Okonjo-Iweala: Voodoo economics and austerity half-measures

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: simboor@yahoo.com Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDNigeria’s Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has finally come clean. And the news, even though not unexpected, is not good. She announces to the world what we already know – we have been living a huge lie. We have been eating our tomorrow today while showing off to the world an unbridled capacity for gluttony. We have erected a castle on the high price of the dirty commodity, adding no value to what we export, yet beating our chests as the largest economy in Africa.

After years of grandstanding on the wings of questionable statistics and growth projections, it is interesting that the coordinators of the economy have finally seen the light. The managers might be wearing long faces today, but majority of Nigerians have not been smiling for many years. It has been a life of deprivation in stark contrast to the wastefulness that has been the hallmark of the political leadership.

It is good that they have finally found that the bottom has fallen off the bucket, but what good does that do us? Is it not late in the day to be reeling out half-measures to tax luxury goods and cut travel by public servants, while continuing to pour water into the basket of governance? The figures from the top never added up, yet managers of the economy insisted on building on the strength of fiction. One budget cycle after the other, it is the same tale that does little to confront the peculiarities or challenges of life in Nigeria.

Two years ago, one had cause to put the ‘Reformer’ in the dock on the path taken in her ‘co-ordination’ of the economy. I doubt it was of any use. Perhaps, it might help to reproduce the 2012 article. It sheds partial light on the enormity of the quagmire which the country has found itself, especially as the hands on the deck are anything but steady. I take the liberty to reproduce that article:

“A few weeks back, I received a mail titled “An Opportunity for you to influence the 2013 Budget”. It desired to have my thoughts and comments on how the Federal Ministry of Finance should shape and implement the 2013 budget. Really? I was also sent the 2012 Appropriation Act and budget implementation reports for 2010 and 2011, as guide.

Wow! Why bother, I said to myself. Who bothers with this hollow ritual of budget review or engages himself with the ceremony of trying to shape a budget for the Federal Government that has a mind-set on a path that leads nowhere, I saw myself asking.

Here we are in the third quarter of the year, reports have it that most MDAs are yet to receive their allocations for second quarter, not to talk of the third quarter. So why bother with this annual ritual of preparing a budget when it will only be implemented in its breach? Who does not know that the government does not operate or live by a budget!

I am not a fan of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Nothing personal. It has more to do with the fact that I am yet to see any coherent original thought from her outside of the platitudinous regurgitations of the neo-liberal school of thought that has led us nowhere. The fundamental deficiencies that plague our economy have no chance of being corrected through a further entrenchment of IMF prescriptions of structural adjustment, with one eye on fictitious growth projections that have no relevance to the everyday lives of the people. Ignoring a people-centred development agenda in favour of the shallow, simplistic prescription founded on cutting spending (spending to cut spending is what they actually do); removing support for social services – education, health, etc. while jacking up on costs of basics such as power, fuel; and piling up more borrowing,  is a recipe for motion without movement.

Without a consideration of the peculiarities of a developing economy with the bulk of its activities taking place in the shadow economy and drawing up a proper plan for the informal sector, these neo-liberalists will continue to fail woefully in managing the economy.

But even within the framework of the neo-liberal approach and what she has been brought here to achieve, with the fancy title – Coordinating Minister of the Economy conferred on her, Dr Okonjo-Iweala often comes across as either not well-grounded on the structure of the economy which she coordinates, lacking the competence to farm her way out of the mess we are confronted with, or simply content to play along with those in control of the machinery of government while time ticks. Often when she has her back to the wall, she throws her arms in the air and tells us she doesn’t really know what is happening under her watch. Yet, she won’t quit.

If the 2012 Appropriation Act remains largely unimplemented, why bother preparing another document for 2013? Who says the non-implementation of a law duly passed by the National Assembly and assented to by the President isn’t sufficient ground to move for the impeachment of the President or to call for the sacking of the Minister?

How do you explain the fact that while a number of MDAs have not received the second quarter allocation, Okonjo-Iweala tells the new National Security Adviser that about 90% of the budget for security has already been disbursed? How did that happen? If the MDAs whose activities are supposed to directly impact the economy do not receive funds to execute their programmes, but some fat cats continue to live large, receiving allocations ahead of schedule, what then is Madam CME doing, pretending to be a gate-keeper?

Truth is – perhaps Madam Okonjo-Iweala is only waiting for the next opening in Washington to abandon this ship to its fate. While we are at it, we might have to make do with what we have. We have to live with what Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila aptly tagged a budget of abracadabra or voodoo economics, as shaped and implemented by egg-heads on secondment to our land.  Why would I bother myself offering thoughts and comments to shape the 2013 budget when the 2012 budget lies, in the company of others on the shelf, dust-decorated?”God help us.