Former Managing Director of the World Bank, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who was sworn-in yesterday by President Goodluck Jonathan as the Minister of Finance declared that her main priority as she resumed duties was to create jobs which was a key component of the president's transformation agenda.
She made the declaration after she took oath of office, even as President Jonathan said that Dr Okonjo-Iweala and other ministers who were formerly based abroad before being invited to join the cabinet will not be paid salaries and allowances in foreign currencies.
Meanwhile, the President has also constituted the National Economic Management Team, NEMT, which will be inaugurated today with Dr Okonjo-Iweala as the Co-ordinator of the team.
Okonjo-Iweala who fielded questions from State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council, FEC, was not comfortable with a question from reporters on the ongoing reforms of the banking sector by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, stating that the CBN doesn't have any reform, apart from President Jonathan's reforms.
"There is no reform package by the CBN and no reform package by the Ministry of Finance. There is a reform package for Nigeria which is being led by President Goodluck Jonathan. We are here to make sure that his priorities are met. CBN is dealing with monetary, currencies and exchange rates policies and the Finance sector is fiscal policy. The two have to come together in order to make a whole so there is no division", she said.
"But let me say this first the whole thrust of what the president wants for now is the creation of jobs so everything that we do in terms of pushing the economy forward has to be geared around how we can have a true job growth of the economy. So we are going to be working on that", she added.
According to her, "those micro economic structure reforms and investments in key sectors that need to be done in order that we create job for our youths would be the critical thrust but we can expand on that later".
On the issues of the debt, she said, "first we have to look at the fiscal issues in the country studying possibilities of fiscal consolidation and that includes looking at our debt level. As you know, I am somebody that believes we should have a prudent approach to our debt. But we will be able to tell you more later when we have started the process of looking at the budget".
Announces 3-point agenda
As she assumed duties yesterday at the Ministry of Finance secretariat, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, set for herself and the ministry staff, a three-point agenda of "efficiency, effectiveness and delivery."
Exuding confidence, she said the various challenges of the Nigerian economy could be successfully tackled with determination and readiness of spirited Nigerians to ensure the success of the needed reforms.
She urged all staff of the ministry to work hard, explaining that she could be a "very demanding" person.
The former World Bank Managing Director told the top management that the execution of government's policies would be based on hard work and that she was determined to ensure that Federal Ministry of Finance was at the lead in that regard. It is essential that all team members work together to deliver on the agenda", she said, adding that she did not have all the solutions alone.
She described her appointment into the cabinet as an honour that humbled her immensely and that "nobody is too big to serve his or her country. My decision to serve my country is because of my love for my country. I love Nigeria with a passion".
According to her, "Nigeria can do better than it is doing currently only if all those saddled with the responsibility of implementing the policies play together as a team".
In a brief remark, the Minister of State for Finance, Alhaji Yerima Lawan Ngama identified a successful execution of the Vision 20:2020 as critical to the realization of the Goodluck Jonathan administration's transformation agenda.
No pact to pay Okonjo-Iweala, others in US dollars-Jonathan
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan has announced that contrary to reports, he has no pact with any of the cabinet members sourced from the diaspora, including the immediate past World Bank second highest officer, to earn wages in US dollar.
Said he: "The question the media ask and I know, for Ngozi, it was quite embarrassing when you accepted to serve; it was in the media that you gave conditions to be paid in dollars. Let me formally announce to Nigerians that she accepted to serve just like any other minister and indeed others who came from the diaspora have not asked us for dollar salary. They are going to receive salary and allowances like others in the cabinet. They are coming to serve the country and are not coming because of their personal aggrandizement.
"For today's ceremony, there is the need to make one or two statements. First let me welcome Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on board, a very familiar terrain. She was here before most of us here, as a minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs briefly before leaving".
He thanked the new minister for accepting to come and serve again, "because considering the position you were holding at the foremost world bank, it is difficult for you to come back to serve as minister in a country".
"And I am saying this with all pride because when your name was made known and it entered the media, anywhere I go, heads of state and governments were wondering why you would even agree to come; and they were appreciative of me, especially the African presidents that I did well to pull you back home to help solve the African problem because they know your worth in the world Bank.
"Let me also thank the World Bank, particularly Zoellick for allowing you to come, for co-operating with us and promising to support us. It is an opportunity for us to thank the world bank and also thank the president especially. People wonder why we want her back, we want her back not just to manage the Ministry of Finance but we are opportuned to have her as somebody who is quite vast in economic issues and we want her back to play a key role in the economic issues in the country.
"Of course, you also know that in the immediate past, she also introduced the idea of Economic Management Team during Obasanjo's time and we followed up- the late President Yar'Adua and myself." The President disclosed that NEMT is to be inaugurated this morning at Council Chambers of the State, even as he promised to expand the team as the need arises.
"This time around we are expanding the Economic Team because we believe the country is one. Yes, the states have their own economies but if there is no proper coordination in the management of the economy between the federal government and the states, we cannot go anywhere as a nation. And that is why the economic team, this time around, will have some governors as members."
But specifically, he said: "Ngozi is brought in to coordinate all economic activities of the federal government and of course by extension, help the state. Let me also thank other ministers brought in from the diaspora, we know it is quite challenging to move from developed countries to Nigeria".
"For you, the expectation, not just from Nigeria, but the whole world, is quite high. People expect so much from you, some people feel you have the magic wand to wave and change everything. I believe with your level of experience and with the support we will give you, and of course cooperation of your colleagues, all of you collectively will help to change our own country. You will help to work to make sure that our transformation agenda move smoothly and get to the destination expected.
"I am quite happy with the ministers on board because this time we are emphasizing the cluster arrangement even though the economic management team has not been formally inaugurated, I am aware that the core economic ministers have been meeting in the minister of petroleum resources office.
They have been holding meetings to see how the ministers can work together. So your job is easier because even before you take the oath of office, already people are doing the work and they are working together. So the spirit is already there for you people to work together; and I will give all the ministers the political support to what they are meant to do and I believe all of you will succeed".
Ministers to brief President
President Jonathan directed that as from next week, "probably after the Sallah celebrations, various ministries will give us comprehensive briefings on where we are and where we want to go". Issues of financing our project for the next four years will be key and of course you will be in all the briefings because the issue of the briefings usually ends with money. There is only one minister that told me and I pray that it should be so that Mr. President after one year the government would not need to spend money in my sector, we would be able to generate enough funds to drive my sector; and I said, if we can get that kind of ministers in all the sectors, it would be lovely."
He said "so we are quite hopeful that you (Okonjo-Iweala) have the team of ministers that are really ready to transform this country. I am quite pleased with the interactions I have been having with few of them for now both the ministers and the ministers of state, they have the spirit, the willingness to work hard to change our country. I think I would be one of the luckiest presidents that would have this kind of cabinet. So let me once again thank you and indeed all the ministers for accepting to serve our country."