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CBN keeps mum as Presidency breaks silence on restricting FOREX for food importation

After almost a week that the Presidency announced the planned restriction of foreign exchange (FOREX) on food importation, the federal government has shed further lights into the policy.

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CBN keeps mum as Presidency breaks silence on restricting FOREX for food importation

Almost a week after the President’s directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on the restriction of foreign exchange (FOREX) on food importation, the federal government has shed more light into the policy.

According to the statement credited to the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, on Sunday, “food importation is not banned and importers can source for their FOREX from other sources”.

Garba Shehu

[READ MORE: NAFDAC poised to stop rejection of Nigerian food exports abroad]

Criticizing the new policy: Shehu responded to recent controversies that trailed the federal government’s pronouncement on the supposed FOREX ban on food importation. Several analysts have indicated that the proposed ban would heap more misery on the economy.

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  • Nairametrics explained in its publication following the new policy shift, that the government’s premise for deciding to restrict FOREX on food is faulty. This is due to the fact that Nigeria has not attained full food security and the agricultural sector is still struggling.
  • The U.K based newspaper outfit, Financial Times (FT), equally joined in the debate, publishing that President Buhari’s new directive has sparked dismay over policy shift on food imports.
  • In its publication, FT stated that instead of inspiring a renaissance of the agricultural sector in Nigeria, the foreign currency import ban would create food shortages, encourage further smuggling, and send prices higher.

Presidency breaks silence: Recall that last week Tuesday, Shehu disclosed that the directive was given to ensure the steady improvement in agricultural production and attainment of full food security. Nigerians have largely raised concerns that while the new ban is ill-timed, some have described the move as an apparent breach of the CBN’s independence.

Meanwhile, Shehu had responded to the article published by FT titled: ‘Muhammadu Buhari sparks dismay over policy shift on food imports’. According to Shehu, the President’s policy still allows importers of the food items to source their FOREX anyhow.

[READ MORE: CBN is no longer independent – Moghalu]

The Presidency’s letter reads: “Your article ‘Muhammadu Buhari sparks dismay over policy shift on food imports’ (15 August) suggests the Nigerian Government is restricting the import of agricultural products into the country. This is simply incorrect. To be absolutely clear, there is no ban – or restriction – on the importation of food items whatsoever.

“President Buhari has consistently worked towards strengthening Nigeria’s own industrial and agricultural base. A recent decision sees the CBN maintain its reserves and put them to use in helping the growth of the domestic industry for those 41 items rather than provide forex for the import of those items from overseas.

“Should importers of these items wish to source their forex from non-government financial institutions (and pay customs duty on those imports – increasing tax-take, something the FT has berated Nigeria for not achieving on many occasions) they are freely able to do so.

“Diversification of forex provision towards the private sector and away from top-heavy government control, a diversification of Nigeria’s industrial base, and an increase in tax receipts – are all policies one might expect the Financial Times to support. Yet for reasons not quite clear, the author and this newspaper seem to believe the president’s administration seeks to control everything – and yet do so via policies that relinquish government control.”

CBN keeps mum: While Nigerians are still concerned about the announcement of the newly proposed FOREX policy by the President, they further questioned CBN’s independence. Until now, Nigeria’s monetary policy authority, the Central Bank has kept mum. Media reports suggest the CBN is expected to address Nigerians today or later in the week, it remains a huge concern why the federal government has suddenly started performing the statutory responsibility of the Central Bank.

[READ MORE: Nigeria partners UNDP and GEF to invest $58m in food security projects]

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Business

Just in: Lagos allows cinemas, gyms, others to reopen

In a new development, Lagos government has approved the reopening of gyms, cinemas, others.

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Lagos to construct rail line to airport terminal for international passengers, COVID-19: Lagos State to begin curfew on Sunday to disinfect metropolis, Lagos state government discharges 7 more coronavirus patients, Lagos state will reverse to full lockdown, Sanwo-Olu to virtually inaugurate projects as he presents scorecard of first year in office, Lekki regional road: Sanwo-Olu revokes land titles of Elegushi Royal family

The Lagos State Government has announced the reopening of cinemas, gyms and other recreational centres in the state.

According to a monitored media report, the disclosure was made by the Lagos State Government, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during a press briefing at the Statehouse, Marina on Saturday, September 19, 2020.

The governor said, they are however expected to operate at just 33% of their capacity, which is a third of their capacity and must comply with all safety measures.

He, however, said that other sectors of the economy such as bars, night clubs, spas, public parks, event centres and such others are to remain closed until October when the state government will make pronouncement concerning their reopening.

The Governor said, “Henceforth, cinemas and gyms are permitted to reopen as soon as possible, with a maximum of 33% occupancy, which means that there must be a minimum of two empty seats between occupied seats; and in the case of gyms, there must be constant disinfection of machines and equipment throughout the course of the day.’

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Sanwo-Olu said that it has become inevitable for Nigerians to apply caution as some other parts of the world have witnessed a resurgence of the coronavirus disease with a possibility of further lockdowns.

He warned, ‘’Let me make it clear that if we do not continue to maintain our guard, and sustain the adherence to all required protocols and guidelines, we will find ourselves in a situation where fresh lockdowns are inevitable.’

‘’The only way to avoid this is to continue to act responsibly: maintain the required levels of hygiene, through regular handwashing and use of sanitizers, wear masks in all public places, avoid non-essential public gatherings, and maintain the prescribed levels of physical distancing at all times”

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Business

Just in: Lagos approves resumption of full services for churches, mosques

Resumption of full services in churches and mosques has been approved by the Lagos State Government.

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Lagos dismisses levy on audio and visual contents, suspends LSFVCB boss, Lagos SEC meeting goes virtual as full lockdown commences, Partial lockdown guidelines for businesses from May 4

The Lagos State Government has announced the approval of churches and mosques to resume full services in the state. This disclosure was made by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, during a press briefing on Saturday, September 19, 2020, in Lagos.

According to a monitored media report, the government said mosques can hold their prayers 5 times daily, while churches can also resume weekly services. This is against the initial announcement, where worship centres were restricted to just one gathering weekly, after they were allowed to reopen on August 7, 2020, following the lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease.

Sanwo-Olu, however, warned that all safety protocols that had been announced by the government must be strictly adhered to.

Details later….

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Hospitality & Travel

COVID-19: Transcorp Hotel loses about N1 billion every month – CEO

Transcorp Hotels has seen its revenues ravaged by COVID-19 induced lockdowns and implementing measures to save itself from further losses.

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COVID-19: Transcorp Hotel loses about N1 billion every month- CEO

Transcorp Hotels, owners of one of Nigeria’s largest hotel Transcorp Hilton reports it loses about N1 billion every month due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This was disclosed by the Managing Director/CEO of Transcorp Hotel Plc, Dupe Olusola, during an interactive session on Thursday. According to her, the management of the hotel met and decided to ensure that it kept costs down by restructuring its business strategy, diversifying into asset-light business models, and reducing the workforce, among others.

Olusola further disclosed that the company had suspended further commitment to buy fixed assets and operating equipment, as well as reduced its energy consumption and maintenance costs. She also confirmed Transcorp will be cutting back on all capital investments this year and in the foreseeable future until the outlook for the economy improves.

READ: Nigerian hotels count revenue losses due to pandemic-induced plunge

The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest-hit since the Covid-19 broke in late February. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics also reveal the sector contracted by as much as 40% in the second quarter of 2020, officially falling into recession.

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Nairametrics participated in the stakeholder’s session and noted a few critical remarks from the interview.

Below is the excerpt of the interview session:

How much has COVID-19 eaten into the fabric of Transcorp Hotels?

We had a drastic decline of over N9 billion. In March alone, we witnessed a N456 million loss. We have to remember that in March, there was a partial lockdown when everyone was trying to figure out what was happening. We were at N1.03 billion loss in April alone and this has continued to be the story every month. In June, we dropped by about N840 million.

READ: As Hotels resume operations, how prepared are they?

How will this development (loss) affect your staff strength?

We struggled to ensure that we would not ask people to go initially, that was our priority. We paid staff that did not work during lockdown 50% of their salaries and the ones that worked then were paid full salary. To keep the business running, we definitely have to let go of at least 40% now.

We engaged the staff Unions, both the Junior and Senior staff, before the implementation of that. We will ensure that employees are properly taken care of. The occupancies we have now are below 30% and with that, it’s impossible to have everyone around.

What is important to us is that we must ensure we are able to keep the hotel running as a national asset, because it has been in existence for over 30 years.

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We have ensured that we keep as many jobs as we can within this time frame, so this is an opportunity for us to engage the media and carry you along before such exercise. We have engaged actively with our employees and other key stakeholders. At the occupancy level that we are seeing, it is impossible for us to sustain the employees that we have to keep our doors open.

Precisely, how many will you lay off?

It is definitely a great burden to even consider a lay-off but we don’t have a choice but to keep the business afloat. We have over 1,000 staff and it appears we will not need more than 400 staff to ensure we keep the hotel running. What is happening is beyond everybody and it is just a situation we have found ourselves in.

What is your outlook for 2020, any hope of returning to the pre-COVID era?

We expect to get to the pre-COVID era by 2024 globally, because it requires the gathering of the people in preparing for events, etc. The new normal is real. We expect things to go back to what they used to be in Nigeria by 2024 also. We are not expected to do more than 30% of our occupancy this year and that is significantly low, and by this time next year, we don’t expect to see anything more than that. So, this is our trying time.

Strategy to sustain Balance Sheet before the end of 2020

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We are a hotel business, the food, room and the events we hold are our sustainers. We are definitely going to end at a loss in 2020. As I said, COVID will still be around in 2024. We will try as a business to be innovative, to look at different ways. We are reporting losses of almost N1 billion on a monthly basis and this is significant to us. We hope they can come up with some vaccination to help reduce the impact of the pandemic so that businesses can begin to pick up.

READ: Transcorp Hotels Plc Retains Positive A- (NG) GCR Rating

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Any palliatives from the government to hotels?

Governments across the world have given palliatives to hotels, but here there is no such package for big hotels in Nigeria. We have engaged at all levels of government on payroll support, tax rebate, support for employees, actively and widely as possible. Yet, these have not yielded any support, unfortunately. This is really why we have gotten to the point of disengaging our own staff. We have not seen any support from the government to actually help us.

How do you aim to restructure your loans and are there plans to raise funds?

This year is really just about losses. We have met with our stakeholders and lenders to work out how we can restructure our loans, considering some palliatives CBN brought on board like interest rate of 5%. We met the Bank of Industry (BOI) to get interest rates on our loan reduction. Some of these got a couple of positive responses. We are also considering raising funds through the right issues. We are raising N10 billion in order to pay off some of our existing obligations.

How will virtual tools affect your business model and future plans?

We are working round the clock to bring in solutions in line with the new normal to our guests and customers. How do we provide what they are looking for? How do we provide physical and virtual conferencing? We have also come up with Drive-in Movie Cinema, among others. We are going to ensure we run asset-light strategies to bring in new initiatives that can continue to help us remain standing in the business.

On our future plans, we have suspended our expansion plans. For instance, we initially planned to set up hotels in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, which has been suspended for now. Also, we suspended further commitment to buy fixed assets and operating equipment as well as reduced our energy consumption and maintenance costs.

Bottom Line: The hotel faces a tipping point and as things stand survival is what is its priority.

  • To do so the hotel will have to make tough decisions some of which as job cuts, reduction in overheads, and suspension of capex related activities.
  • This will be a very painful restructuring process for the hotel group but it appears this is the only way it can survive.

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