Monday, 9 November 2015

THE WICKED PROBLEM OF MINISTERS WITHOUT PORTFOLIO ~ DR. JIMOH IBRAHIM (CFR)

Barrister Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim, CFR
If you ask President Muhammadu Buhari what his experience has been since he took office about six months ago, he will probably say soko soko…! if he could speak Japanese. In English, that simply means, not bad and not good, but there is hope. The reason for that answer would not be far from the wicked problems that Mr. President has had to contend with since he resumed office. The regrettable part is that what ordinarily would have been small problems have be­come wicked problems. For instance, how do you explain ministers appointed without portfolio!

Interestingly, appointing ministers without portfolio is not President Buhari’s creation. It has happened a number of times in this country that ministers were appointed without portfolio. In the Jonathan administration, for instance, there were three ministers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That was when oil was selling at $120 per barrel! Now Buhari has to appoint his own ministers when the selling price of oil is $47 per barrel, while the cost of producing that same barrel is $48, which translates to gross income at negative of one dollar per barrel! This probably explains the concept of ministers without portfolio.

Every country faces different wicked problems. Nigeria’s problem at this time is lack of resources to fund the economy. This may be a small problem compared to some of the wicked problems confronting better economies in the world. For instance, Japan, which has the enviable record of the most prominent investment country in the world, with her investment in US Treasury Bills of 1.3 trillion dollars, far and above China’s record investment in US Treasury Bills of 1.2 trillion, is today confronted with the problem of aging population. By the year 2030, 50% of Japan’s population will be above the age of 70 years, while a mere 30% of the population will be below the age of 30. A wicked problem!

The government of Japan will be spending a lot on welfare benefits for old people. That being so, who will do the jobs? Again, 20% of the population in the productive age bracket is largely working outside Japan, as most Japanese products are produced outside Japan. Compounding this interesting problem is the fact that about 100 Japanese companies that are operating in Japan currently invested over 100 billion dollars in Japan bonds rather than spending the money on expansion of their companies. It is not easy for Japan to import labour from overseas and Japan is not friendly to immigrants. As one scholar said, it may be easier to learn the mathematical logic behind electronic production than learning Japanese language.

China is about the largest economy in the world, controlling about 12 trillion dollars of the world’s 70 trillion balance sheet, with over 1.2 trillion in cash investment in US bonds. Despite all these, all is not well with China. And if there is anything to be learnt from current happenings in China, it is largely that the Chinese economy is under great watch, as the current depletion on the economy may create a new recession for the entire world economy. And if China is to withdraw massively from her treasury bond investment in the US economy, then we may as well prepare for a new financial crisis, as such singular effort will lead to increase in interest rates, which will further push inflation and unemployment up as the cost of money goes up!

This is definitely a more wicked problem than Nigeria’s. Professor Peter Williamson, despite the rolling data on China, has expressed optimism on the continuous growth of China. The respected scholar warns breakthrough innovators to be serious in their response to cost innovation in China. Prof. Williamson maintains that doing nothing is not an option, as the dragon companies continue their visit from China. Muhammadou Kah (Former Vice Chancellor, The University of Gambia) has dropped his earlier views on China in favour of Williamson’s!

The general argument is that the US is the highest debtor and the richest country in the world today. The fact remains that countries invest their money in US bonds out of trust and belief in stability of that economy. For instance, both China and Japan invested about 2.5 trillion dollars in US bonds. It does appear that buying US bonds effortlessly by various countries is leading to giving free money to the US, thereby increasing her debt to nations. Is that a wicked problem?

Nigeria has no money to spend on capital projects. For instance, total amount allocated to capital projects in the 2015 budget is about $300 million, for a population of over 167 million! While President Jonathan did not commission any capital project in his last one year in office, President Buhari has been able to flag off one road project in the South since he became president.

The Nigerian constitution puts a burden on the president in the appointment of ministers, notwithstanding the resources of the nation. This is understandable, given the concept of equality of states, a condition for our federalism. The president has discharged that responsibility. And interestingly, the Constitution does not say in express terms that those appointed ministers should be given portfolios. The critical problem here is that if we borrow to fund recurrent expenditure, do we increase that problem by appointing more ministers, assigning them portfolios and borrowing to fund their offices, including their feeding and accommodation?

On the other hand, if ministers are appointed without portfolios, are they part-time members of the cabinet who will make suggestions at cabinet meetings and go home thereafter, while government will make use of their advice where necessary. Otherwise, how do we solve this wicked problem of lack of resources? Maybe “a wicked problem should have a wicked solution,” according to Bimbo Busari.

The world will be converging on Turkey early next week for the G20 meeting. Regrettably, some of us cannot make the invitation due to academic commitments. God willing, we shall be making the next World Bank meeting.

The agenda of the G20 meeting is to discuss the wicked problems which are clearly stated in ten categories in the agenda of the meeting as follows: Investment, Employment, Trade, Financial Regulations, Architecture, International Tax, Anti Corruption Development, Sustainable Energy and Chain Change Finance. While wishing my colleagues who are attending from the University of Cambridge successful deliberations, it is my hope that the Buhari Administration will benefit from the discussions.

The problem of insecurity and threat to the economic and political peace of the world, such as Boko Haram, is not slated for discussion. I do hope the world is not leaving Boko Haram to Nigeria as her domestic problem. There is empirical evidence to justify the fact that not much can be achieved in economic terms if world peace is in issue. In any case, what can two days discussions achieve in a ten point agenda? A wicked problem of agenda, perhaps, is scarcity of time! (nationalmirror)
Jimoh Ibrahim writes from the MBA class of the University of Cambridge

N.B: To get a compilation of lectures delivered by Dr. Jimoh Ibrahim at different places on wealth creation, especially how he conquered poverty at became a multibillionaire at a record age of 36, click on the link below: