When a Good Policy Gets Mismanaged

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By Victor Ogiemwonyi

The recent CBN Naira redesign and currency swap policy, was controversial from the very beginning, as it divided both commentators and analysts.

The whole country was talking about it. While many were willing to give it a chance, most  saw the policy as more political than economic, others however, including this writer, saw it  as a reset for the CBN.

The CBN admitted upfront, when they  put out their intention of this policy, that they have lost control of the currency in circulation, with up-to 80% of the currency in circulation, outside the Banking system.

For this writer, this was a good enough reason , to give the policy support.

It was thought that the large cash in the system, has implication for inflation, and  also thought to be, the  major fuel, for much of the corruption we see around us, and the kidnapping business that has grown in leaps and abounds in recent times.

It was also seen, to some extent, a way to reduce the vote buying tendencies of our politicians.

No matter what side of the debate you are on, no one foresaw the large scale mismanagement and the wide spread suffering that this policy was to create, except for a fellow on one of my forums , who warned, that  there was confusion ahead.

He stated this  in reaction to my write up in support for the policy.

I give him credit for his prescience, but even then, he could not have predicted the level of dislocation this was going to cause.

Some of the scenes on social media, clearly depict all the suffering  and associated problems this has engendered.

Adding to the chaos, are conflicting court decisions, policy challenges and litigations.

It is taking us back  to 1983, when the Supreme Court in Nigeria, said they have no jurisdiction in the Abiola matter.

The rest is history as they say. If that decision had been otherwise, Nigeria may have taken a different trajectory

We are again seeing a situation, where the highest judicial officer in the land, the AG says the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to intervene in the matter.

What is the import of the AG’s statement?  We are not yet sure, or  what that means.

Does that mean the government will not obey the ruling? and what will be the implication of that?

Is the Supreme Court no longer the final say in any judicial matter in the land, no matter how ridiculous, their position?

Are we not heading for anarchy with this posturing? I think, we should obey the Supreme Court,  no matter what  the technical legal position might be.

This was more a social ruling needed to give respite, in the midst of the confusion and the suffering all around.

What is legally right, at this point, has to take everything happening into consideration.

The confusion the CBN has caused by their mismanagement of the currency swap policy, can only be remedied by a temporal halt on the deadline for the old notes to remain legal tender.

The fact that the new notes are not available and may not be massively available in the few days left, means that unless there is a shift in the position, the crisis and suffering will continue and the economy will take a huge hit, and may even lead to another recession, something we cannot afford right now.

The economy is already in trouble, any recession will have very bad implication for a long time to come.

The amazing aspect of this mismanagement, is the fact that, all the information we are now getting, was available to the CBN to plan with.

The CBN knows there is a large population of the unbanked, they know the telecom infrastructure, is already stretched, and a large demand on its services at this time, will create more problems.

We have seen how overwhelmed, the system experienced, in the last few days, those who wanted to bank on their phones, were unable to do so.

The CBN knew the capacity of our Mint, and should have made adequate preparation to match the capacity, with the expected amounts of the new Notes to be swapped.

The information that the Mint, does not have sufficient papers to print the new notes, have now been denied by the CBN.

The CBN should have been prepared to match the printing of the new Notes, with the amounts the Banks were taking in, in old Notes, in real time.

In today’s world of instant data availability, the CBN was in a position to get reports from Banks, that could have aided the Mint in reacting to the demand for New Notes, to continuously match, what the Banks were taking into their vaults daily.

If the information that only N500bn was available on the day of the first deadline, to replace over 2 trillion Naira of the old Notes, the CBN said was already with the Banks, then they are responsible for this manufactured chaos.

There is no way to explain such bad planning. It was also bad planning, that no special arrangements were made for the large unbanked population, those without Bank Accounts, estimated at 66% of the population, as put out by some Media outlets.

That they were not taken into consideration in CBN planning, was ridiculous.  The fact, that only 9% of the population use digital banking outlets, makes arrangements for special outlets to be even more important.

Setting up several cash points in every local Government Area, especially those that have no Bank branches, was a necessity.

Even in the 1984, currency swap exercise, that was also very difficult to manage, there were opportunities for the rural populace, that had no banking facilities to go to their Local Government offices to make a swap of their old Notes, why did the CBN not even think of this, refusing completely, to learn from history.

The emergency recruitment of 400 POS Operators was an afterthought, and would have worked better, if this was all part of the strategy, to get to the unbanked population, the opportunity to use this outlet.

The initial instructions to Banks to restrict their disbursement of the New Cash, via ATMs only, was also a bad strategy. No one knows what that was supposed to achieve.

There are not enough ATMs as it were, and most, work badly, most times, relying on this for wide distribution was one way thinking, to fight the black money in the system and slow politicians from having money available to buy votes.

This thinking, completely forgot, the economy was a much bigger deal to worry about.

The statement credited to the CBN Governor, that they did not anticipate the challenges and the ensuing crisis, is a clear indication, they did not do any impact assessment.

That again is unforgivable. Public policy options that will affect everyone in the country, needs proper assessment and the impact measured, to give policy makers, proper preparation, against all what ifs, and alternatives put in place.

Let’s hope this will all be sorted out quickly, the mistakes were avoidable.

Despite, this huge disruption to our lives and the impact, it will make on the economy, there are still some benefits derivable, when it all unfolds.

Victor Ogiemwonyi is a retired Investment Banker, and writes from Ikoyi, Lagos.

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