Balogun market, Lagos, Nigeria. Pic: Megainsights
In a country like Nigeria that lacks social safety nets and has a minimum wage of less than US$98, a significant section of the population have no choice other than to turn to the informal sector as a survival strategy. However, there is every potential for the informal sector to be more than just a means of survival. If carried out effectively, government engagement with the informal sector can lead to an invaluable economy boost.
The informal sector: What are its contributions?
In a nutshell, an informal sector business is an unregistered business owned by one or more members of one or more households selling goods and services. Informal workers are workers engaging in work without formal employment contracts or workers producing goods for final use by their households. Jobs under this category include paid domestic workers, drivers, subsistence farmers and artisans. Over 61% of the world’s working population work in the informal sector. 85.8% of employment in Africa is in the informal sector. Over 65% of the working population in Nigeria is in the informal sector. In the 2016 fiscal year, 41% percent of GDP came from the informal sector and the informal economy also accounted for 73.7% of created jobs.
Whether the numbers tell the full story or not, the contribution of the informal sector to economic growth is more than negligible. Notwithstanding, the informal sector does not figure as prominently as it should in economic growth plans, even in previous administrations. The seven point agenda of the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration did not consider the informal sector; neither did the transformation agenda of the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Why must we pay more attention to the informal sector? Simple. The present and projected demographic of the Nigerian population demands it. Nearly 65 percent of Nigeria’s population is between the age of 15 and 64. Only about 8% of the adult population is formally employed.25% of Nigerian children aged between 5 and 17 are engaged in labour, all of whom are most likely in the informal economy. About 43 percent of women in Nigeria, particularly Northern Nigeria are married before the ages of 18 and in all likelihood have little to no chance of obtaining higher education. The chances of such individuals ending up in the informal economy are very high.
There are about 44.3 million small business owners in the sector employing about 22.9 million people. It is important to harness the potential contributions of the informal economy, which is responsible for the employment of such a significant section of the working population, to the fullest.
How can we remodel the informal economy? Two points will be made here. First of all, greater attention should be paid to proper regulation and structuring of activities in the informal economy. In doing so, the government could create an organization responsible for the registration of businesses in the informal sector all over the country. Such organization would be established by law and its activities monitored by established bodies. Subdivisions of such organization(s) at state and local government level could be established for effective monitoring at all levels. The Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (ERGP) developed by the Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 2017 places the responsibility of monitoring the informal economy on the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. It remains to be seen whether this function will be carried out effectively by this organization.
Any formalization processes that will be carried out under the ERGP or any other economic plan should comply with International Labour Organization (ILO) standards in that it provides opportunities for income security, livelihoods and entrepreneurship. If the informal economy can be formalized through registration of informal businesses and workers, an obvious dilemma would be how to develop a proper taxation regime. If formalization does not result in taxation, government revenue from a significant aspect of the economy is reduced. Taxation on the other hand may discourage business owners and workers from being registered. A possible solution may be granting tax reliefs to registered businesses and workers below a certain income or profit level with income derived from taxation of formalized units being redirected towards investment in such sectors.
Furthermore, effort should be directed towards removing any ‘stigma’ associated with the informal economy. 61% of all workers worldwide are informally employed and as discussed earlier, the informal sector makes significant contributions to the Nigerian economy. Concerted effort must be made towards promoting the informal sector as a viable economic growth/poverty reduction mechanism. Informal workers are also skilled workers and the informal economy is also a skilled economy.
Accordingly,the government can create and sponsor low-cost well-equipped skill platforms that connects individuals willing to work in the informal sector and experts together. The current government appear to be taking steps in this regard. In 2015, the government approved the establishment of Vocational Enterprise Institutions(VEIS) and Innovative Enterprise Institutions(IEIS), secondary schools which work with businesses to provide vocational and technical training. There are now about 82 VEIs and 152 IEIs in Nigeria.
However, these institutions, as with other educational institutions in Nigeria, suffer from funding problems and are also expensive for many of the prospective beneficiaries. The government could provide assistance in this regard by subsidizing costs for prospective attendees. Alternatively, the government could collaborate with private organizations to organize periodic technical training programmes for members of the public. The allocations to the Ministry of Education in the 2019 budget proposal and projects listed under it do not indicate that the government is willing to make significant investment in this regard anytime soon.
It may be unheralded but the strong contributions of the informal economy to employment and economic growth cannot be easily discountenanced. With proper structuring, it could be an economic goldmine.
Oluwafifehan Ogunde is a research specialist and legal consultant. He has a PhD in Law from the University of Nottingham and is a qualified barrister and solicitor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Egypt, PRL sign train engines contracts worth $466.3M
CAIRO – 16 November 2019: The Egyptian Railway Authority (ERA) signed with PRL (Progress Rail Automotives) a number of contracts worth $466.3 million after a meeting with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi that took place last week.
The American company will supply 50 train engines over 22 months, carry out long-term maintenance for 41 engines by June 30, and upgrade 50 others within 30 months since the conclusion of the deal. The company will also provide maintenance services and spare parts for those 141 train engines for 15 years. The value of contracts will be secured through soft loans, except for $27 million that will be paid by ERA’s treasury.
In July, ERA endorsed the technical specifications of two passenger railcars to be supplied by Transmashholding in September. Those are part of a contract to supply 1,300 railcars. One of the railcars will be tested in Hungary, so it will be granted the safety certification by the European Railway Agency. The other will be tested in Egypt. Afterwards, the first batch of railcars in the contract will be delivered in accordance with the timeline set by both parties.
The contract states that 650 railcars will be supplied from Hungary, 500 will be delivered by Russia, and 150 will be manufactured by Egypt under the supervision of Transmashholding. An Egyptian locomotive factory will be established as part of a plan to localize the locomotive industry in Egypt and transfer the know-how to workers, technicians, and engineers in the sector. The factory will produce the 150 railcars and also provide maintenance services.
The representatives of ERA and Transmashholding agreed to hold further visits and meetings to study the possibility of cooperation in rail infrastructure, mobile rail, workshops, new lines, and maintenance of existing railcars.
In the same month, an official source told Egypt Today that ERA needs 12 rail test machines to detect and repair defects in railroads revealing that contracts to purchase eight of those are being finalized.
ERA will receive four rail test machines worth €8.5 million by the end of 2020 supplied by an Austrian company with which a contract was signed a few months ago. The machines will enable the authority to better diagnose defects in the railroads which would increase the safety, and inhibit derailment accidents.
France-Africa Summit secretary general praises Egypt’s experience in infrastructure
Investment Minister Sahar Nasr meets with Secretary General of France-Africa Summit 2020 Stephanie Rivoal Reminisces- press photo
CAIRO – 8 November 2019: Ambassador Stephanie Rivoal Reminisces, the Secretary General of France-Africa Summit 2020, has hailed Egypt’s experience in the infrastructure field mainly with regard to the the sustainable and smart cities as well as digitization which she said offers investment opportunities to the private sector.
During her meeting with Investment Minister Sahar Nasr, the French diplomat added that France prioritizes consolidating strategic relations with the African countries, topped by Egypt, the current president of the African Union.
The meeting is held on Friday as part of Reminisces’s current visit to Egypt to hold talks with the government on preparations for the anticipated summit, slated for June, 2020. This year’s summit will focus on the sustainable cities.
Several heads of state and government will address the summit and meetings among businessmen from all over the African continents will be held as part of the summit’s activities, Reminisces said.
About 1,000 investors representing major, small and medium sized- businesses have been invited to the summit, Reminisces added.
Meanwhile, Nasr asserted Egypt’s keenness on developing cooperation with France at economic, development and investment levels.
She hailed successes achieved through the French investments in Egypt which she said hit 5.2 billion dollars with 160 French companies operating in the country.
Egypt urges World Bank, IMF to support regional integrity in Africa
CAIRO – 18 October 2019: Minister of Investment and International Cooperation Sahar Nasr called on the World Bank and IMF to boost their support to Egypt in achieving regional integrity and intra-trade in Africa, a press release on Friday read.
Addressing the Intergovernmental Group of 24 on International Monetary Affairs and Development in Washington, Nasr called on the WB and International Monetary Fund to expand investments in the region.
The minister said that Egypt’s vision to face the slowdown in global economic growth and trade tensions is to achieve more economic integration and continue to take the path of reform to make our economies more competitive and attractive for investment, to achieve the aspirations of the world countries in growth and development.
Nasr explained that the Egyptian government has implemented a comprehensive economic and social reform program to promote sustainable growth, alleviate poverty, create good jobs, enable the private sector to promote growth, and provide opportunities for all sectors of society to participate in the economy, especially women and young entrepreneurs.
The Minister added that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, as the chairman of the African Union, has set the achievement of regional economic integration as a top priority.
Nasr also discussed Wednesday with the World Bank the provision of $500 million for the pollution control and solid waste management project in Egypt.
Nasr added in a statement that Egypt is also discussing with the World Bank raising the level of partnership to support the health and education sectors in Egypt.
For his part, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Farid Belhadj affirmed that Egypt is a very important country for the bank’s fields of work.
“Therefore the World Bank is keen to contribute effectively to the efforts exerted to achieve development in Egypt, especially in the field of infrastructure, in light of the economic and legislative reform that contributed to improving the investment climate in Egypt,”Belhadj explained.