A Review of the Activities of PEBEC-EBES
By Deji Kurunmi
The Journey to Top 100
One of the most critical responsibilities of any government in a sovereignty is the creation of an enabling environment for wealth creation. The work that the current administration has been doing through PEBEC-EBES to create a more enabling business environment is very commendable and there have been clear improvements as tracked by the World Bank. A lot of the initiatives are still too early in the day for the business community to begin to feel the impact, but we are hopeful that implementation is sustained and yields the desired results.
Paying Attention to the Nerve Center
As much as it is important to create an environment that galvanizes much needed FDIs, it is also important to keep tabs on the middle market in all considerations. The middle market is the highest employer of labour locally and even in developed climes. It is therefore a critical imperative that the middle market is given the right business climate required to grow and create wealth.
The Middle Market is Increasingly Millennial-led
The middle market is mostly developed by local entrepreneurs and its rapid development is being catalysed by numerous enterprises with a millennial-biased leadership and management structure whose needs and aspirations are mostly at variance with the thinking of the mostly baby-boomer/ generation X led government agencies and by extension the political class. Millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996 while baby boomers and generation X are generally classified as those born between 1946 and 1980.
It is therefore critical that the reforms and initiatives towards improving the Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) takes into consideration the millennial element of the middle market otherwise many of the reforms will miss their intended beneficiaries and end up as futile efforts after expending valuable time and resources.
It is important to understand that while it is great for our sovereign brand to enjoy competitive ranking on the EoDB list, it is far more important that the effects of the reforms are truly being felt and that it is leading towards an impactful transformation of the operating environment for businesses.
While we proudly (validly so) boast of how we have risen through the EoDB ranks, we must not lose sight of the fact that the true ranking is done by the businesses whom the reforms are meant to impact. The efforts are indeed beyond ticking off activities on a list such as passing executive orders and legislative acts to actual sustainable implementation and a robust framework for tracking the actual impact. The EoDB effort after all said and done must result in measurable growth.
In the light of this, the ongoing collaboration of PEBEC-EBES with the private sector must ensure there is ample millennial content on the private sector divide across various reforms. Such efforts will also result in developing reforms that are forward-looking and consequently sustainable for the longer term rather than being relevant only for the short term.
Crossing the Digital Divide
The millennial-led growth of the middle market makes it imperative that those leading the reforms continue to think digital and adopt Agile and design thinking principles in testing and arriving at suitable modifications. Engaging millennial business leaders will unlock creativity and innovation capable of helping Nigeria leapfrog into “the future” of a desirable operating environment and become a model for emerging economies.
Digital is the most sustainable solution to transparency, speed, cost and procedures.
Current efforts such as being able to pay taxes online etc. are great and there is a lot more that can be done. For example, can an entrepreneur on a single platform and by one-time tokenized registration process get a business name, TIN and a business bank account? Can investors avoid the need to register and fill multiple forms from multiple Registrars before getting dividends paid? Digital can facilitate sharing of data that can cut down speed, cost and procedures. Digital adoption stretches the limits of possibilities.
Digital will ensure that the days of physical files being “lost” to promote graft gradually but surely comes to an end across government agencies at national and subnational levels. Graft is a stubborn bottleneck that digital can begin to resolve.
Government Controls the Levers
The government defines the limits of creativity in how entrepreneurs seek to commercially explore the sovereign state to create wealth. The government through policies can juggle the various control levers that continues to shape commercial activities across various sectors of the economy. Controlling these levers to improve EoDB is easier said than done for most governments as they are often under pressure from the business community (let’s just say the billionaires club) to shift policies in the direction that favour their enterprises. The business community is a political power block in many democracies and those in government are often caught in a continuous web of balancing the wishes of these power block, the aspirations SMEs seeking protection of intellectual properties and fair competition, environmental friendliness and the social sentiments of the people. This is further complicated by the plurality of regulatory bodies providing oversight for various sectors and exposed to influences of operators and the legislative arm of government.
Creating a Binding Sovereign Creed
A sovereign creed will provide a holistic and overarching context for every arm of government in formulating and adjusting their policies towards achieving the EoDB objectives of government.
For example, if a line in the creed could be such that emphasizes support for the growth of start-ups and small businesses. Now every single agency of government interacting with the business community must interpret and decompose that line of creed and apply same within the context of their operations.
For example, with a creed such as this, it would be unlikely for CBN to increase minimum shareholder fund (SHF) for Payment Switches to a flat N5Bn rather than creatively adopt a tiered regime. Such a flat policy hinders smaller niche players who are creating new markets and do not need N2Bn for their current operations. The tiered regime will thus require smaller Switches to increase SHF as transaction value hits defined thresholds.
FIRS for example would create a Tax Nursery for start-ups and small businesses – where at early stages of their business, they embrace the basic knowledge of taxation: CIT, VAT, WHT. This expunges opaqueness, simplifies (and thus increase) compliance; disseminates knowledge of exemptions etc. Opaqueness, perceived complexity and uncertainty continues to drive small businesses away from the tax man. The average millennial merchant selling goods on Instagram does not understand the rudiments of taxation.
The creed will help to improve cohesiveness and ensure there is a vision stakeholders can rally towards.
Having an overarching creed allows institutions of government at National and sub-National levels to self-regulate in transposing the creed into their operations. Without a doubt, giving where the public sector is today, implementation would need to be catalysed for action to be taken. The creed needs to be accompanied with an idiot-proof implementation framework that allows for reporting and tracking. What this approach does is that it allows for scale and a more rapid pathway to impact.
Giving what remains a challenging climb up the ladder and how quickly we need to transform the business environment to further spur investments and growth, PEBEC-EBES can articulate a creed that is critically thought through.
- Circulate to all agencies.
- Strategically earmark high impact agencies critical to immediate impact and quick wins in the transformation agenda. The agencies not on priority list nevertheless have a guideline to work with.
- Outsource consultants who would assist these identified agencies to interpret, decompose and localize the creed to galvanize the much-desired transformation.
- Obtain Executive order or legislative approvals where necessary to implement the changes required to drive the initiatives.
- Define deadlines.
- Track, measure and report.
Some of the transformative interventions will require millennial-grade creativity and inter-governmental cooperation amongst agencies of government. It will require technology interventions to leapfrog bottlenecks and create much needed transparency and speed.
Matching the Core Desires of Businesses to Attendant Bottlenecks
In improving the business environment, there is need to understand the problems through design thinking. The problem statements can be articulated when there is a clear understanding of the common denominator desires of every legitimate enterprise at each stage of growth and the attendant government procedures and policies that tend to constitute bottlenecks to these legitimate ambitions. This can then be localized to each sector or industry.
Tracking by Impact Beyond Ranking
The recent launching of a digital platform to collate complaints is a brilliant and welcome initiative as it can potentially help in tracing bottlenecks and promoting compliance.
This can be improved upon by clearly defining the desired outcomes and impact of each initiative in a way that is measurable. Next will be to track with some agility the progress of initiatives by conducting periodic and controlled digital surveys filled by the target beneficiaries of each initiative. The data collected from the survey is then benchmarked against the desired outcomes. This will throw up gaps in varying measures and EBES can prioritize and deep-dive in determining how to proactively close the gaps.
Driving EoDB reforms in Nigeria is no easy task but with sustained political will of the current administration through PEBEC-EBES and institutionalization of the efforts, substantiation of the hope of change is imminent.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.