Friday, 19 April 2013

Blair: Nigeria Not Achieving Full Potential Due to Corruption, Lax Corporate Governance

17 Apr 2013 * Survey shows insecurity as greater risk to business than corruption House advocates bill on private equity By James Emejo and Muhammad Bello The Chairman and Founder of Omnia Strategy LLP, Mrs. Cherie Blair, Tuesday said the menace of corruption and lax corporate governance were currently hurting Nigerian companies and limiting the country's ability to achieve its full economic potential. She said a lot still needed to be done in terms of contract enforcement and strict adherence to the rules of business. Speaking in Abuja at the 10th Henshaw Private Equity Seminar on Private Equity and Policy tagged: 'Enabling Policies and Corporate Governance: Twin Levers for International Investment', Blair said the present culture of impunity even where rules are applied, was not only unacceptable but a disincentive for global private-equity investors hoping to explore emerging opportunities in the country. She said the best way to go was for government and companies to enact enabling policies to sincerely implement good corporate governance and punish infringements. Blair said it was not enough to merely investigate a wrongdoing without meting out appropriate sanctions to those who broke the rules regardless of who they are. She said although every country including the United Kingdom had had to fight corruption at various point in time, the approach in handling the menace was more critical. Omnia Strategy boss said the UK had to severally apply the full wrath of the law including outright confiscation of properties and imprisonment whenever there were infractions. While describing corruption as insidious, she said Nigeria had a commendable template for fighting the menace but implementation had often been a major concern. She said although widely regarded as Africa's powerhouse, where investors are looking forward to invest, the complication of cross-border business had necessitated the need for strict adherence to contracts with significant level of transparency. Blair also highlighted the imperativeness of creating incentives and reward system for good behaviour as well as transparency in handling issues. Her comments came on a day it was revealed that business executives now see the present insecurity as greatest challenge to doing business in the country more than the issue of corruption which had been in the front burner for decades. The survey, which was conducted by the NOI Polls also indicated that almost all business executives had affirmed that they had paid bribes at one time or the other to public officials in the course of business transactions. Chief Executive Officer of NOI Polls, Oge Modie, said during an Enabling Policies Panel session which was chaired by THISDAY Newspapers’ Editor, Ijeoma Nwogwugwu, that apart from insecurity, businesses were more concerned about smuggling, power, finance, corruption - situations which tend to suggest that Nigerians might have become accustomed to corruption. Modie said a comprehensive report on the study was expected to be made public soon. Also speaking at the occasion Tuesday, Minister of State for Power, Mrs. Zainab Kuchi, said the federal government had done all that needed to be done to encourage local and foreign investment in the power sector, particularly the renewal energy which she said would offer much cheaper electricity to Nigerians. She added that government had put in place good corporate governance structure as well as the political will required to boost investor-confidence in the sector. She described 2013 as the year of renewable energy and improve power supply in the country. Meanwhile, the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Mr. Abdulmumini Jibril, has called for a bill to guide and regulate private equity practice in the country. According to him, when passed into law, the bill should make private equity investors to compete alongside conventional banks in providing funds to businesses. "We need to bring together existing laws and aggregate them to guide private equity and guide a private equity bill. We need to repackage these laws," he said, adding that “such laws should have its own regulator." He said currently, the banks' lending to government represented about 60 per cent of their loan portfolio - a situation which often resulted into higher lending rates to customers. He said though not presently a viable source of financing in the country, "We need to match words with actions. It's necessary to start promoting private equity." Managing Director of FSDH Merchant Bank Limited, Mr. Rilwan Belo-Osagie said organisation must have to believe in the ideals of corporate governance, align it with company strategy to be able to implement it. He said corporate governance had become extremely important for long-term survival of banks and to attract funds to an organisation. Also, the First Lady, Mrs Patience Jonathan, has commended Blair for her commitment to improving the lots of women, by strengthening the capacity of women entrepreneurs through her NGO, “Cherie Blair Foundation for Women.” Mrs Jonathan noted with satisfaction Mrs. Blair’s pursuit of a level playing ground for women to establish and grow successful businesses. The First Lady, according to statement by her spokesperson, Ayo Osinlu, hosted Mrs. Blair to a luncheon at the State House in Abuja. She encouraged her guest not to relent in her personal goal to extend her impact to 3,500 women entrepreneurs over the next three years. The first lady informed Mrs. Blair of a similar vision of her own NGO, “A. Aruera Reachout Foundation,” which has trained about 4,000 men and women in various skills and vocations to make them self-reliant and help contribute to national development. She also explained that the A. Aruera Reachout Foundation is a twin organisation to the “Women for Change and Development Initiative”, her other NGO, which seeks to empower women economically, socially and politically. She noted that through the advocacy of the NGO, Nigeria for the first time has more women in elective and appointive positions, emphasising her conviction that when women and youths are educated, economically empowered and their voices are heard, they can contribute much more to the development of their societies. The wife of former British Prime Minister, Mrs. Blair thanked Mrs Jonathan for her king gesture, restating her determination to facilitate a world where women have equal access to the tools and the support needed to grow their businesses.

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