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Still awaiting our Georgia in Nigeria!

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Still awaiting our Georgia in Nigeria!

Seventeen months ago, he stole the show at the Nigerian Economic Forum, which took place in Abuja, the nation’s capital. Speaking in heavily-accented but very legible English, Mr. Nika Gilauri, Prime Minister of the Republic of Georgia from February 6, 2009 –July 4, 2012, held the audience at the Economic Summit, which held at the Transcorp-Hilton in Abuja and millions watching on television, spellbound as he recounted how his country transformed from a corrupt nation to one of the best in the world to do business with.

Still a very youthful man in his 40s then, Gilauri, born in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, graduated from the University of Limerick (Ireland), with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Finance and later gained an MBA in International Business Management from Temple University, Philadelphia.

He joined the government in 2004 as a Minister of Energy and spearheaded reforms in the energy sector, turning the country from a pariah state into a net electricity exporter, eradicating corruption, introducing new legislations, new market rules and new tariff methodologies.

Gilauri then became Minister of Finance (2007–2009) where he undertook anti-corruption reforms in customs services and introducing innovative measures to improve services as well as eradicating any non-transparent actions.

Also, he led the new Tax Code reform, simplifying the rules, minimizing any double interpretation possibilities, and creating a fair ground for competition between entrepreneurs and investors which, invariably, snowballed into the introduction of the new Tax Code in 2009. Information has it that one of Gilauri’s most important moves as a Minister of Finance was reducing income tax from 20 to 15 per cent in the beginning of 2009, in the midst of the world financial crises when everybody adopted austerity measures and advised the government of Georgia to do the same. T

he move worked well for the country, being the first to recover from recession which reached 6.4 per cent growth in 2010. In February 2009 at just 34, Gilauri succeeded Grigol Mgaloblishvili as a Prime Minister. In 2012 when Gilauri retired as Prime Minister, Georgia’s economic growth rate was above +8 per cent and Georgia was ranked 9th worldwide by the World Bank’s Easy to Do Business Report (up from 112th in 2006).

So it is quite understandable why he reflected a rich repertoire of hands-on experience to share with his Nigerian audience, which included Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who also shared in the former Georgian Prime Minister’s presentation.

Two of the most witty, but very pungent, moments of his discuss, to me, came when he explained how a government body charged with ensuring roadworthiness of vehicles (just like our VIOs), cleared all vehicles irrespective of their true state. “Of course, you (Nigerians) all know how this is done” he said bringing laughter in the hall; and when he also said Georgia sacked all traffic wardens and instead of the traffic situation in the country becoming more chaotic, “in fact, it even improved, no increases in accidents nothing! So it became clear that they (traffic wardens) were just taking care of themselves!”

He repeatedly hammered on the need to reduce bureaucracy and red-tape if Nigeria was to drastically reduce corruption, make the country more efficient and, ultimately, enhance its ability to attract the all-important foreign investments.

Incidentally, last month in one of my columns captioned: “One big harvest of fraudsters”, I pointed out how graft had eaten deep into the fabric of the country, forcing citizens to fork out money for virtually every single government service – ranging from drivers’ licenses to passports.

Of course, we all know what happens if the requested ‘taxes’ are not paid. Gilauri also told the summit that it takes about 77 days to register a business in Nigeria, while it takes just a day to do the same exercise in Georgia.

Throughout his presentation, he occasionally stressed the importance, if not the need, for the country to make hard decisions if it must improve like Georgia did. Sadly almost two years later we are yet to take any noticeable steps towards imbibing some of the things Gilauri told his august audience in Abuja (although last month Osinbajo as Acting President did host some business bigwigs to a meeting in Abuja apparently in an effort to kick start boosting the economy).

However, despite Gilauri’s admonition for us to be ready to take some very hard decisions on the surface (at least) nothing appears to have changed – instead the recession has only made underhand deals more expensive.

For instance before the recession hit us last year and Gilauri’s call to arms, securing a drivers’ license would only cost about N10, 000 even though the official price is just over N6,000! In fact the Corps Marshal of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Mr Boboye Oyeyemi himself revealed the real cost of obtaining a driver’s licence in the country was N6, 350!

Yet we all know that it remains just a mirage. Now with the recession biting hard, the cost of obtaining the license has gone up to between N20, 000 and N24, 000. Ditto for international passports – before recession one could get one for about N25, 000 now it goes for about N45, 000 depending on where one is getting it from.

These are just two examples of the vices that existed before Gilauri’s Abuja speech; that are just a tip to underhand why many people are forced to endure in order to access government services, which by their very nature should not be so.

But that is the ‘Nija factor’ on display which millions of Nigerians have to surmount in their everyday struggles to survive. Once again one can only hope that Vice President Osinbajo, who said that people had become used to government reeling out budgets of various names without the citizens noticing any difference in their lives, will be able to give meaning to the ‘Change’ mantra which brought his party into power to actually change the lives of the citizens for the better.

Out of its four-year mandate, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has already spent almost two and so one can only pray, that by the time this tenure ends in 2019 Nigerians would be able to say we have replicated the “Georgian experience” not only with the enhancement of our stand of living but also in the general improvement of government services (collecting passports, driver’s license, health etc.) and the way business is conducted in the country!

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