Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
Wednesday 14 July 2021: -Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday gave an account of how she superintended over saving Nigeria a cumulative of $3.5 billion by cleaning up the country’s pension and subsidy systems.
Okonjo-Iweala, who was finance minister under two administrations in Nigeria spoke during an online interview organised by Atlantic Council, a United States think-tank on international affairs, monitored yesterday on ARISE NEWS Channel, the broadcast arm of THISDAY Newspapers.
She stated that in her first stint under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, her vision was to see the renegotiation of Nigeria’s debt and the second under former President Goodluck Jonathan was to stamp out corruption.
Describing her job at the World Bank as wonderful, when she was called upon by the then president, Okonjo-Iweala said the first time, she was a vice president and corporate secretary at the bank, when Obasanjo asked her to return to the country.
She added that having been brought up in public service, her whole life by her parents, it was a chance to give back to the society under the former president who wanted, in particular, some expertise in getting Nigeria’s debts written off or negotiated.
She said Nigeria was indebted by $30 billion to the Paris Club with a debt service of $2 billion a year, of which the country could only pay $1 billion. But with reforms of the economy, she was able to systematise the country’s debts.
During her second coming under Jonathan, the WTO DG stated that she focused on fighting corruption and trying to put Nigeria’s financial management system on a modern standing and to update and modernise the systems.
She said the financial management system was largely cash-based when she took over, making the government deploy technology, to lower the ability for things to go wrong and for corruption to creep in.
Okonjo-Iweala added: “And just by having an integrated financial management system, we were able to cut down on the phenomenon of ghost workers, you know where people used to put additional people on the payroll in the ministries, ghost pensioners, because ghost workers will graduate to ghost pensioners, and so we got rid of that and saved $1.1 billion for the government.
“So that is, we were fighting other types of corruption. We had an oil subsidy system in which we used to pay marketers. Oil marketers who brought in refined oil, you know, we paid them the difference between the market price, and the subsidised price that the government was mandated for selling oil to people.
“And so, that was when I came the second time. This was a big problem. When I left government the first time in 2006, these subsidies were about $2 billion, when I came back, the first thing we noticed was that it had grown to $11 billion.”
According to her, there couldn’t have been any way so many people joined the middle class and bought cars and were able to afford to buy fuel which made the subsidy soar.
She said: “So, I asked President Jonathan that we could audit the oil accounts which he fully supported. When we audited, $8.5 billion of the accounts, we found $2.5 billion of fraudulent claims and with his backing, we refused to pay that to the marketers and that led to a series of problems, which I won’t bore you with, including threats to my life.
“My mother being kidnapped for five days was one of the worst periods of my life and it was a very tough period. But, that being said, I think the privilege of serving my country as finance minister for several years, to being able to work on some reforms is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”