Inclusive Finance in Turbulent Times
Monday, Mar 14, 2022

Inclusive Finance in Turbulent Times

Inclusive Finance in Turbulent Times

The pandemic, rising inflation, gender inequality, and climate change are contributing to global economic upheaval. The panel discussed the vital role ministries of finance and central banks continue to play, in achieving inclusive and sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. 

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TC Webinar:

Inclusive Finance in Turbulent Times




Dr. Zainab Ahmed

The Honourable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Nigeria


Dr. David Nabarro

Special Envoy of WHO Director General for COVID-19


Anita Bhatia

Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women




Babak Abbaszadeh

President and CEO, Toronto Centre




February 17, 2021



Opening automation:    You're listening to a Toronto Centre Podcast. Welcome. The goal of TC Podcasts is to spread the knowledge and accumulated experience of global leaders, experts, and world-renowned specialists in financial supervision and regulation. In each episode, we'll delve into some of today's most pressing issues, as it relates to financial supervision and regulation. The financial crisis, climate change, financial inclusion, fintech, and much more. Enjoy this episode.

Babak:                               Welcome to Toronto Centre's International Development Panel on Inclusive Finance in Turbulent Times. Bienvenue au panel de la Semaine du Développement International du Toronto Centre sur la finance inclusive en période turbulente.

I am Babak Abbaszadeh the CEO of Toronto Centre. Since establishment in 1998, we have trained more than 16,000 supervisors from 190 jurisdictions to become change agents for building more stable and inclusive financial systems. Before I go on, I'd like to let our audience know that this session is also being simultaneously translated into French and Spanish, and you can access those two channels in the globe button at the bottom of your screen. I am pleased to moderate this panel in celebration of International Development Week. This is a 30-year Global Affairs Canada tradition. This year's theme, Go for the Goals, is a


call to action for everyone to support the achievement of the UN sustainable developing goals.

                                           Our conversation today is very timely. Despite progress in vaccination, COVID-19 continues to exacerbate divisions, especially the inequalities between rich and low-income countries. According to Oxford University's Our World in Data Project, 10 billion vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, but was this enough to reach the majority of the 7.9 billion people on the planet? Far from it. In wealthy countries, 77% or more of people have received at least one dose. I know in Canada, we're in the mid to high 80s, all triple doses. But in developing countries, low-income countries, this figure is less than 10%. This underscores the widening global inequality, women and children continue to be vulnerable and face disproportionate burdens. Ninguna región del mundo ha sido inmune a la pandemia, es lamentable que el COVID 19 haya tenido un impacto devastador en América Latina y haya exacerbado las desigualdades estructurales en la región.

                                           Yes, there have been triumphs, rapid scientific developments, valiant efforts of the WHO encouraging countries to share vaccines and provide information in a timely basis. And in our corner, the remarkable resilience shown by finance supervisors, regulators, and central bankers to keep the global financial system from collapsing. However, let's be honest, we cannot ignore the failure in global solidarity to achieve distributive justice in vaccination. Without eradicating the pandemic for everyone, development gains achieved in inclusive finance, women's empowerment, poverty reduction, and all other notable goals, risk getting reversed.

                                           Now in the third year of the pandemic, I never thought I'd say that, in the third year of the pandemic, we're honored to bring together a stellar global panel to help us understand the international development implications of this phase of COVID-19 and its uncertainties. Dr. Zainab Ahmed is the Honorable Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning for the Government of Nigeria. Dr. David Nabarro is the Special Envoy of WHO Director General for COVID-19. Anita Bhatia is the Assistant Secretary-General at the UN Women. Their bios have already been distributed, please join me in giving them a very warm welcome.

                                           Toronto Centre's mission is sponsored by our key funders, Global Affairs Canada, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the IMF, Jersey Overseas Aid and the UN Capital Development Fund. So, without further ado, let's begin.

Dr. Nabarro, oh, sorry, David, I know you asked me to call you David. Welcome back, it's a treat to have you again. The first known case of COVID-19 was identified in China more than two years ago, reaching the third. You were one of the first prominent global authorities who urged everyone to take this virus seriously. It seems many of your predictions turned out to be accurate. The


pandemic continues to be intractable, and now the omicron variant is raging through the world. I already talked about vaccination inequality, what's next for the pandemic in 2022? Are there any grounds for optimism? Thanks.

David:                                Oh, lovely to be with you, Babak. And hello to everybody on this really important webinar. I've joined some of the Toronto Centre webinars before, and I must say I find the whole style and process really good. And I couldn't resist this one, just the title is just so, so important, Inclusive Finance in Turbulent Times. Things must be quite challenging for financial regulators to be saying they're turbulent, because your whole work is about managing turbulence in financial systems and keeping things stable.

I think these are turbulent times.

                                           Let me start about my own feelings about the pandemic. I'm always optimistic because I have huge faith in the capacity of humanity when working together on really challenging issues to be able to actually get through them and to do it in a way that's good for people and good for the planet. But at the same time, I'm trying to be realistic. And the reality is, that with regard to the pandemic, things actually are more complex for me than they were in 2021, and they were more complex in 2021, than they are in 2020.

                                           Well, let's start at the top. We have more cases of COVID, that's people with known COVID infection, reported to the World Health Organization right now than ever before in this pandemic. Over the last five weeks, the numbers of people who've been dying with COVID per week has just been steadily increasing. And so, three years into the pandemic, by my analysis, things are tough.

                                           But secondly, I want to say that the virus is here to stay, it's not going away. And so please don't assume that somehow COVID is just going to banish. Yes, WHO, the World Health Organization is working towards an end to the health emergency within some months, but this virus will be part of our lives and part of our children's lives and probably our grandchildren's lives, because that's the way these viruses are.

                                           Thirdly, we have a variant called Omicron, which is becoming dominant in many geographies, but there'll be more variants, and they won't all be the same as omicron.

                                           Fourthly, the pandemic impacts on different people in different ways, but it impacts on the poorest, the weakest, or the least powerful people in society the most, the least powerful nations the most, and it's them who are affected so badly, but it's not being measured. And the gaps between the wealthy and the poor, the gaps between groups that have resources and do not have resources are increasing inexorably year after year, and that's what's the problem.


The pandemic is really damaging our societies, and it shouldn't because the tools exist to actually contain this virus. They exist, the diagnostics, the treatments, the vaccines, indeed, the behaviors that are needed. It would be possible to stop this virus in its tracks, but for various reasons, which I'm sure we could discuss, there's not the collective leadership to make it happen. So, we are having turbulent times, because of the virus, because of what it does to people, but also, because collectively we're still finding it hard to deal with it as a collective, as a global, as a worldwide problem. So that's where I stand, Babak. It's still here, it's still tough, but compared with three years ago, I'm a bit more frustrated because actually, I think our global leadership could be doing an awful lot better. And so financial regulators, health workers, care workers, people in development, all those who are trying to work for a better world, are having to also work in a context where collective worldwide diplomatic leadership is just not up to the mark when it comes to this pandemic.

Babak:                               Thank you, David. That really does set stage for this conversation. Just taking off from a couple of points you said that this is going to stay with us. And I think those of us who have taken a look at the Spanish flu in 1918, although it was a different virus altogether, I mean, apparently that never really went away, and every year we are getting these boosters. So, one way or another you're right. I mean, why should we be surprised that the virus will go away now?

                                           The other thing is, a sad milestone, because it's very visible, 900,000 people have died in the United States, and that's a year after the vaccines were discovered, not because of shortage of vaccination, but some of the things that were subtexts of your conversation, behaviors and all the other divisions. So, with that in mind, Minister, I'd like to turn my attention to you. Your excellency, you have been quite vocal about Nigeria's longstanding domestic revenue challenge and have put in place several fiscal measures over your tenure. Can you share highlights of these interventions? And of course, we're talking in the context of this week and today, what has been the impact of the long-lasting pandemic on these efforts and how do you plan to address the challenges? Thank you.

Zainab:                              I'd like to thank the Toronto Centre for arranging this very interesting session. I was attracted by the topic as well. And as David has just said, I'm even more concerned now than I was before starting this meeting. He said that COVID-19 is here to stay and to be with us for a very, very long period of time. So, what that does to me is that it is telling us that are managing the fiscals of our country, that we've not done enough, and there's still a lot more we need to do, especially as this appears to be a never ending story.

                                           So, what we've done in Nigeria is we've explored several fiscal intervention measures towards enhancing revenue. Of course, we need revenue to be able to meet the challenges that has been brought about by the inhabitant of COVID-19


itself. In our case, also with the pressure of the crude oil price, we had a real, very significant fiscal challenge.

                                           So, we designed a program that we call the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative that contain a suite of measures that we're vigorously implementing, and all of it is targeted at moving our revenue, to the GDP ratio from the current eight to 9% to 15%. And this SRGI is built around four pillars, achieving sustainability and revenue generation, identifying new and enhancing the enforcement of existing revenue streams, achieving cohesion within the revenue ecosystem, and also enhancing and strengthening our revenue administration to improve compliance. So, under the SRGI we have seen gradual improvement in our tax administration framework, including filing and payment compliance. We've also been able to enhance very significantly our independent revenue collection efforts from government-owned enterprises. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, we were able to record a one trillion-naira mark from revenues generated by government-owned enterprises. We've also been able to plug some fiscal drainers using technology as well as automation.

                                           Another major step we took is also the internationalization of the enactment of Annual Finance Act to support our Appropriation Act. So, since 2019, we did one in 2020 and 2021, we have had an annual finance bill. This is a new fiscal tradition that is meant to bring about gradual and incremental reforms in the fiscal space within the country. So, we introduced new taxes, new excise duties, also enhanced some of the incentives that we have provided. And also, instituted a process of tracking the performance of those incentives, including being able to now tax the digital economy, which was something we never had the opportunity to do before. We've implemented a single treasury account, which enables government to see all of these accounts through one pipeline enhanced in our liquidity management.

                                           We have also been able to bring about the enactment of the Petroleum Industry Act. This is an act that has been almost 20 years coming. What this act does now is to provide a predictable and also an attractive fiscal regime in the petroleum industry in Nigeria, and also to strengthen the governors of our national oil company and prepare it for going to the Nigerian capital market so that there are several investors that can come into the investment in the oil companies.

We also arranged a number of companies that are going through prophetization and marginalization processes. These are national assets that are underperforming, and seeing incremental and performers of these enterprises, as well as earning revenue in the process. And there has been a number of challenges, very big ones, including resistance to some of the changes that we have put together, but we've had very good support from development finance institutions, from the World Bank, from the IMF. We have had very significant


support that has helped to boost our capacity, to be able to cope with the challenges.

We've seen also a complete turnaround in terms of revenue contribution from a new oil sector, compared to our oil sector. In the past, the oil sector used to contribute the largest proportion of our revenues. We've been able to turn that, but now, all revenues are 35% of our budget, in the past they used to be 70%. So, when there's a disruption in the oil and gas revenues, we're able to cope much better. And also, for the first time in 2021, despite the challenges going into a recession exiting in just one quarter, we've seen

(Remainder of the translation is unavailable due to lost connection)

Babak:                               Yeah, looks like the minister froze. So, I think what I'm going to do, just to keep the conversation flowing, if the minister comes back, we give her the floor, but Anita, I'm just going to go to you, if you don't mind. So, first of all, it's such a pleasure to see you. You've been at our events before, and our switchboards are always lit up when you're here. So, thanks for coming again. The pandemic has revealed and worsened inequalities and is reminder of just how unsustainable and fragile the world's economies and political systems are. And I think between David and the minister, that case is pretty much established. Could you please tell us about UN women's response and challenges of putting gender equality and sustainability at the center of the recovery and transformation? Thank you.

Anita:                                Well, thank you very much for the question, Babak, and good morning, good afternoon, good evening to everybody who's joining us today. And like David, I must say I really enjoy the format of these sessions, which is why I'm always delighted to be back here with you. There's something about the way you moderate and just the interactivity of the process that is very appealing. I see, you by the way, that the minister is back. Do you want to just check with her if she can still be heard?

Babak:                               Yeah. Thank you. Minister, sorry we lost you. And we were in a bit of a challenge. But do you have any closing comments before we move on?

Zainab:                              Yes, let me just conclude. And that's why sometimes I put off the video, because then the connectivity is better that way. But just to say, we needed to concentrate on enhancing revenue, because during the worst part of the COVID, we have had to borrow more than we planned, and therefore our fiscal deficit widened, and we need the revenues to be able to make sure that we have stability. Thank you.

Babak:                               Thank you. And also, just before we go back to Anita, and Anita, thank you very much for understanding. Minister, you said a couple of very interesting things that I want to sort of reflect on. You reflected on the challenges of your country, which are really amazing and really large, but you also talked about oil revenues


and how you were trying to manage that, which underscores something else. I'm going to talk about it in the later stage of the talk, about the relationship or analogies between the pandemic and climate change. And everybody, when they think about climate change, they think about the risk, physical risk, hurricanes, and stuff. In your case, countries like yours, countries like ours, it's really the transition risk, the risk of assets becoming stranded and how you actually need the fossil fuels to be able to make that transition to sustainability. So, I just wanted to sort of underscore that and move on to Anita. Anita, as you see, I'm trying to do conceptual multitasking here, but let's go back to you. Because you were just getting started and saying good things about us. So go ahead.

Anita:                                Well, no. Look, let me just say a couple of things about what UN women is doing to respond. But before I do that, I do have to lay out a little bit, what is the nature of the problem we are trying to solve today? Because it is actually a bit different from the nature of the problem, when the pandemic broke out. When the pandemic broke out, it became pretty obvious pretty quickly that there were three areas in which gender, equality, and women were really challenged. And those three were health, security, and income. Health, because the majority of health workers, frontline workers are women. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I'm going to say this again. Because, people forget that the pandemic, the world was being carried. Women were carrying the world on their shoulders during the pandemic, because most of the nurses and most of the workers out there doing the hard work were women.

                                           Number two, we saw very visibly this big spike in violence against women. So, it was very clear that there was what the secretary general called a shadow pandemic of violence against women. Because there was just so many conditions that were, unfortunately, favorable to abuse of women. And then the third was income. Because, whether in the formal sector or in the informal sector, women lost jobs at greater rates than men. Partly because of the nature of the sectors in which they were involved, and which were affected by the pandemic. Many of which had very high representation of women in those sectors. So those problems were visible, noticed and talked about. What has happened now is that it has become obvious that some of these are actually going to lead to structural long-term shifts. And this is no longer a short term or even a medium term issue but is actually a long issue.

                                           Why do I say that? Because there are a remarkable number of girls who are not in school today, and this is something that is going to have consequences for generations to come, because UNICEF estimate something like 11 million girls, not in school. So, that's a whole generation of women who are not going to participate in a productive way in the economy. So that's one.

                                           Number two, we are seeing in many countries that female labor force participation has dropped off hugely. Why is that? Because the one issue that has


really come to the fore in the pandemic is the issue of the care burden. And the fact that even before the pandemic, women were doing three times as much unpaid care work, it's work, not employment, it's unpaid work, as men. And that proportion went up during the pandemic, because women have born the brunt of the work to make sure that children were getting educated at home and picking up the care burden at home.

                                           So as a result of this, UN women has focused very heavily on bringing attention of policy makers to, one, the childcare burden. We launched as part of generation equality, the Global Alliance on care. Because we do believe that this issue of care is now intimately linked to the issue of reversing the gains, reversing the losses on gender equality that we have seen over the last two years. The second big area of work has been to really look at fiscal stimulus packages, because these were very large in many countries. We just heard Minister Ahmed talk about the support from the World Bank and the fund in the case of Nigeria, much needed, but Nigeria is not alone in that. Many other countries also received huge infusions of support. The question is, did of this money get to women. And what we have seen is that it actually takes a very dedicated effort on the part of policy makers.

                                           And I know Nigeria has some very good examples of things that Nigeria was doing to target women. But it's actually very hard to target women, and to make sure that when you are creating provisions for small businesses, that this goes to women owned businesses. That when you are doing cash transfers to poor households, that this goes to single led female headed households. Now some countries have done some really interesting things. For example, in Togo, in India, governments have used mobile telephony to get money to women. So, in India, 200 million women got cash during the pandemic. But there were a lot of other places where it was really hard to get money to women. So, UN women's job as the global multilateral agency, and the only one in the multilateral system with a singular mandate on gender equality, is to flag to policy makers where the gaps are as in childcare, as in female labor force participation, as in receiving aid during the pandemic, and to come up with policy prescriptions to address these gaps. So, that's what we have been focused on. I'll stop there.

Babak:                               Oh, that's great. That's a really good panoramic view. And also, Anita, as you are well aware, for the benefit of our audience, this is also very relevant for Canada's foreign assistance. Because the foreign assistance of Canada is called Feminist International Assistance Policy, and the way they frame it and they look at it is SDG 5, Sustainable Developing Goal 5. Empowering women and girls, achieving gender equality is the gateway to all these SDGs. So, I think you actually provided a very interesting way of synthesizing it.

                                           David, I'm going to come back to you now. So, you are a doctor by day and a Sustainable Development Goals enthusiast by night. You have worked within the UN system for over 20 years at the crossroads between health, food, nutrition,


sustainable development, and climate change. In fact, many see a parallel between the pandemic and climate change. Albeit climate change is slower, and one cannot self isolate or vaccinate herself against climate change. We all have to step up, especially businesses and investors. How could we convince more investors to take lead store sustainable development in a meaningful way and not through greenwashing, but rather by taking on and supporting high quality projects? Thank you.

David:                                Well, thank you Babak. Actually, over the last 10 years, I have seen enormous interest on the part of investors, whether they are investing private money or public money in actually trying to encourage sustainable outcomes. Quite simply, no investor wants to invest in an activity that is likely to become redundant or unwanted in a short time. But I'm reading more into your question really than that. It's not simply identifying sustainable investments and backing them. It's also, I believe, looking at the nature of the project and saying, is this project likely to work in dealing with enormous and challenging crises, like changing climates or like increasing international movements of people who are in search of a better life.

                                           And so, I come to the underneath question that I believe you are getting at here. What is the best way to invest in a sustainable, equitable, and fair future for coming generations? Is it to go on with the patterns of investment that we have right now, where you are primarily rewarded on whether or not there is a good financial return of investment, to the point where activists’ investors can actually break up some of the most exciting core operations that are moving in the direction of sustainability? Well, I think questions have to be asked about the underlying values of the projects in which investments are being made. The underlying values of the businesses that are so important in determining what kind of future we are all going to have. Are the values really focused on equity, and on sustainability, and on human rights? Or is it simply that investors are saying we don't care what happens to people? All that matters is we make money and more money and more money.

                                           But in my experience recently, Babak, especially since 2015, when the Sustainable Development Goals were released, I saw a recognition that it's not enough just to focus on the financial return from a business. It's not enough just to focus on the share price. It's more important to focus on the values and on the kind of leadership and the kind of outcomes. Are people going to do better? Are poor people going to do, especially better? Are women going to do better? Are people whose rights are constantly undermined going to do better? And that's the kind of criterion that needs to be in there. And there's just one index that needs to be looked at before any investment is made. And it's actually just answering this question. Does the project focus on cooperation or does it focus on competition?



If a project is encouraging more competitive behavior, more cutthroat action in order to achieve greater profits, then steer away from it. Because the one thing we've learned in approaching climate change, in approaching the destruction of nature, and in approaching the pandemic is that the only way we can get on top of these challenges is by cooperative working. Working together. Competition is not good for the future. And who are the people who are best at cooperative leadership who argue for peace when it is a choice between peace and war? Who argue for fairness when it is the choice between making money or getting fairer result?

                                           It is the half of our world that, by and large, are not in positions of leadership. And that's why this panel is so important, Babak. Invest in women-led projects. Invest in projects that are going to have outcomes where women are prioritized. Invest in women-headed households. Invest in girls' education. That's what's going to make the difference.

                                           And I'm not saying it just because Anita Bhatia and Zainab Ahmad are on this panel. I'm saying it because what I've learned from the pandemic is that competitive leadership is not good for equitable outcomes. Competitive leadership is not helping us to get on top of this pandemic fairly and quickly. Competitive leadership is not helping world to deal with changing climate, and its impact on hundreds of millions of people everywhere.

Babak:                               David, thank you. This is actually a very good way, sobering way of looking at things. I'm sure if Anita and the Minister were here, all in the same room with you, they would give you a big, enthusiastic elbow bump. I can see that in Anita's approving looks right now. And I think Oscar Wilde kind of summarized what you said, saying that "A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." Right? So here is the price and value. Value, and values is a very interesting conversation that you just opened up for us. Thank you for that.

                                           Minister, I'm going to turn to you now. Can you please briefly tell us about your current strategies for inclusive fiscal and financial policies in Nigeria? What else needs to be done to improve inclusive economic development in the broader African region, and true to form, it's very oppressive that I'm only giving you five minutes to talk about such an important topic. But we'd like to know your broad thinking. We don't get a lot of opportunities to talk to a Senior Minister like you. Go ahead, please.

                                           Okay. So, the minister is right now... She will work on her video. So, we're going to go to Anita. So, Anita, let's talk about Sustainable Development Goal Five for the audience. That's about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. That's one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. I have two interrelated questions. What lessons should be taken away from the pandemic to decrease the immediate effect of future crises on women's


wellbeing, and the threat they pose for future generations? So that's one compound question for you. The other one, how can financial regulatory authorities continue to help in inclusive finance, to enable SDGs? Thank you. And then, we'll go to the minister after you.

Anita:                                Okay. Thank you very much, Babak. I think, look, one of the lessons of the pandemic very clearly, and we see this from the UN Women, UNDP, COVID-19 Global Policy Tracker, which actually looks at the impact of the stimulus packages on certain populations. And in our case, we're looking at what have been the impact of different policy measures, both monetary and fiscal on women, as governments have tackled the health and other impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

                                           And one of the big lessons is that it's actually very hard to target women, and to make sure that the issue of gender equality stays front and center for policy makers. Because the task of rebuilding back from the pandemic is so large, that the advocacy work that is needed to make sure that women's issues remain central is very, very important.

                                           One of the other lessons, I think, from the pandemic is that representation matters and leadership matters, just as David was saying. Leadership matters and representation matters. When you look at the health outcomes of those countries that were led by women, you do see that there is some positive correlation. I'm not going to say a causation, because there were outliers there as well. And by the way, the newer data on the pandemic may change this.

                                           But there is some correlation between the leadership style, who was leading, and what were the outcomes for the country, both in terms of health responses, but overall, in terms of development responses and the ability to say, "Yes, we are not losing all the gains on SDG 5 or the other SDGs." And certainly, at the beginning of the pandemic, you saw the countries that had female heads of state in government doing a much better job than other countries.

                                           Now, I don't want to say the opposite, which is that the only countries that can do well are those that are run by women, not at all. But it is really shocking when you look at representation in, for example, COVID-19 task forces that have been set up to deal with the pandemic. It is remarkable that of the, I think there are 430, something like that, task forces on COVID all over the world. And when you look at how many countries' task forces actually have gender parity in them, there are only eight: Canada, Chile, Estonia, Ethiopia, Finland, St. Lucia, Switzerland, and the US. The rest actually are dominated by men. Now, in and off itself, that may not be a bad thing; because there are a lot of men like David, who care about women's issues and will bring them to the fore. But you actually, we have found that having women having a seat at the table matters.



And so, one of the other things we have learned is that as a public policy measure, pushing gender parity, pushing for gender representation, pushing for gender equal cabinets is really important if we are to address some of the structural issues that we have faced. And then, I would say that one of the other things we have learned, is that one is going to have to think outside the box and take on issues that normally would have been considered the domain of private employers.

                                           For a long time, the issue of unpaid care, and I come back to that because it is such a big constraint today, the issue of childcare, the issue of unpaid care. This is something that was considered a private household matter that could be solved by people through some sort of division of labor in the domestic context. That is not going to work. You actually need public policy to focus on the issue of childcare, because it is a cynic going on for women to participate in the formal economy.

                                           And the last point I will say, is that nothing is going to be solved unless we pay more attention to the informal economy; because in most of the countries in the world, the greatest part of the economy is actually informal, and that's where women are. And so, if we don't have of explicit policies for the bottom of the pyramid, and to move people from informality to formality, you can forget about really changing the lives of women. I'll stop there.

Babak:                               Thank you, Anita. And then what you're basically saying really encapsulates the whole challenge, possibilities, and opportunities for inclusive finance. I guess, being of the UN, you are trained to be diplomatic; because I wouldn't be as diplomatic as you are when you're trying to attribute certain good qualities to female leaders. Because I think we saw that happen in various countries around the world during the early stages of the pandemic. And no one female leader that I know ever talked about injecting Lysol’s or lights in America's continent; yet, these have two leaders or former leaders that, or one former, one current, that's still talking about things like that.

                                           So, let's go back to the minister. Minister, can you hear me? Yes. Okay. So, can you please briefly tell us about your current strategies for inclusive fiscal and financial policies in Nigeria, and what else needs to be done to improve inclusive economic development for the broader African region. And Your Honourable Minister, you have five minutes. Go ahead, please.

Zainab:                              Thank you. Thank you very much, sir Babak. And I must say, that at the beginning of the pandemic, when we decided that we needed to take some fiscal measures, one of our major considerations was how should we, what should we do to support micro, small, and medium enterprises? So, in our research, it was very clear that the majority of those business owners were women. So, we set out in the law, in the Finance Act, to actually remove all taxes. So, there was zero


company income tax for companies that had a turnover of $25 million and below Naira. And so, these are really micro enterprises.

                                           And then the second level of the size of companies, we will reduce their tax rates from 30% to 20%. So, we thought by doing that, because we didn't have money to give to people, a lot of money to give to people, we thought reduce the tax burden so that they can retain most monies within their businesses, be able to grow, and also keep employees. So that was the very first measure that we took.

Secondly, we put together a fiscal sustainability plan. And in the plan, in each of the sectors, especially the sectors that were supposed to be supporting micro, small, medium enterprises, the MSMEs, we also made sure that the funding that was supposed to be provided, either zero cost funding or low-cost funding, or simply grants to households that the beneficiaries were largely women. And this was by design. It was by conscious design. And when we did, when UN Women helped us with the review, it was confirmed that the majority of the beneficiaries in that private sector were actually women. So, these are very small businesses. And we also have records that show that women actually do much better in terms of paying back when you give them these facilities.

                                           Apart from that, we set up a Private Sector Advisory Group, where private sector participants were coming together to select investment process that will have impact on our achievement of the SDGs; and they're using their resources to make those investments. And when do the investments, we'll sit back and say, "Okay. What fiscal support do you need?" And we'll make sure that that support is also provided.

                                           We set up the National Integrated Financing Framework, the INFF, that has taken stock of the funding gap that we have for meeting the terms of the SDGs. And we have a roadmap to implementing the INFF itself.

                                           Finally, we also have set up a comprehensive gender mainstreaming fiscal policy. And this we did by ensuring, by policy, that our national budgets had an agenda lens. And it was given by way of a guidance to government agencies, that they needed to look at every major project they're undertaking, and look at and ask, "How does it affect women? Or "How can we design the implementation to evolve women, to affect them?"

                                           Then, on the monetary side, the monetary authorities have been working for quite a number of years now on the National Financial Inclusion Strategy. They had revised it; the last revision was in 2018. This is a policy that is currently tracked on an onward basis, and each sector in government is to provide inputs on what they have done during the course of the year to meet those National Financial Inclusion Strategies.


A lot of this is straight towards reporting how these policies also directly affect women. So, for me, I want to wrap up by saying, recognizing the gender dimension and financial inclusion is very important, because at the minimum, 50% of the population is women. The monetary authorities in Nigeria have launched a new framework in 2020 to advance specifically, in addition to the National Financial Inclusion Strategy, they have launched a program to advance women's financial inclusion in the country. And according to the progress that we have seen, using digital service and agent networks to increase inclusion, that approximately right now, 81% of Nigerians hold a mobile phone. And it was easy now to be able to target financial inclusion through various designs and programs and agent networks using the mobile phone as a basis. So, for us, is work in progress, but we continue to track and to report.

Babak:                               Thank you. That sounds like a very impressive mobilization. And your support and leadership and government's leadership are really critical. If you just look at the way women are included in corporate boards in North America, I'm not as familiar with Europe, volunteering inclusions don't really amount too much; numbers seem to be at around 30% or so. And the reason I'm bringing that up is because in order to make equality work, there has to be a big push from the central authorities, from the leaders, authorities.

                                           Great. So, we have a few minutes left for some questions. We're going to try to go over as many of these questions as possible. Let's try to do this CNN style, no more than 20, 30 seconds per question. We have the courageous anonymous, David, asking a number of questions. But a couple of them, let's go quickly through them. COVAX, there was a lot made about COVAX in the past, and you're talking about solidarity and all of that, or lack of it; is that really effective? Is it going anywhere? Or countries are falling short of their contributions?

David Nabarro:                The COVAX is a great creation, designed to enable vaccines and other tools to be made available to those who need them, and to prevent some kind of amassing of these products by wealthy nations. But for COVAX to work, it depends on wealthy nations, respecting the principle of first come, first served, and not using high bids, in order to push themselves to the front of the queue for vaccines from the manufacturers. During 2021, the COVAX system was systematically undermined by the governments of wealthy nations who basically paid more to the producers in order to get closer to the front of the queue, and that meant that for many months, poorer nations were just unable to get vaccines, and when vaccines did come through, they were often only on a very short viability period. They were close to expiring, and this has led to a real inequality in vaccine access, but it's not the fault of COVAX. I fear it's the fault of the governments of wealthy nations, who just felt that they had to get vaccines for their people at all costs, and they reduced the vaccines that were available for people needing them in developing countries.


Babak:                               Thank you, David, and also, it just raises another bigger issue, and it's been bothering me for a long time. When I was a kid, when they came to our schools to vaccinate us for this, that, polio, whatever it was, we never knew, cared, my parents never brought up the whole question of the brand of the vaccine, and we spent so much time going around with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, this, that, that, in some countries, people not wanting to take them, and in the meantime, people in the poorer countries were not even being able to have access to that. So, hopefully, one day somebody will look at these corporate marketing practices that kind of happened by default.

David:                                Well, it was also different government leaders made statements about the utility of vaccines that were not based on the evidence. The World Health Organization had a system for reviewing what vaccines worked and whether they were safe, and it's used that system and used it very, very carefully. But I'm afraid there were other people in positions of authority, making statements about vaccines that have actually caused real inequity, and indeed, as you might see from some recent material in European newspapers, some of this may have actually cost large numbers of lives. It's really very disturbing.

Babak:                               Yeah, and how much time we wasted on talking about Hydroxychloroquine and stuff like that. Anita, I'm going to give you a controversial question, just because you are very diplomatic, but this is an interesting one. As far as you know, is there anyone or any group making profit off the pandemic whose interests are far from wanting the pandemic to end?

Anita:                                Good heavens. Well, look, let me just say that I have no personal knowledge of groups who are trying to profit from the pandemic, but I think it is what David was saying about the fact that any issues relating to the inability of the world to end the pandemic have not to do with the technical solutions, but really with the leadership, because the technical solutions, the vaccines, to end the pandemic are there, but what is not there is the political will. So, I actually think that the opportunities to profit from this, yes, I'm sure there are huge profits being made by drug development companies, because just of the structure of the industry is such that there are sometimes usurious profits going towards, particularly, monopolistic players in a sector. So, I think there is probably some element of high profit seeking and profit margins in some of the activity relating to the pandemic, but I think the bigger issue that we are really facing in the pandemic is, as David rightly said, the issue of political will and political leadership.

Babak:                               Great. Thank you. Thank you. Handled well. That was a tough one. Good answer. Minister, I'm going to come to you. Maggie has a question about global solidarity. I think all of us have been talking about that. I mean, Maggie doesn't say that, but I think we're all kind of disgusted by the lack of solidarity around the globe to deal with this issue, but you are an important minister in an important country in Africa. What would you like to see? How do you think we can bring the various


stakeholders together, globally, to put another push at trying to end the problems, when it comes to poverty and things of that nature? Thank you.

Zainab:                              Well, thank you very much, Mr. Babak Let me say that Africa is not a homogenous continent. It is also critical for us, first of all, to emphasize that there is no one size fits all solution. We were horrified at the turn of events during the peak of the COVID, when it became clear that the bigger countries in the world had adopted a "need first" attitude, and even when we went out with our own money, we could not get vaccines. So, it was a horrifying thing, but I'm glad that they have been, since then, some significant improvements in that regard. The space is becoming a bit easier and we're able to access, and then, also, some of the donations are coming to us. But in Africa, it is important, it has cost us to retrospect. It is important for us to look inwards, to emphasize innovation, to emphasize policies that will enable us also to be able to produce things like vaccines without having to depend on vaccines coming into our country.

                                           And we also have seen that it is important for us to continue to build accountability mechanisms, to ensure that the resources that we have, limited as they are, are properly managed, and that the use of these resources are targeted to address critical needs, including human capital development, agriculture, infrastructure, but especially health and education. So, it was a big wake up call for us. We kept meeting as African ministers of finance and we kept looking at how do we support each other? How do we prepare ourselves for the next pandemic? And David says, this one is not even going away, but there will still be another pandemic, there will be climate crisis, and we're looking inwards, as to how we can better help ourselves.

Babak:                               Yes. Yeah. I mean, it's a time of uncertainties and turbulence, as David related to, in the financial sector. We know about it more than most. So, I think this is going to be an ongoing state. Anita, there's a question here. I'm not asking you to answer it, but it's an interesting one to put going out, perhaps UN women can make that publicly available. Does the UN have a list of the unpaid work? You talked about that. You talked about important work that women do, but it's not registered as paid work. So, that's just a friendly contribution from an audience here. Let me go to David for a second. David, we can't resist you being a doctor at WHO. Can we ever really get to a state where Coronavirus becomes like a flu or is that too optimistic?

David Nabarro:                Oh, well, I think that's what our ambition is, Babak. You know, nobody wants a virus to be causing a lot of suffering and hardship and death, particularly not a virus like this, that preferentially targets poorer communities. We would like the Coronavirus to be a virus that we coexist with, but at the same time, we organize society, and we organize our lives so that we can get on with social and economic and cultural activity without any excess risk. And over the years, if you study public health, that is what societies have done. They have established new ways


of living and working to reduce the incidence of diseases that are carried from what we excrete to our mouths. We've also changed the way in which we live, those of us whom it relates, to reduce the risk of diseases that are transmitted through sexual activity.

                                           And so in the same way, we can change ways we live so that we can get on with life absolutely fine, but if there's a surge of a Coronavirus building up, as they sometimes will, then we get the advanced warning and we say, "Coronavirus Alert" and we know that that means put on our masks and maintain physical distance and ventilate our premises well, and then the Coronavirus will just slow down, will subside, and the alert will go away. And that's our impression of how it's going to be. We will be able to live with it, but it will mean being super smart and organized, and that, at the same time, should not stop us from doing all those good and lovely things that we want to do to get on with our lives. Babak, that is the goal and friends in WHO tell me that we could do this by the end of this year, but it does require world leaders to stop competing and, as I said before, to work together.

Babak:                               Great, well, that's actually very optimistic for us, and as we're coming close to the end, Minister, I have a very simple question for you, and let me give you the context for that. I wanted to know if your government collects sex disaggregated data to be able to help with your policies when it comes to gender equality. So, Toronto Centre actually has published, with the help from the USAID and our other organizations that we collaborate with, including countries in Africa and Latin America, a toolkit for financial sector supervisors and regulators on how to implement gender equality issues, with respect to supervision, and I thought you might be interested in that as well. So, we should have a conversation with you. So, I'm just wondering, is this something that your government is actively pursuing? And we literally have two minutes. So, I'm going to give you, Minister, no more than a minute. Go ahead, please.

Zainab:                              Okay. Okay. So, Babak, yes. This is something we've started. We have designed a program whereby as we track the performance of the SDGs, that the data that we're collecting for the performance is also disaggregated, not only by gender, but also by age, and because we also need to see the impact on the youth population. So, this is something we started as well.

Babak:                               Great. Thank you. So, as we come to the close, I just want to quickly thank our panelists, but also let's listen to what they said. They talked about, called for greater global solidarity. Nobody gets the Oscar in global solidarity right now. Let's try to make sure that we do much better, and Anita talked about the lasting structural changes that we are facing, and David talked about the fact that we shouldn't lose hope, as dire as the circumstances are. We really need to learn, use this as an opportunity to learn, and when you connect it to the question of sustainability, this pandemic was a good lesson, as tragic as it was, to help us with


climate change and other issues where we don't have nearly any of the protections that we have right now, but we should be doing better. So, thanks again. We're really, really delighted with your participation, and I'm letting you go before the hour is over. So, what else can any of us ask? Thank you and have a fantastic day or evening, wherever you are. Take care.