The new foreign exchange rules By Donu Kogbara

President Muhammadu Buhari

EARLIER on this month, foreign exchange transfer rules suddenly changed and became extremely complicated and draconian. There was no notice period or visible consultation process. The Central Bank simply issued a series of terse “with immediate effect” announcements that sounded like military decrees.

Why am I seething with fury?The General Public was informed that these stringent new measures were being launched to shore up the weak naira and prevent money-launderers from sabotaging our economy. But I’m not impressed. Frankly, I am VERY angry.

Blameless individuals

Because many blameless individuals like me (who have honest occupations or commercial interests, modest incomes and morally justifiable overseas expenses) were caught completely unawares…and are now going to suffer much more than the economic saboteurs whom this new policy was invented to thwart.

 Why is this crackdown harming the innocent more than it harms the guilty?

Because big-time crooks can afford to deposit vast sums in different locations and already had gazillions of pounds/dollars/euros, etc, safely stashed in foreign countries when the new policy was activated…unlike small fries like me who can only occasionally afford to transfer small amounts abroad.

I have discussed this new policy with several bankers; and most feel that the new policy is unsustainable, unfair to their customers and anti-growth…and that the naira will only be  temporarily assisted by such artificial manipulations. I have also discussed the new policy with many regular citizens; and I’ve heard countless tales of decent people being massively messed up and inconvenienced.

Some have had to cancel, postpone or truncate holidays or business trips because they can’t quickly transfer sufficient funds for their overseas bills. Others cannot purchase basic items – secondhand cars and groceries, for example – that they used to import from Cotonou and Beyond, to sell in Nigeria.

I, meanwhile, have been told that I can no longer buy sterling here and then transfer it to the UK, via my domiciliary account, to cover costs – rent, utilities, council tax and so on – that are linked to my London residence. I don’t expect you to weep for me at a time when the average Nigerian has more pressing concerns than esoteric foreign exchange regulations and can’t enjoy luxuries like international travel. But I’m human, so I’m weeping for myself!

I grew up in Britain and love almost everything about Britain but moved to Nigeria on a patriotic impulse 15 years ago. And I’ve struggled to survive and thrive here…and to cope with a plethora of tough and painful Naija realities.

Being able to escape to a gentler environment from time to time has kept me going psychologically. Furthermore, my son and siblings still live in the UK. So for all sorts of reasons, I cherish the little sanctuary I stay in during my regular visits to London. And the thought of losing it depresses me so much that I am seriously considering the possibility of shifting my base back to the UK and getting a job there, so I can earn pounds instead of naira and keep my UK home.

Foreignmortgages

Ironically (given the Government’s claim that its new policy is aimed at fraudulent fat cats), many of the folks who are well-resourced enough to have acquired foreign mortgages – or to have bought foreign properties outright – are beneficiaries of the ill-gotten gains that flow from corrupt practices.

The Bottom Line is that if you are prosperous enough (via legal or illegal means) to own a property abroad, the new policy will not create major problems for you…Whereas if you are financially-challenged and a mere tenant who is renting because you can’t afford to get a mortgage or buy outright, you will be punished.

Long story short: This new policy is more wicked than fruitful…in the sense that it hits the less advantaged hard and isn’t likely to achieve desired results. I therefore urge Mr President to think again and scrap it with immediate effect!

Power supply improvement

ALMOST everyone to whom I’ve recently spoken – diehard political opponents of President Buhari included – agrees (grudgingly in many cases!) that the electricity situation has improved significantly in the past couple of months. In my family compound in Port Harcourt, there have been so few power outages in recent weeks that my mother and I can’t believe our luck.

Absolutefortune

After years and years of spending an absolute fortune on generator diesel, we are now spending a fraction of what we used to spend. And we are thrilled and relieved.

This change has greatly boosted the disposable incomes of individuals and companies. And since there has been no new power sector initiative in recent weeks, I can only assume that PHCN staff are simply operating more efficiently. Does Buhari deserve the credit for the status quo?

I may be wrong, but I say “yes”. I think that he has projected a stern, principled, no-nonsense image – and atmosphere – that is inspiring trepidation and encouraging government employees to remember that they are public servants and fear the consequences of incompetence and do their jobs properly.

The new pilgrimage policy

I WAS delighted when I heard that President Buhari has taken the bold step of refusing to bankroll Muslim and Christian pilgrimages because I have never understood why The State should sponsor trips to Mecca and Jerusalem. Governments do not have infinite resources and should not get sucked into religious observance issues, which are an essentially a private matter.

If you or I want to piously journey to some Holy Land to nurture our souls, fine. Very laudable. But such trips are not compulsory and we should pay for them ourselves because our spiritual wellbeing is nobody else’s responsibility. Furthermore, many “pilgrims” were dubious cronies of governors, ministers, and other grandees…who did nothing but shop, womanise, drink heavily or scour markets for tradable commodities when they reached their destinations.

Kudos galore to Buhari for courageously shrugging off this burden and insisting on prioritising his core duties: Destroying Boko Haram, developing infrastructure, sorting out education/health, fighting corruption, etc, etc,

VANGUARD

 

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