Nigeria\'s pension arrears crisis will be over in the next six weeks. This was the assurance given at the weekend by the Chairman of the Presidential Economic Team and new Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Exuding confidence in the government\'s plans, she declared: \"We have found the solution (to the pension crisis) and it will be seen. Just watch.\"
Okonjo-Iweala was special guest of honour at the convocation of the PaN-African University\'s Master of Business Administration (MBA) Class for 2006 held in Lagos.
The minister, who also unfolded new initiatives aimed at improving the country\'s business environment, recalled that the government recently undertook a census of the nation\'s pensioners.
Having concluded the exercise, Okonjo-Iweala said the accumulated pension arrears would be paid within the next six weeks.
She spoke in reaction to the lamentation of Professor Kayode Soremekun, who represented the Vice Chancellor of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife in Osun State at the ceremony. Soremekun had said that his mother died without collecting her 24 months pension arrears, but Okonjo-Iweala assured that the problem would soon be over.
The minister stated: \"My parents too are pensioners. They are retired university teachers. So, I know that pensioners in the country are having a rather hard time. But it must be stressed that the pension arrears accumulated long before the present administration. However, we had a census of our pensioners. And within the next four to six weeks, we will pay the pension arrears, just like the contractor arrears. So, we have found the solution and it will be seen. Just watch.\"
Okonjo-Iweala faulted the recent \"Doing Business Report\" of the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC), which ranked Nigeria 94th of 155 countries on ease of doing business.
According to her, the data used for the report was from 2004, which she said did not fully reflect some of the progress made in Nigeria in the last two years.
She added that the Federal Government had begun several initiatives to improve the country\'s business environment.
\"Mr. President has taken a keen interest in the \"Doing Business Report\" and wants to ensure that Nigeria improves its performance in the coming years,\" she disclosed.
Okonjo-Iweala listed some of the initiatives to include infrastructure development, establishment of one-stop shop for investors, reform of the tax system, improved access to credit and energising of the real sector.
She disclosed that another $1.8 billion would be spent on gas development to feed the seven power plants being built in the Niger Delta at a total cost of $2.3 billion.
The minister added that in furtherance of the government\'s target of 10,000 megawatts of electricity on the grid by the end of 2007, transmission and distribution lines are also under construction to ensure that the electricity generated reaches the consumers.
\"Additional resources are also being invested in modernising Nigeria\'s railway infrastructure\" she added.
Okonjo-Iweala stated further that the establishment of a one-stop shop was to simplify procedures needed in starting and closing businesses, adding that the government was also tackling the incidence of multiple taxation of companies.
On improved access to credit, Okonjo-Iweala said that the government would through the new micro-finance banks ensure that credit facilities were available to support the growth of the middle class.
Besides, \"we are supporting the establishment of a consumer credit bureau and also the launch of a national home mortgage system,\" she disclosed.
All these efforts, Okonjo-Iweala said, would re-energise the real sector.
She said: \"People often accuse us of focusing exclusively on macro aspects of the on-going reforms. This is no longer true! We are actively moving to tackle micro-economic issues which are constraining growth in the real sectors.\"
The minister affirmed that the economic reforms were successful and producing desired results, listing the improvement of Gross Domestic Product (GP), the decline of inflation level and increased government reserves as proofs.
She also listed the debt relief and the BB-rating of Nigeria by two leading international credit rating agencies - Fitch International and Standard and Poor - as the first ever-sovereign rating of Nigeria.