Okonjo-Iweala Disappointed Me, By Sunny Ikhioya
DR. (Mrs) Okonjo Iweala is a world acclaimed personality in the professional fields of economics, banking and finance. She has been listed as one of the 100 most influential persons on earth and had risen to the heights of the World Bank presidency. If not for the intervention of the United States of America, she will be there today as the number one World Bank personnel, as she was perceived as the better candidate for the position, by those who are in position to know, including the influential Economist magazine.
She was in Obasanjo’s government as Finance Minister and hugely credited with the successful negotiation of the Paris Club debt that put to an end the debt albatross that was, for a long time, threatening the nation’s economy.
It was rumoured that she left the Obasanjo government because of her uncompromising stand against the financial recklessness exhibited by the regime of that time and not a few people were disappointed at the manner she exited.
President Goodluck Jonathan, while explaining the reason for re-inviting Iweala into his government, revealed to the press that anywhere he visited, all over the world, people were singing her praise and the country would be lucky to have her for the needed rapid transformation, especially in using her international clout to engender sound financial management and control of the Nigerian economy.
It was also rumoured that before Okonjo Iweala agreed to take up the position, she gave conditions that will guarantee her an oversight supervision of other departments of government as co-ordinating minister.
Her request was granted and there was joy in our hearts as she assumed duty for the second time as Finance Minister, with the additional port-folio of Co-ordinating Minister.
But few refuse to get carried away by the euphoria that accompanied her return; they pointed to the not-so-smooth manner, the debt settlement was arrived at, especially as it concerns percentage commission for those involved in the negotiations, and also her inability to do anything amidst scandals besetting the government – PDTF, Halliburton, Siemens and others.
Nevertheless, we happily welcomed her back and with the additional job of co-ordinating, it was expected that all the financial recklessness associated with various government ministries and parastatals will be a thing of the past.
Alas, four years into this government, those of us who rooted for Okonjo-Iweala are heart broken. Pessimists are now gloating and saying: ” we told you so “.
The question we are asking now is: If Dr Okonjo-Iweala is the Co-ordinating Minister of this government, what has she been co-ordinating? Can she, in all good conscience and performance standard, absolve herself from blame for all the rots and variegated scandals assailing this regime? Or, is she just a figure head who approves and endorses what people bring to her? From her antecedents and credentials, Dr Okonjo-Iweala can never accept to be a figure head. If this is so, why has she decided to risk all these lofty credentials in the sordid Nigerian political waters?
Our recurrent expenditures has reached the 80 per cent level and she has done nothing about it.
She is the Co-ordinating Minister for all organs of government, including the other arms like the National Assembly and the judiciary. Reverend Peter Adebiyi, writing under the title ” Who says Nigeria unity is not negotiable” in the Vanguard of March 19, 2014, claimed that in 1999, the overall budget for the National Assembly was N7 billion, today it is above N155 billion. With no additional constituencies, it is mind-boggling. Under Okonjo- Iweala this is happening and she has done nothing about it.
The Finance Ministry is the supervisory ministry to the Central Bank of Nigeria. In recent times, the Central Bank governor was placed under suspension for gross misuse or abuse of resources placed under his care. Sanusi has been there for over four years; in fact, his tenure is already completed; he claimed that all through this period, the Central Bank has been sending its audited reports to the Presidency. Why are we just discovering Sanusi Lamido’s excesses? What is supposed to be the responsibility of Okonjo-Iweala in this matter? We are blaming the opposition for trying to bring down the government, whereas those in government provided the perfect tools for the opposition to use against them. We expect Dr Okonjo-Iweala to institute a culture of transparency in the running of our finances. Four years into the regime, we are still grappling with this simple procedure- true transparency that the World Bank has been preaching since Okonjo-Iweala’s time at the institution.
It was embarrassing watching Okonjo-Iweala during the NNPC and Sanusi’s shadow boxing over the now $20 billion unaccounted for oil revenue. She could not offer any clue. Is the Finance Ministry not supposed to have records of the country’s incomes and expenditures, independent of the Central Bank? If they do not have, then we have in position, a sleeping Finance Ministry. Whose responsibility is it to ensure proper accounting standard for the country? We expected the ministry to demand for clean financial statements, free from ambiguities.
Now, in the midst of these conflicting statements, the Finance Ministry seems not to be anywhere. Why are they just requesting for a forensic audit of the NNPC account? Has NEITI not done enough in the past to call for action? If Sanusi did not raise the missing fund alarm, would the Minister had requested for a forensic audit? The Accountant General, Auditor General and the Governor of the Central Bank are all under the direct supervision of the Finance Ministry, yet all of them could not agree on the true position of the nation’s finances, too bad.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala disappointed me on account of the wastefulness in fuel subsidy, the NNPC, pension fund, SEC, National Assembly, aviation, immigration, and many other government ministries and agencies. Unemployment rate presently hovers between 23 and 27 per cent, and our foreign reserve is steadily depleting; we have gone back into borrowing. It is a shame.
For Okonjo-Iweala, we demand a better performance, please. It is not too late.
*Mr. Ikhioya, a commentator on national issues, wrote from Lagos.
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