“Supporting Entrepreneurship” – An Address by His Excellency, Lionel Zinsou, Prime Minister of Benin Republic

July 15, 2015
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AN ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, LIONEL ZINSOU, PRIME MINSTER OF BENIN REPUBLIC AT THE TONY ELUMELU ENTREPRENEURSHIP PROGRAMME (TEEP) BOOTCAMP

Mr. Vice President, Your Excellency, Mr. Chairman of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Governor, Mr. Chancellor, distinguished guests and all you young entrepreneurs from 51 countries in Africa. Good afternoon Africa.

So, I have two messages to deliver. One is as an African and as a citizen of Benin which is a sister country. As an entrepreneur, I have created a few small firms and foundations and I’ve also worked in established companies. So let’s say as a corporate man, I’m so pleased and so honoured to be here. My first message today is to say that Africa is so proud of these foundations and of this program. I am proud of everything I have heard from the moment your project first came to my attention. For my fellow citizens, the entrepreneurs selected from Benin and who I’ve started to work with on their projects. I am so proud of you all.

I’m even more proud of being in Nigeria. I know that 40 percent of you all are coming from Nigeria so I want to pay tribute to Nigeria because not only you are the largest economy in our continent – one with one of the most robust growths around – you have resurrected agriculture and you are also the largest democracy in Africa.

And what you have done, in the lessons you have given to the world in recent months, nobody has done in Africa. Now everyone will try and replicate what you have done.

My second message is this: having spent over three decades in private firms, I’m now the Prime Minister and have been so for the past three weeks. I hope that when you have succeeded in all your ventures and it will be far quicker than three decades, I hope you join the administration and the community, and you share with your fellow citizens everything you have learnt and experienced because our citizens require that the political class be rejuvenated with you all, and even old people like me. I don’t know if I will be Prime Minister for more than say three months or ten months. What I do know is that everything I do is a bit different, everything I dream of is a bit different and I will tell you why. It is because the corporate world has some efficiency that all governments need today.

As Governor El-Rufai said, it’s not only in Kaduna state that we need efficiency. A good functioning government owes that to all citizens across Africa and we have room to improve. We can bring speed along with the values and the experience of the corporate world. We have been speaking of renewable energies; we can do that in this country and the other sides of the border and put in place renewable energy. I know that you have many projects in that sector in this auditorium. We can bring solutions, local, smart, grid technologies, photovoltaic technologies. We can bring solutions for our poorest communities using the solar energy or the biomass, deploy it in four months, six months, a year – something very different from the centralized solutions. We can. But we will not do it. We will not do it because we will prepare in two or three years, a project that we can deploy in four months.

When you come from the private sector, that is just a scandal. You have to be able to prepare a project in two months and deploy it in six months when it’s technically possible and not three years and deploy it after that in four months. It is a scandal. You have to remain rebels. You need the spirit of working against absurd timings, absurd constraints, red tape and bureaucracy. You have to bring that in the government for it to become a good and functioning government.

Beyond speed, you need to consider your fellow citizens as your clients. You will each have clients and also be in competition to serve your clients as efficiently as possible. Our citizens are not the clients of our administration. They have to be the king and at the very centre of your operations. I decided in terms of investment projects of established companies as well as foreign direct investments entering Benin, that the administration now has a duty to deliver all the administrative regulatory acts. It’s not for you as entrepreneurs to go from an office to another office and wait for bills, decrees and signatures, then waste one year or two years running around for your project. It is for the administration to deliver that to you. We will completely revise the process.

You are the clients of the administration, just like you have clients too. When you come back to join the administration like me after three decades, come back to the community with this will to make the citizens the clients of the administration and not the reverse (that is, the citizens, the slaves of the administration. It is a complete, complete difference. But public service is not the same as market and for profit service. There is a difference and I see that every minute of the last three weeks. The difference is that your most important clients will be the poorest. The most privileged have to be the poorest. What is the scandal today? It’s that thepoorest are not the privileged and even, when you consider our budgets and analyze them, you will see something that is a scandal when you come from the private sector. Our budgets are an immense transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. If you consider where the tax revenues come from, you will see, it comes from the average citizen; the common man, subsidizing the consumption of the richest. It is an immense transfer, which is the contrary of what has to be performed.

So come back to govern with the notion that the people are the very centre. Thanks to people like Tony, finance now has been provided to Africa in far better volume and ways of sophistication, which is starting to be a good response to our needs. We have in Africa today – something that I would never have said or envisaged twenty years ago – the financial means of propelling our development. The sophistication, the proficiency, the institutions and in many cases including in this country, thanks to your Central Bank Governor recently, the regulatory framework and the proper monetary policy. And there again, Nigeria has been quite an example as role model but we are still not using this resource as we should. In Benin, out of all the financial flows of public development aid, we use 26 percent after five years of what has been granted to Benin. If we were just able to consume fifty percent of the financial flows, fifty, it would be an immense progress in our ability to perform development, say in terms of private financing.

As we speak, our administration is too weak, too small. I absolutely subscribe to what the governor has said, that Nigerian police has to be twice the number. It’s absolutely true of all our countries: security, education, public health. All those public goods have to be performed by more people but we are unable to absorb the financing that we can get access to.

This could pose a problem because you will need venture capital and even if we have a venture capital revolution in Africa, you will need even more help. We have to make a huge effort to use all our financial assets efficiently and be able to absorb more financing better. This has been initiated in this country and by men like Tony; I will try and contribute my part to that.

So when I see you, I won’t say I have a dream or an expectation that you succeed. With your creative values, innovation-based values, ethical values and this conviction that people is everything and more important than capital; people and their knowledge, people and their ambition. I have a certainty that you arewinners.

Thank you.