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PUBLIC ENTERPRISE REFORM IN NIGERIA: EVIDENCE FROM THE TELECOMMUNICATIONS INDUSTRY
This study examines the qualitative and quantitative evidence relating to allocative and productive efficiency in the publicly owned Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) in the wake of its commercialization and the deregulation in 1992. Estimates of changes in internal efficiency using total factor productivity analysis suggest a substantial improvement in efficiency as a result of the regime shift. Furthermore, the reform undertaken resulted in increased profitability, network expansion and modernization of telecommunications services. However, the momentum generated by reform has proved impossible to sustain. The industry is still characterized by under-investment and large unmet demand. The study recommends greater private sector participation in the delivery of telecommunications services in Nigeria, the introduction of competition in the sector, and the strengthening of ongoing reform efforts to embrace full privatization of NITEL with a view to overcoming protracted constraints on telecommunications performance and growth.
In recent years, several developing countries have embarked on the reform of public enterprises, including privatization, within the framework of macroeconomic reform and liberalization. More than 100 countries across every continent, most of them developing, have privatized some of their state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Equally striking is the volume of transactions. Between 1988 and 1993, over 26,000 privatization transactions with sales values exceeding US$50,000 each were recorded world-wide, generating a gross receipt of US$271 billion. Of these transactions, about 900 were conducted in 1993 alone, against only about 60 in 1988. Developing and transition economies accounted for much of this tremendous growth (Sader, 1995). Between 1988 and 1994, developing countries around the world sold about 3,300 SOEs, with sales revenue rising from only US$2.6 billion at the beginning of the period to a peak of US$29 billion in 1992 (Megyery and Sader, 1997).
The resort to privatization/commercialization was informed by several considerations. First, by 1985, the quantum of resources required to sustain the SOEs had become an unbearable burden on the affected nations. Second, it was envisaged that a carefully planned privatization programme would be an effective strategy for improving operational efficiency, broadening share ownership, attracting foreign investment and reducing the role of the state where the private sector has the capabilities to operate more efficiently. Finally, since the beginning of the 1980s, privatization of public enterprises has become a major policy tool in both developed and developing countries following the apparently successful privatization programme in Britain. Privatization gained considerable momentum in developing countries given its endorsement by the multilateral financial institutions as a major plank of adjustment policies. The urge for privatization was further reinforced by the need to reduce government expenditure in the face of burgeoning fiscal deficits, and was also in conformity with the resurgence of “economic liberalism” in the development literature.
Yet despite widespread privatization efforts, empirical evidence indicates that its anticipated benefits are yet to be felt in African countries. Most studies have documented the relatively poor performance of SOE reform efforts in Africa compared with other areas of the world in both relative and absolute terms (World Bank, 1996; Kikeri et al., 1992; Adam et al., 1995). However, only limited efforts have been made to identify the causes and determinants of the uniquely unsatisfactory performance of SOE reform in Africa relative to other environments. As in most developing countries, the Nigerian economy until recently witnessed a growing involvement of the state in economic activities. The expansion of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) into diverse economic activities was viewed as an important strategy for fostering rapid economic growth and development. Massive foreign exchange earnings from crude oil, which exacerbated unbridled federal government investment in public enterprises, reinforced this view. Thus, by 1990, there were over 1,500 public sector enterprises in Nigeria, 600 of which were owned by the federal government, and the rest by state and local governments (Jerome, 1995). The public enterprise sector excluding petroleum accounted for about 15% of Nigeria’s gross domestic product in 1990. Unfortunately, most of the enterprises were poorly conceived and economically inefficient. They accumulated huge financial losses and absorbed a disproportionate share of domestic credit.1 By 1985, they had become an intolerable burden on the budget, as they were being sustained through budgetary allocations from the treasury.
In the wake of the economic recession that began in 198l, following the collapse of oil prices, the activities of public enterprises attracted more attention and underwent closer scrutiny, much of it centring on their poor performance and the burden they imposed on government finance. The poor financial returns from these enterprises against the background of severe macroeconomic imbalance and public sector crisis precipitated the concern of government towards privatization. With the adoption of the structural adjustment programme (SAP) in 1986, SOEs came into the forefront as a major component of Nigeria’s economic reform process. Consequently, the Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization was established in 1988 to implement the SOE reform component of SAP. In what appears to be a uniquely comprehensive initiative, 101 enterprises in virtually all sectors were slated for total or partial privatization and another 35 for commercialization. Subsequently, public utilities such as Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), the Nigerian Postal Services, Nigerian Airways and the Nigerian Electric Power Authority, among others, were restructured and reoriented towards higher efficiency.
Nigeria is probably the only country in the world that carried out a hybrid programme of privatization and commercialization simultaneously. The decree defined commercialization as the reorganization of enterprises, wholly or partly owned by the government, into profit making commercial ventures without subvention from the government. The process entails explicit performance-based contracts with managers of SOEs.3 In return for managers’ expanded power over pricing, procurement, production and personnel, the enterprise is subjected to a hard budget, which entails cutting subsidies and transfers. The telecommunications industry in Nigeria also witnessed the deregulation of telecommunications services in 1992 through the promulgation of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Decree, No. 75 of 1992, introducing private participation in the provision of telecommunications services in Nigeria, thus ending the state-owned NITEL’s monopoly of the sector and ushering in competition.