Monday, 7 March 2016

CAPITAL FLIGHT IN TUITION FEES AND MEDICAL BILLS ABROAD

Against the backdrop of the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserve, government pronouncements on the abuse of foreign exchange and measures to curb any form of waste are understandable. Protests against the move to cut foreign exchange (forex) allocation for overseas tuition fees by parents and for Nigerians in hospitals abroad can also be understood. In the event, a balance has to be struck by all in the overall interest of the country.

The criminal neglect and gradual decay of the education which forced the exodus of students whose parents can afford it, and poor services in the nation’s hospitals which compelled the expensive search for treatment abroad, have exacerbated the toll on the nation’s foreign currency spending.

Regrettably, since all that ails Nigeria can be traced to woeful leadership, the indiscretions of a few have left the country’s economy and infrastructure in shambles. The result is that while promoting those foreign economies that have been recipients of the available forex in form of students’ tuition fees and medical bills for health challenges, Nigeria has been left the poorer. That many of these health challenges are what local experts have the capacity to handle but for the obsolete and inadequate facilities, makes the tragedy more unbearable. More than two billion dollars, for instance, is said to have been paid by Nigerians over time as tuition fees abroad. On health tourism, the sum is much more humongous. The Senate Committee on Tertiary Institution and Tertiary Education Trust Fund has, therefore, rightly frowned at the idea of Nigerians seeking higher education abroad, especially in other African countries.

On the heels of that, the Bankers Committee at a forum in Abuja on how banks could play their role to assist the real sector to be the engine of growth has also urged the addition of education and medical tourism to the list of 41 items already denied forex through the official window. That admonition followed the realisation that demand forex on a monthly basis for just education and medical tourism (services that can be obtained locally) now exceeds 15 per cent.

In the heat of this confusion, some reports even alleged immediate halt of forex allocation by the Central Bank (CBN) to the two sectors. Expectedly, there were public protests, enough to cause the CBN to issue a statement debunking the claim and that all “genuine users desiring to obtain forex for the above-mentioned purposes are to freely approach their banks with requests”. Of course, such reassurance could only be predicated on the availability of the money at the designated banks.

The pro- restriction group has genuinely argued that the huge chunk of 15 per cent has adversely affected the supply of foreign exchange to the real sector, which forms the pillar of a productive economy. Moreover, it has been argued that Nigerians need to make sacrifices and be patriotic at a time like this to help grow the economy and attract more foreign direct investment while conserving the little left in the treasury.

Conversely, those opposed to restrictions hold fast to the belief that keeping students away from foreign education is not a solution to the problem. Rather, a conscious effort to build human and infrastructural capacities in those areas of education and medical needs would be the only disincentive to going abroad. This point, however, is reinforced by the claim that in contemporary times, the youths cannot be kept away from an interactive and collaborative global network and that Nigeria does not need to prevent her children from a search for knowledge anywhere. Education, after all, includes exposure to and interaction with other cultures and peoples.

There is the urgent need, no doubt, to make the local system work, made more attractive with better schools and functional health facilities. This is the ultimate solution to capital flight. Nigeria certainly can boast of world-class professionals to run any well-equipped health or educational facility once the incentives are right.

Change in Nigeria’s destiny would come only when the nation accords education the right pride of place and invests enough in it to make foreign schooling unattractive. Health facilities and medicare system must be re-built to attract the best hands in order to stop the huge sums flowing out to India and other countries from Nigeria. The opportunity to make the country better is here, the present administration has to seize it and all Nigerians must join in the task. (Guardian)