President Muhammadu Buhari, using the example of an abandoned cancer equipment, has underscored the deep seated corruption in Nigeria’s bureaucracy and how it deals a serious effect on service rendering to the public and businesses.
It was at the media launch of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Clinics in Abuja and his vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo related the melancholic story of corruption. He attributed the story to Buhari.
The President, Osinbajo said, sometime in July 2015 spoke to him about the frustrations of anyone who has to do business with government agencies.
“He gave the example of an NGO that wanted to install a cancer screening equipment donated by a friendly government several years ago, and it took seven years to finally install it. He said how does the economy function when government agencies are prepared to deliberately or unwittingly frustrate economic agents”.
“Not surprisingly one of the early initiatives the President took in 2015 was setting up by a Presidential order, the Presidential Enabling Business Council with the sole objective of creating an enabling environment for business and commerce. Only a few months ago, in a discussion about Made in Nigeria products, the President again drew my attention to the problems that small manufacturers had with just getting required approvals for their products”.
Read the speech here:
Incidentally also just before that discussion I had toured exhibitions organized for MSMEs to signal support for the men and women who run such enterprises and also to gain an insight into their expectations and concerns.
I was frankly taken aback on one such occasion, when all I got at nearly every stand were complaints about the difficulties that small businesses were facing in their interactions with various regulatory agencies. Some small manufacturers said they had to hire consultants to take them through an approval process and it still took over a year to get approvals.
Just yesterday at the quarterly business forum with the Organised Private Sector, one of the participants again complained loudly about the near impossibility of getting approvals expeditiously.
This was a disturbing finding because it meant that our agencies were yet to buy into a major pillar of our economic recovery plan which is to make it easier to do business in Nigeria. It was also an indication that we needed to do something to change the orientation of our various agencies. Instead of being merely revenue generating agencies, the various agencies must see themselves as facilitators of business first.
How then do we, as government and regulators, deal with this problem? The failed method is to seek to intervene with individual agencies to solve the problem of individual MSMEs. This approach is clearly limited given the large number of MSMEs in the country and the fact that it would not contribute to our strategic commitment to improving the business environment across the entire economy.
Working very closely with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, we came up with the idea of MSME Clinics as one important building block in finding solutions.
This term was chosen deliberately to reflect three things, all borrowed from the health sector.
The first is that individual MSMEs face problems that can readily be addressed through direct access to the relevant official.
The second is that direct consultation with such a fairly senior expert often helps in finding a solution.
The third is that a reasonably large number of people can be attended to without the need for expensive and time consuming travel to agency offices. In other words, great benefits could be reaped from exploiting economies of scale.
We will accordingly be bringing all key Federal Government agencies with whom the MSMEs interact together in one place so that small businesses can consult with them directly and obtain solutions on the spot. The MSME Clinic will also serve as a one stop shop for those businesses that need to speak to more than one agency. Given the size of our country and the dispersion of MSMEs, it is evident that the MSME Clinic must go round the various states and to key MSME locations.
We have therefore brought State Governments on board. This is because they have a better understanding of their local environment and also because they have a key role to play in making life easier for small businesses. In other words, we expect that state government agencies will also imbibe and contribute to achieving the attitudinal change of supporting small business instead of making life difficult for them. We also count on state governments to help mobilise MSMEs to take advantage of the clinic when it comes to their respective states.
And I must thank their Excellencies, the governors of Abia and Kwara states for their demonstration of commitment to this project.
It is apposite at this point to stress that this is an exercise that the President attaches great importance to. While the attitude and commitment shown thus far by the relevant agencies is quite commendable, I must stress that our interest is on achieving the desired results.
The performance of agencies will be tracked by the number of solutions provided to MSMEs who visit their stands. In other words, it is the MSMEs themselves that will report on whether or not they got the desired assistance from participating agencies.
Let me be clear. This programme is not intended for agencies to go and give lectures on their processes. It is also not about self-advertisement and it definitely is not intended to create another set of ‘road blocks’. It is important at the same time to explain that the idea is not to cast aside regulations and processes put together for societal good but rather to cut red tape and make it less onerous for small businesses to comply with such rules.
I want individual heads of the various agencies to ensure the success of this endeavour and I expect that they will pay close attention to the participation and performance of their agencies. A first step in this regard, would be to ensure that those assigned to participate in the Clinics are of sufficient seniority to make decisions and solve problems. It would also be good where possible for Chief Executives to visit some of the MSME Clinics to get a personal sense of how things are going.
I will personally attend a number of the MSME Clinics in various parts of the country. Apart from showing the importance attached to the Clinics, it is also an acknowledgement of the great interest that nearly all governors contacted thus far have shown in the MSME Clinics.
I wish to thank all of them and the various ministers and heads of agencies who have contributed to articulating the concept and making necessary arrangements to convene the Clinics. I also wish to thank USAID which has lent its support to the process.
I have no doubt whatsoever that if we continue to work closely together on this initiative, we will bring about a better business environment in our country, especially for MSMEs.”