed youth who account for about 22 per cent of the labour force as at Q2 2016.

In fairness to the drafters of the plan, it is probably the most detailed and all-encompassing policy document of the current administration. The document goes beyond addressing strictly economic issues to addressing public service reforms, security challenges and governance in Nigeria. Nevertheless, the best plans on paper do not achieve desired change unless they are well implemented. The government has rightly identified reasons behind the failure of previous economic plans as poor prioritization and commitment, inconsistent follow-up; insufficient data; absence of accountability and management; and insufficient mobilization of financial resources. And to avoid repeating the same mistake, the EGRP is designed to focus on priorities, establish clear accountability; set targets and develop detailed action plans,and allocate resources to priorities. The government is also expected to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment; monitor and drive progress, and communicate progress. The most important innovation for successful execution is the establishment of the Special Delivery Unit in the presidency. The unit is to focus on the top execution priorities, and monitor the implementation of the critical initiatives closely in order to provide early warning signals of potential risks. Of course this is designed to entrench a presidential monitoring system that is necessary in our clime where the president’s involvement is needed to achieve success in any national endeavour. Whereas the Ministry of Planning and Budget is to present Quarterly Progress reports to the President and the Federal Executive Council, social media engagement strategies would be developed to obtain feedback from the public, especially youths. On the whole, the overall outlook of the plan provides optimism and faith in the government to restore Nigeria in the right direction. The programme, which actually commenced in 2016 with the Strategic Implementation Plan, SIP, has attained nearly fifty per cent of its lifespan; however we do not appear to have made considerable progress in execution and attainment of set goals and objectives, especially the time bound milestones.

The EGRP introduces three instructive scenarios to justify unswervingexecution of the plan. The first scenario is “doing nothing” in which case status quo remains and the government simply allows the economy to move along with international crude oil price movement. The second scenario is the “introduction of basic macroeconomic reforms”, which presupposes the implementation of reforms that are not structural and probably fail to achieve lasting redirection for economic growth. And the final scenario is the implementation of the EGRP and resolute commitment to actualising the bold and structural macroeconomic initiatives in the plan, which will eventually lead to the creation of 15 million net jobs and reduce poverty from 61 per cent to 50-55 per cent by 2020.In other words, the non-implementation of the plan will put the country in a very precarious economic state as captured in the first and second scenarios.

It may be too early to draw conclusions on the performance of the plan since 2020 is still two years away. However, the government seems to have relaxed on the implementation strategies set out in the plan. Some economic decisions are already in dissonance with the objectives set out in the plan. For instance, regardless of the terminologies and semantics deployed, the government still pays subsidy and import refined petroleum which is clearly in conflict with the policy direction in EGRP. It is indicting that more than one year after the plan was launched, the Delivery Unit in the presidency has not been set up and there have not been quarterly progress reports as stated in the plan. Likewise, there is clearly no social media engagement strategy currently being implemented as not many Nigerian youths are aware of the policy document, which perhaps is the main policy document of the current administration. The absence of communication channels for the plan suggests only one thing: there is probably nothing to communicate about the plan. If this is the case, it will be depressing to see our country throw away another good plan for lack of commitment to implementation, repeating the mistake of the old.

Part of the overall plan to ensure that the benefits of EGRP cut across the country was to urge state governments to domesticate the plan. Currently, out of the 36 states of the federation, only Edo state has unveiled a domesticated version of the EGRP. The plan is also threatened by the slow passage of the budget, which is still with the national assembly and might not be passed before the third anniversary of the President MuhammaduBuhari’s administration. One can only wonder how an economic growth plan will be achieved when there is so much uncertainty surrounding the budget of the nation.

Perchance, the most impactful factor that threatens the plan is the impending 2019 elections, which is gradually taking the centre stage in government’s activities, and approach to governance. We are less than nine months to the elections and soon, the campaigns will commence. The peculiarity of our polity demands ministers to show loyalty by not only appearing at campaign venues but to also heavily campaign in their respective constituencies for the president. It will take an enviable level of ambidexterity for the ministers to pay attention to the full implementation of the plan in this defining political season.

Now that the country is out of recession, the next direction is growth that is driven by a strong policy direction. The EGRP is a good map to our growth destination, but it does appear that our policy drivers have veered off this track for a path that is likely to take us nowhere. The indicators paint a pessimistic picture of another dying policy document. To rescue the situation requires urgent action from the government. Setting up the delivery unit in the presidency will go a long way in ensuring the implementation of the plan. We may not be able to achieve all that we have ambitiously set out to accomplish in EGRP, but the country will be better if we make a genuine attempt at progress by concertedly implementing the plan.

 

  

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