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Now That WTO Has Accepted Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Nomination

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From ADEDAPO DAVID ADAMOLEKUN, Geneva

On June 9, 2020, the WTO communicated on its website that ‘Nigeria, on 9 June 2020, nominated Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for the post of WTO Director-General to succeed the current Director-General, Mr Roberto Azevêdo, who has announced he will step down on 31 August 2020.’

The WTO’s acceptance and announcement of Nigeria’s Okonjo-Iweala came in the face of days of frenzied media speculations following the initial communication by President Muhammad Buhari on June 4, 2020 of the Government’s choice nominee. Concerns were raised that Nigeria might have lost her slot for nominating a candidate given the closure on 30 November, 2019 of the window set by the African Union.

Before pundits will restart another media spar on the correctness or otherwise of the WTO’s acceptance of Dr Okonjo-Iweala candidacy, let’s see what the WTO Procedures say regarding the nomination process.
WTO Procedures

In a letter by David Walker, Chairman of the WTO General Council, dated 20 May, 2020 and available on the Organisation’s website, on the ‘Appointment of the Next Director-General: Communication from Chairman of the General Council to Members’, he shared some of the milestones for the appointment process as set out in the WTO Procedures.

Furthermore, Mr Walker clarified key administrative details relating to the nominations and provision of supporting information, viz:
“The appointment process will start on Monday 8 June 2020. In line with the Procedures, Members shall have one month after the start of the appointment process to nominate candidates. i.e. from 8 June to 8 July 2020. All nominations and supporting information must be addressed to me, as Chairman of the General Council, and must be received by 8 July 2020 at cob in Geneva. In line with the Procedures, the nominations and supporting information will be distributed to Members as they are received. Nominations and supporting information should be addressed to: Chairman of the General Council World Trade Organization – WTO 154 Rue de Lausanne 1211 Geneva 2 Switzerland.”

It is imperative to understand that nowhere in the Procedures was it required that WTO member countries needed to first go through any regional bloc to submit nominations; or seek the endorsement of individual member countries to put out candidates for the position of the Organisation’s Director-General. It then beggars the question why it became an issue that Nigeria had risked the displeasure of some countries by an ostensible tardy submission of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination on 4 June, or even 9 June 2020 when same was received and accepted by the WTO.
Clearly, President Muhammadu Buhari acted in full compliance of the WTO Procedures in submitting Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s nomination; and well ahead of the schedule too, since the deadline is still four weeks away, 8 July 2020 precisely. But all that speculations are behind us for good now.

What should now be of primary interest to Nigeria and her friends is how to seize the moment and leverage on the golden opportunity to ensure the election of the first African, first woman, the region’s finest, and the globally acclaimed Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as WTO next Director-General.

Why Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala?

Two developments in the past 12 months will be of seismic importance for the next generations of the African continent: the realisation of the need to proactively manage catastrophes such as the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters and the start of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA). In terms of the former, the world has strongly put its weight behind one of Africa’s egalitarian daughters, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Through her leadership of the GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, world leaders have pledged an additional US$ 8.8 billion far exceeding the target of US$ 7.4 billion. These significant sums will see over 300 million children immunised over the next five years, including the creation and distribution of the COVID vaccine; the largest investment in immunisation ever made by lower-income countries mostly in Africa.

The success at GAVI sets the stage for the next challenge, ACFTA, the most ambitious trade zone project in the world. The brilliance of the African Union Heads of States requires a collective ambition matched with global clout and outstanding diplomatic skills. No other region has tried to weld 54 countries into a single market and eventually a full customs union. It also flies in the face of the waves of nationalism, protectionism and populism surging around the world. The execution of which requires the experience for such negotiations can be gleaned from Dr Okonjo-Iweala’s successful debt cancellation of 60% of Nigeria’s external debt ($18 billion) with the Paris Club. The debt deal also included an innovative buy-back mechanism that wiped out Nigeria’s Paris Club debt and reduced the country’s external indebtedness from $35 billion to $5 billion. More on this below.

At the beginning of the year, while the United Kingdom was finally divorcing itself from the European Union, a group of almost twenty African heads of states were invited to London. The purpose of the visit was to cement the trading relationship between the two continents. Similar advancements have been made by the French, Chinese and Russians to name but a few. The battle for the hearts and minds of the continent is heating up. This highlights the fact that the global trade conversation has moved from the periphery for the continent. In that regard, a steady and recognisable hand is required to steer the global dialogue.

Brains and Mettle

The rationale for her candidacy is transparent. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a global finance expert, an economist and international development professional with over 30 years of experience working in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and North America. She is Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its creation in 2000, Gavi has immunized 760 million children globally and saved thirteen million lives. She sits on the Boards of Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc.

She was recently appointed as African Union (AU) Special Envoy to mobilise International financial support for the fight against COVID-19 and WHO Special Envoy for Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. She is a skilled negotiator and has brokered numerous agreements which have produced win-win outcomes in negotiations. She is regarded as an effective consensus builder and an honest broker enjoying the trust and confidence of governments and other stakeholders.

Previously, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala twice served as Nigeria’s Finance Minister (2003-2006 and 2011-2015) and briefly acted as Foreign Minister in 2006, the first woman to hold both positions. She distinguished herself by carrying out major reforms which improved the effectiveness of these two Ministries and the functioning of the government machinery. She had a 25-year career at the World Bank as a development economist, rising to the No. 2 position of Managing Director, Operations. As a development economist and Finance Minister, Dr Okonjo-Iweala steered her country through various reforms ranging from macroeconomic to trade, financial and real sector issues.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is a firm believer in the power of trade to lift developing countries out of poverty and assist them to achieve robust economic growth and sustainable development. As Finance Minister, she was involved in trade negotiations with other West African countries and contributed to the overhaul of Nigeria’s trade policy enabling it to enhance its competitiveness. She has closely followed developments at the WTO, as she believes that a strengthened multilateral trading system is in the interests of all countries, particularly least developed and African countries.

As Managing Director of the World Bank, she had oversight responsibility for the World Bank’s $81 billion operational portfolio in Africa, South Asia, Europe and Central Asia. Dr Okonjo-Iweala spearheaded several World Bank initiatives to assist low-income countries during the 2008-2009 food crisis and later during the financial crisis. In 2010, she was Chair of the World Bank’s successful drive to raise $49.3 billion in grants and low interest credit for the poorest countries in the world.

As Minister of Finance in Nigeria, she spearheaded negotiations with the Paris Club of Creditors that led to the wiping out of $30 billion of Nigeria’s debt, including the outright cancellation of $18 billion. In her second term as Finance Minister, Dr Okonjo-Iweala was responsible for leading reform that enhanced transparency of government accounts and strengthened institutions against corruption, including the implementation of the GIFMS (Government Integrated Financial Management System), the IPPMS (Integrated Personnel and Payroll Management System), and the TSA (Treasury Single Accounts).

Additionally, Dr Okonjo-Iweala is currently Chair of the Board of the African Union’s African Risk Capacity (ARC), an innovative weather-based insurance mechanism for African countries; and co-Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate with Lord Nicholas Stern and Mr Paul Polman. She is also Chair of the Board of the Nelson Mandela Institution, an umbrella body for the African Institutes of Science and Technology, and Chair of the Board of the African University of Science and Technology, Abuja. Dr Okonjo-Iweala is a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

She presently serves on the following advisory boards or groups – the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Harvard University International Advisory Board, the Oxford University Martin School Advisory Council, Mercy Corps International Advisory Board, Women’s World Banking Africa Advisory Board, the International Commission on Financing Global Education (Chaired by Gordon Brown), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Advisory Board, Tsinghua University Beijing – School of Public Policy and Management Global Advisory Board, the CARICOM (Caribbean) Commission on the Economy, the Bloomberg Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health, and Tax Inspectors Without Borders of the OECD among others. The list continues.

A Sling Shot Needed

Considering the eminent qualification and robust of mettle of Nigeria’s nominee for the WTO top job, it is evident that the noble objective of the African Union to create a single continental market, through ACFTA, for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments will receive a great boost with a purpose-driven leadership at the World Trade Organisation, such as Ngozi Okonj0-Iweala can provide.

Also, there have been calls for the WTO to update its rules and commitment to make them fit with the modern 21st century economy; substantially dependent on services, digitization and cross-border flows that are different from the goods-trade flows that currently define the institution. The argument is that since the Uruguay Round in 1994, which came into effect in 1995 bringing in trade in services and intellectual property for the first time, the WTO hasn’t produced any big achievements and may be progressively losing its attractiveness.

Therefore, as the world aims to ‘build back better’ in the era following COVID-19, the WTO needs a savvy bridge builder, bold reformer and an astute global citizen who will bring much needed acumen for a predictable, transparent, non-discriminatory and open global trading system which is essential for broad-based, sustainable economic recovery. It makes sense that Africa strongly rallies behind Nigeria and join forces with the global community in electing Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as the next Director Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

-Adedapo David Adamolekun,
Writes from Geneva, Switzerland

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Economy

CBN Uncovers $2.4b Invalid FOREX Claims

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CBN Governor Yemi Cardoso

Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Yemi Cardoso said the apex bank has discovered $2.4 billion invalid forex outstanding claims pressuring the naira and causing anxiety in the currency market.

Cardoso disclosed this in an interview with Arise Television on Monday.

According to Cardoso, this was uncovered during an audit by the consultant the CBN hired, which exposed a number of dubious transactions.

The CBN Governor stated that the apex bank commissioned Deloitte to look into the FX allegations to provide a true picture of the situation.

Cardoso said, according to the Deloitte assessment, up to $2.4 billion of the backlog consists of fictitious claims, with claimants in certain cases being unable to provide import documentation.

“We had had reasons to believe we needed to take a harder look at these obligations. So we contracted Deloitte management consultants to do a forensics of all these obligations and to actually tell us what was valid and what was not,” Mr Cardoso said.

“The result that came out of this was startling in a great respect. It was startling. We discovered that of the roughly $7 billion, about $2.4 billion had issues, which we believe had no business being there and the infractions on that ranged from so many things, for example not having valid import documents and in some cases entities that do not exist,” he said.

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Economy

We are Determined to Stabilise Forex and Boost Economic Growth. -FG

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By Christopher Sunday

Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, has said the Tinubu administration is committed to implementing macroeconomic reforms.
aimed at curbing inflation, easing the cost of living, and stabilising the foreign exchange as part of the broader objective of boosting economic growth.

The Minister stated this on Saturday in Minna, Niger State, at the 2024 Press Week of the Niger State Chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Represented by the Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Mallam Jibrin Baba Ndace, the Minister said the year 2024 holds a lot of prospects for Nigerians as some of the promising initiatives of the administration begin to bear fruit.

“Permit me, distinguished invited guests, as chief spokesperson of the Federal
Government of Nigeria, to use this hallowed platform to tell Nigerians, at this early and auspicious time of the year, that 2024 would be a great year for Nigeria as thepolicies of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu under the Renewed Hope Agenda takefirmer roots for the growth of our nation’s economic development, our invaluablehuman assets, and national security.

“The Tinubu administration will continue to implement macroeconomic reforms.
to achieve broad economic objectives of sustained economic growth aimed at
bringing down inflation, easing the cost of living, and stabilising foreign exchange
and job creation, among others,” he said.

Idris said, against the backdrop of the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, liberalising the foreign exchange regime, and the fight against corruption, the Tinubu government is showing fidelity to the rule of law and the independence of institutions, as demonstrated in the recent judgements of the courts.

The Minister explained that the recent Federal Government decision to relocate certain departments of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the headquarters of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to Lagos is part of a broader strategy to enhance operational efficiency, streamline processes, ensure a responsive financial system for Nigeria, and cut operations costs. He emphasised that the government’s directive aligns with global best practices and has no political motivation, however wrongly propagated.

The minister assured that no policy of the present administration would put any part of the country in a disadvantageous position. “President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s commitment to fairness and equitable development, as outlined in his oath of office, ensures that no policy under his administration will disadvantage any region. His dedication to fostering national unity and inclusivity is reflected in policies guided by principles of fairness and equality,” he said.

The Minister, who also used the occasion to enlist the support of the media in the fight against fake news, said the hydra-headed menace of fake news is ravaging the media space. “My dear colleagues, we need to rise against the elements of fake news that are deliberately designed to misinform Nigerians,” he said.

Idris also announced to the gathering that the Federal Government would soon unveil comprehensive details of the National Values Charter, which are aimed at inculcating values in the citizenry.

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Economy

No Plans to Convert Domiciliary Accounts to Naira – FG

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* Finance Minister Describes Report as Handiwork of Economic Saboteurs

By James Aduku

The Federal government has debunked a media report that it plans to convert foreign exchange in depositors’ domiciliary accounts to naira, describing it as tantamount to economic sabotage.

There had been a viral media report on Saturday to the effect that the Federal Government has perfected plans to convert foreign exchange in domiciliary accounts.

However, the Coordinating Minister of Economy, Wale Edun, in a statement on Saturday, said such reports were false and misleading.

According to Edun: “There is no iota of truth in the claims of Punch Newspaper that the Federal Government plans to convert foreign exchange in depositors’ domiciliary accounts to naira.

“The publication of such falsehood at a time when the government is working to restore economic stability and confidence in the national currency is tantamount to economic sabotage.

“This report in the Punch Newspaper violates the standards of responsible journalism.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I emphasise that depositors’ foreign currency in their domiciliary accounts will not be converted to naira.”

Punch had reported that there were strong indications that the Federal Government was mulling a policy that will result in the conversion of foreign currencies in domiciliary accounts of citizens to naira to stabilise the national currency, which earlier this week recorded its worst performance in history.

It had said that if the Nigerian government goes ahead with the plan, the government will order the conversion of foreign currencies sitting idly in individuals’ and corporate organisations’ domiciliary accounts to naira at a rate to be determined by the Central Bank of Nigeria.

According to top Presidency sources, the move is meant to stabilise the naira, which recorded its biggest fall in the official Nigerian Foreign Exchange Market on Monday, depreciating by 24 per cent to close at N1,348 per dollar.

One of the Presidency sources said that the problem of forex scarcity and the naira fall was an elite issue, adding that the Federal Government would not fold its arms and continue to watch some individuals hoarding foreign currencies at the expense of the naira.

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