Lagos, private sector seek more jobs through partnership

IT is often said that the business of government is not to do business. Rather, to create conducive environment that woos investors and make businesses thrive.

  Business owners and investors can tell that there is more to business environment than basic infrastructure and middle class population with purchasing power.

  Specifically, there must be supportive and consistent policies, just tax system and inclusive leadership – as basic ingredients of a business-friendly environment. That way, businesses will oil the wheels of governance and economic prosperity in a non-oil dependent commonwealth state.

  How much of such partnership has been achieved in Lagos State – the commercial capital of Nigeria – is prone to debate and answers would depend on when and where they are sought. 

  At this time when political gladiators are slugging it out, politicians with business interest and businessmen with political bias for the rival party, said Lagos has performed very badly in its economic policies.

  Vice President, Namadi Sambo recently raised alarm that businesses are on massive drift from Lagos to neighbouring state because of the unfriendly business environment the governor Babatunde Fashola-led administration has created.

  Sambo’s companion in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and gubernatorial candidate of the party in Lagos, Jimi Agbaje, also demonized the government’s handling of business policies and taxation, describing them as adversarial.

  Particularly accused are the concession agreements and tolling on Lekki-Ikoyi link Bridge and Lekki-Epe Expressway — twin multi-billion-naira enterprise courtesy of tax-payers money. Agbaje has promised to cancel concession and tolling on both facilities if elected to replace Fashola of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in office.

   Investors and business-owners without political interest also have their concerns on “multiple taxation claims”, duplication of functions by levels of government and perceived arrogance of state officials in drawing and implementing policies. And these were some of the issues that were brought to the fore recently at an interactive session between the State government, led by Fashola and members of the private sector.

  Chairman of Promasidor Nigeria, Keith Richards, was not in doubt that government and business-owners should be bedfellows, but it must be cordial.

  Richards recalled that London in the 1830 had worst environment and health issues compared to Lagos pre-2007. The turning point, however, was the entry of a number of private initiatives, driven by entrepreneurship and government support to clean-up the London mess in about 40 years.

  With improved technology now available, Richards added, Lagos would not require as much time to achieve any task today. But there must be consistency of policies and engagement of the private sector, especially in policy formulations and legislation.

  He was particularly miffed by the duplication of functions – Federal and State on one hand, and State and local government on the other.

  Apparently in agreement with Richards, President and Chairman of Council of the Nigerian-British Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), Adeyemi Adefulu, though gave kudos to Fashola’s administration for giants strides, he highlighted the perennial rivalry between the government and private sector. Besides saying it was unnecessary, Adefulu noted that “Private capital is a jealous damsel that only goes to where it is well courted.”

  President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Remi Bello, in similar fashion, observed that Local Governments in Lagos have not done enough to improve on the state of infrastructure in local communities.

  In-between the hard-knocks by political opponents, and constructive criticisms of businessmen is the Lagos helmsman, Fashola. The governor, at the twilight of his eight-year (two-term) administration said the state government had tried to promote the frontier of cordial relations between the key stakeholders (government and private sector) and it can only get better with all hands on deck.

  Delivering the keynote address, with the theme: “The role of corporate in governance,” Fashola said while government might not have got things (infrastructure) done as quick as the private sector would, it remains the utmost responsibility of the government and must be supported in these tasks.

  At the risk of being misunderstood, Fashola said the private sector must “surrender” as much as “take ownership” of government, to get things done efficiently and economically. He was, however, not advocating a government-state, rather an all-inclusive and participatory democratic system.

  According to him, “There is a process in government for getting things done. They may or may not respond quickly to what the organized private sector wants or it is used to. But I want to make a case again that we must use that process and we must never overreact or subvert it,” he said.

   Notwithstanding the public perception that government is by nature slow footed, he harped that we all need government because the alternative is an invitation to anarchy. “If everybody has to build his own roads, lay his own pipes and generate his own power, it will cause a lot of unsavoury consequences, not only on our disposable income but it will be an inefficient undertaken which will come with a lot of health hazards.”

  Fashola explained that in order to hasten the business of governance to meet private sector’s expectations, government is making investments in its tools to ensure that it catches up “and ultimately outrun the capacities that are installed in smaller private organisations, who are definitely partners in the undertaking that we mutually have, to make life better for our people.”

  There is a lot of computerization and digitalization currently going on in government to reach that goal, the governor said.

  He urged the private sector operators to have confidence in government and its capacity to deliver quality service.  “Our government is an organisation of 150,000 people; less than one per cent of the population and cannot be everywhere at the same time. But, if we don’t trust the system that we have built, that system in my view will not be favourable to respond to us. If every time you put me on a job, you go to my boss for the same service, you are sending a message that you don’t trust my capacity to do the job. So that, for me, is the real heart of the matter”.

  Fashola stressed that no government or economy thrive by been adversarial or as “we versus them” mindset, rather with common goals, and in accordance with the laws.

  On taxation and alleged multiple taxation claims, he said the law (section 24F) and functions delegated to each level of government are clear, as much as it is the guiding principles of the state taxation policies. He said his government recognised all these in its dealings.Apparently reacting to Jimi Agbaje’s campaign promise to cancel existing toll agreements when elected, the governor said such promises raise serious issues about the opposition party’s understanding of government undertaken and portend grave dangers to the Nigerian economy.

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