Chief Richard Uche is the President of Nigerian Employer's Consultative Association, in this interview with Uche Uduma, he talks extensively on the need for government to implement its policies in other to fast track sustainable economic development of the nation.
As the president Nigeria employer's consultative Association what is your assessment of President Jonathan's policies as it affects Nigerian employers?
One may say that it is too early to start seeing the fruits of the government's transformational scheme. But I think what he has done is to set up a frame work for achieving a transformational scheme in terms of the enforcements he has made, the committees he has set up and the works on different aspects of our economy especially the oil and gas sector, I think I would say, judging by what he has already set up, we should be expecting some results that can be better assessed in the next six months or so.
Do you think the present administration's policies are on the right track in ensuring a favorable environment that will allow the private sector to thrive?
The plans are well thought out but it is the execution that is usually the problem. If we execute what we plan to do, we will be successful. But what normally happens is that the plans are laid out but hardly implemented. Take the issue of the 2012 budget for example, there are conflicting information that up to 50 per cent of the budget has not been executed, that is not good enough.
When we set out these things and agree that they are the right direction to go we should go out and implement it. The year is finished again and hardly half of the budget plans has been executed especially capital projects. We cannot get anywhere when this practice continues.
Of recent there has been more Nigerian entrepreneurs preferring to establish their businesses outside Nigeria why is this so, and how big a problem is this to the nation's economic growth?
Yes we have seen migration of employers and industries to neighbouring countries such as Ghana and the likes. In fact capital flight as a matter of fact, is not something that augurs well for the country and they do it due to the insecurity problems and lack of infrastructure. No company can operate in a system where there is such epileptic power supply, bad roads, hardly any training, skills acquisition and the likes. Without these things in place they will go where it is more favourable.
What are the major challenges facing Nigerian employers?
Clearly like I said, infrastructural problems, and by infrastructural problem I mean lack of power to run the manufacturing plants, lack of skilled manpower, good roads and enabling environment. Government should provide the right atmosphere for the industries to flourish.
Enabling atmosphere should include giving a little bit of protection to the local industry. Unbridled importation of goods into this country has killed the thriving small scale industry in this country so we have to put a check on that whether it is on agricultural production or the manufacturing industry.
Talking about indigenous industries, do you think Nigeria is adequately utilizing the abundant natural resources it has been blessed with?
You can tell that this country is not utilising its resources, let's use agriculture for example, we are endowed with a very fertile land but hardly any agricultural productivity is going on any more. We are also endowed with a lot of mineral resources some of which are not being explored and exploited. Everything seems to be oil and gas industry which has not produced employment. What it does is to increase our GDP without simmering down unemployment and ensure development of skills.
From your own point of view do you think Nigerian employers are better off in Jonathan's administration compared to Obasanjo and Yar' Adua's regimes?
I must say all administrations have always received our input but like I said when it comes to incorporating it into their plans and executing them, we have a problem. For instance, last year we mentioned that the amount dedicated to capital projects in the budget is very low. In fact less than 30 per cent of the budget is for capital projects while we are spending 70 per cent of our resources on recurrent expenditure.
This year the budget has made what I consider very minor amendment, maybe three per cent increase for capital budget in this proposed budget. But we expected a more radical move that will cut down recurrent expenditure and increase in capital expenditure. No country has ever developed when it is spending all its money on recurrent expenditure.
What are the critical areas President Jonathan should focus on in his transformation agenda?
Security is number one, the second one is to provide infrastructure. Dilapidated roads do not help goods and services move. Once these enabling environment are in place business will flourish.
So what can you say about Ribadu's report?
Quite frankly I haven't seen the details of the report but it was marred by controversy right from the point of submission, I am surprised that the deputy chairman, Oronsaye is openly disagreeing with the content of the report as the report was being submitted by Ribadu to president Jonathan.
This means there was no consensus there and that there are points that have not been fully debated by the committee, until this is done the credibility of the report will be doubtful. The chairman and the deputy are at loggerheads over the content, this does not speak well for the report.
Most employers are yet to comply with the factory Act or with Employer's Compensation scheme what is NECA doing about this?
NECA has a collaborative scheme with National Social Insurance Trust Fund, that administer the employers compensation scheme and that collaborative effort is to make sure that health safety and employing standards are maintained. So we are really at the fore front of making sure that the regulations of ECS Act are adhered to. We have been encouraging our members to contribute so that health and safety standards are maintained, as well as bring about less industrial injuries and wherever compensations are necessary they will be able to pay it.
What would you say are your major achievements as the NECA president?
Well as you know NECA is an advocacy and membership organisation, we advocate cases for our members. We have been doing this especially during the removal of subsidy. We also represent our members when laws that are not conducive to our business are made.
We also represent our members on various matters that have aggressive implication on them and I have been able to do that in my two years tenure. We make input to the budgets of the federation and also make sure that our members comply with rules.