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Soludo Ex-CBN Governor criticises FG’s plans to sell national assets

Soludo, who described the plan as hasty, said it will short-change the country

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Former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo

(Daily Post)

The former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Chukwuma Soludo, has condemned the Federal Government’s plan to sell national assets to raise money.

Soludo also said the government will be making the same mistake that past administrations made, if it decides to go ahead with its plan.

The former CBN Governor said he described the plan as a joke when he first heard it, but decided to confront the issue when he noticed the government was serious.

Soludo, who described the plan as hasty, said it will short-change the country

According to him, “Part of the legacy of the oil resource curse on matters of public finance is a mindset that resorts to easy, albeit lazy approach to ‘quick fixes’ — with a gaze on the short term even when the issues are structurally long-term. So, I understand the mental framework that drives such a proposal especially given the pressures to show immediate results.

“But for the record, it is our considered view that the proposal is based on a false foundation. Our thesis is that in extreme, exceptional circumstances, sale of certain assets could be a last resort option but that Nigeria is currently not near that threshold and the institutional framework for its effective use is also not in place.

“Furthermore, we argue that any sale of assets now amounts to chasing pennies when by acts of omission or commission, we are losing pounds. Such a hasty auction of national assets can only benefit a privileged few with cash and access while jeopardizing Nigeria’s long-term economic interests.  It will be a historic mistake.”

 Soludo also said “The argument that sale of assets is the only way to reflate the economy out of recession is troubling, and suffers what economists might call policy myopia or time inconsistency problem.

“First, imagine if previous governments used asset sales as a strategy to ‘reflate the economy’ during previous periods of economic recession or crisis. Alternatively, if we auction away some valued national assets for the short term goal of reflating the economy out of recession, what will happen during future cycles of recessions and economic crisis?

“The global economic system is inherently and cyclically crisis-prone.  Prudently managed economies are preparing for the next cycles of global crisis, and the IMF has already warned of persisting vulnerabilities.  What shall we sell then?”

 “Reasonable people can have a good debate about the composition of public assets for sale at any time. Although government is yet to be definitive about the assets being proposed for sale, it is reasonable to object to any scheme that will hurriedly sell performing public assets that guarantee future flows of revenue and forex to future generations such as the NLNG, AFC shares, JVs in oil and gas sector, etc.

“Even for non-performing assets, when privatization is forced and assets auctioned on an emergency basis to meet short-term needs, the danger signs are there for all to see. Nigeria will never get value for money under the circumstance. We all know what happens when someone urgently needs to sell his or her property to meet an emergency.

“What happens to the valuation/pricing? If we price them properly and wish to go through proper due process, the deal might take several years to conclude, thereby defeating the advertised purpose of immediate spending. On the other hand, if we insist on forced sale because we need cash urgently, we can as well imagine how the valuation will be done and how buyers will bid for them," he said.

Adding that “In all, the proposal is largely self-serving and convenient. For some privileged private sector operators with cash and access, the temporary rump up of reserves as well as temporary strengthening of the Naira will enable them to take whatever forex they can get (at the official rate) knowing that it is just a temporary elixir. They can then round-trip same a few weeks after and rake in billions.

“Furthermore, the attempt to sell valuable national assets under duress guarantees these same interests to cherry-pick the assets on the cheap. For our Senators and government, it is very convenient in the sense that it provides easy money to continue with the expenditure trends. So, for both government and its private sector collaborators in this scheme, it is a win-win. The only losers are Nigerians and the economy.  In this apparent short-termism or myopia, no one seems to care about tomorrow."

Also, Charles Soludo said criticised President Muhammadu Buhari anti-corruption drive, saying the President is only fighting the symptoms.

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