Nov 19, 2013 – Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo Iweala Blasts Punch Newspaper Over Defamatory Article
We are astonished to find that The Punch, a national newspaper, can publish an editorial that is so ignorant, malicious and defamatory (“Jonathan, Okonjo-Iweala, and waivers”, The Punch Editorial, Monday 18 November, 2013). We know the antecedents of this newspaper, but this recent editorial truly beggars belief. When a newspaper can trivialize corruption by branding the country’s industrial policy and underlying fiscal regime as corrupt, it detracts attention from the serious issue of corruption. This is a disservice to the Nigerian nation, and to all Nigerians.
It is shocking that The Punch newspaper is not up-to-date on Nigeria’s industrial policies. In the past, waivers were granted to individual businesses in an approach that resulted in rent-seeking behaviors and an uneven playing field for other businesses. It was precisely the need to stop such a discretionary approach that led to reforms by the Economic Management Team under the leadership of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. A sector-wide waiver policy was introduced to provide specific incentives for some strategic, job-creating sectors. Under this regime, all businesses in a sector have access to the same incentives.
These sectoral policies have included reduced import duty rates or waivers for equipment and materials for the hospitality, power and aviation sectors; for agricultural machinery; for solid mineral equipment; for gas-using equipment; for the steel sector; for specific manufacturing sub-sectors (e.g. for imports of completely-knocked down parts) and for automobiles and tires. There are additional programs such as the Export Expansion Grants (EEG) Scheme designed to promote Nigeria’s non-oil exports. These sectors are seen as strategic areas which can stimulate growth, support diversification of the Nigerian economy, and create jobs for Nigerians. This new approach to waivers is therefore an important tool for our national industrial policy, and is also used by other fast-growing economies, such as South Korea, Malaysia and China.
Had this recent article been the work of a sole reporter, we may have excused these errors as the mistake of an individual. However, when an entire editorial board of a national newspaper makes such elementary mistakes, it speaks to the abysmal quality of discourse which some of our media institutions are now undertaking. We must remain thankful that there are other media houses that focus on reporting facts and issues in a spirit of true journalism and nation-building.
Now, it is also not surprising that the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) would complain about waivers. Naturally, NCS would not like any waivers because they directly lower the total revenues collected at our borders. The remuneration for NCS is calculated as a percentage of total revenues collected, and this is directly impacted when waivers are introduced. However, the NCS is fully on board that the new sectoral waiver policy is far superior to the previous ad hoc and often unfair approach to waivers.
As any undergraduate economist learns, a trade-off has to be made between short-term revenue collection, and the country’s long-term industrial development. We have to weigh the balance between collecting customs revenues today, versus providing incentives to our private sector to stimulate growth and job creation. We reiterate that, to label the government’s entire sectoral industrial policy as corruption, trivializes the fight against corruption, and diverts attention from such an important issue. This is irresponsible.
The Punch newspaper should note that no amount of spurious editorials will deter government from doing what is right for our national development. The newspaper only damages its own credibility, and will continue to do so, unless its uninformed reporting and editorial practices are changed.
Finally, it is clear that The Punch newspaper is deliberately hounding the Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy who is widely recognized for her strict professional standards at home, and abroad, during her 25-year career at the World Bank and her five years of dedicated service to her country as Finance Minister. As your article noted, in her book, Reforming the Unreformable, the Co-ordinating Minister strongly condemned the abuse of discretionary waivers and pushed for a level playing field for all Nigerian businesses. These attempts to attack her and the Government will fail, because they only confirm the questionable editorial and journalistic standards of The Punch.
Senior Special Assistant on Media
to the Co-ordinating Minister for the Economy