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Housing, welfare and childcare dominate Budget 2019 Q&A

 

Housing, welfare and childcare were the main issues preoccupying Irish Times readers after Budget 2019 when they contacted our post-budget online Q&A. But it wasn’t to the exclusion of a wide range of topics, with strong reader interest despite the absence of surprises in the Minister’s budget speech.

Readers were trying to get a fix on how the various housing measures announced in the budget would affect property prices in or rental rates in general, or on their prospects for being able to buy a home.

The €310 million affordable housing scheme drew particular attention though it is not likely to deliver any homes until 2020 at the earliest.

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From the other side of the debate, landlords were checking on how the new mortgage interest arrangements would work, and whether there were any other incentives to encourage private sector housing supply. There were none.

People on different welfare payments, or pro rata payments, wanted to make sure that that the €5 weekly increase from March applied to them. And they also welcomed the full restoration of the Christmas bonus.

A change to the Working Family Payment (formerly family income supplement)that disregards some of the cost of housing form the weekly income threshold should be good news for around 5,500 families.

Childcare, as always, was a strong theme among the questions, with many people trying to figure out how the additional funding would be allocated and whether it was relevant to them. Many of the answers were expected from Minister Katherine Zappone who was holding a lunchtime briefing on the subject.

The decision to extend the zero rating for electric vehicles for three years was noted but there was some concern at the introduction of a €50,000 cap on the price of new cars qualifying. It means that environmentally focused business executives will face benefit-in-kind on any garage value of their company car above that threshold.

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Students
Third-level students were left wondering if they had been forgotten altogether with no specific measures put in place to make their lives easier, or studying more affordable.

Others were looking for details of any funding for colleges themselves or for back to education programmes. Both will benefit form increased Department of Education funding but the details are still unclear.

There was plenty of interest from current and former public servants about pay and pensions but neither was addressed in the budget. The Government and public service unions already agreed in late 2017 a path to full pay restoration by 2021 and whoever holds the position of minister for public expenditure on December 31st, 2020, will have to give a date at that stage for when the pension reduction will be fully unravelled.

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State pension reform also featured though, again, that was not a matter for the budget, with Minister for Employment and Social Affairs Regina Doherty preparing separately to get in touch by the end of the month with 67,000 pensioners.

Some readers were asking about the fate of some of the measures that were the subject of intensive kite-flying ahead of the budget, only to be markedly absent from the Minister’s speech. They could still feature in the Finance Bill but we’ll have to wait till its publication next week to see if that is so.

And then there were the smokers, fulminating about the latest 50 cent increase in the price of cigarettes and wondering what the Government will do when it has taxed them into giving up tobacco. With one in five people still smoking, that’s unlikely to be an immediate concern for the Minister.

Dominic Coyle

Hong Kong plans artificial islands for housing

 

Chief Exec Lam unveils plan to rein in home prices with 1,700ha of new land

HONG KONG — Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who runs one of the world’s most expensive cities, has rolled out a plan to build 1,700 hectares of artificial islands, in an effort to tackle acute housing shortage.

In her second policy address on Wednesday, Lam said the proposed land reclamation, near Hong Kong International Airport, will be home to 260,000 to 400,000 apartments in the next three decades, of which 70% will be used for public housing.

“The shortage of land supply not only leads to a shortage of housing supply, but also affects people’s quality of life,” Lam said in her address to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

She said land is “strictly necessary” in providing health care services and basic education, as well as in maintaining traditional trades and promoting new economy industries.

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Lam expects the first phase of residential units on the artificial islands to be put on the market in 2032, and other relevant development plans in the area could take 20 to 30 years to realize.

For short- to medium-term solutions, Lam proposed renovating industrial buildings, as well as using greenfield and private farmland in the New Territories for housing.

Housing has been a thorny issue for any Hong Kong chief executive in the past decade, with the city routinely topping the list of the world’s most expensive housing markets. Less than half of all households own their own homes and even skilled workers on average need to work 22 years each to buy a 60-sq.-meter apartment, up from 12 years a decade ago, according to a UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index in 2018.

The shortage of land supply is often cited as the primary reason for runaway housing prices, which have more than quintupled since 2003. The Hong Kong government estimates a 1,200-hectare shortfall of land for housing over the next 30 years.

While the goal of the government initiative is to bring down sky-high property prices and make homes more affordable, the market itself appears to be cooling recently in part due to interest rate hikes and worries about economic growth as a result of the trade war between China and the U.S. Analysts expect up to a 15% drop in home prices over the next 12 months.

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But Lam made clear on Wednesday that market weakness will not change her mind about adding land supply over the longer term.

“The determination of the government to identify and produce land and build a land reserve should never waver in face of short-term changes in the economic environment or fluctuations in property prices,” she said.

Joseph Tsang, managing director at JLL, said in a note that the plan for building artificial islands is “on the right track” to tackle the issue. He also said, “The government should rethink its immigration and population planning policies,” because the inflow of immigrants will keep pressure on demand for public housing.

Marcos Chan, head of research at CBRE Hong Kong, Southern China & Taiwan, praised the plan as “the most prominent vision among all the housing and land supply initiatives unveiled in the policy address.” But he also said, “The fact that the vision can only be realized in the next two to three decades implies that the shortage in office supply will not ease anytime soon.”

Some lawmakers and activists oppose the idea of creating artificial islands, citing concerns about the negative environmental impact, massive government bill to build them and potential risk of flooding.

“The construction of such big artificial islands is hugely expensive and exceeds the actual need of Hong Kong population growth,” said lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, pointing to the fact that the proposed area for reclamation is 70% bigger than the government’s previous plan.

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He said it was also extremely challenging to build stand-alone artificial islands — as opposed to extending the shoreline — which will face greater flood risks due to rapid climate change. Save Lantau Alliance, an activist group founded in 2014, also raised concerns over environmental issues.

Convener Eddie Tse Sei-kit said the proposed development plan involves massive sand relocation and the new buildings on the artificial islands would create effectively a wall along the North Lantau shoreline. This will affect current water flow and be damaging to marine life.

Despite the opposition, Lam said such voices are “groundless.”

“I urge those who oppose the land reclamations to take Hong Kong’s best interest into consideration,” she said.

NIKKI SUN

IMF says Nigeria’s economy doing poorly, cuts growth projection

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has cut the growth projections made for Nigeria saying the country’s economy is doing poorly.

Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, deputy director at IMF’s research department made this known on Tuesday while addressing journalists at the ongoing annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group in Bali, Indonesia.

He said the aggregate growth rate of Africa is being held down by its three largest economies.

The IMF economist identified the three economies as Nigeria, South Africa and Angola.

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“The aggregate growth rate for the continent is held down by the fact that the three largest economies are not performing up to their full potential,” he said.

“Nigeria’s growth, 1.9 percent this year; 2.3 next year. South Africa, only 0.8 percent this year. Angola, contracting by 0.1 percent this year. So the aggregate — over three percent this year, close to four percent next year — is despite the largest economies in the continent doing poorly.

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“The continent could do much better once these economies are on a more solid footing, particularly South Africa and Nigeria because they are really large and affect a number of countries in their neighbourhood.”

In the World Economic Outlook report released in July, the Bretton Wood institution had projected that Nigeria’s economy would grow by 2.1 percent in 2018 and 2.3 percent in 2019.

In the October edition of the report, IMF cut the growth projections for 2018 to 1.9 percent.

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“In Nigeria and Angola, tighter monetary policy and moderation in food price increases contributed to tapering inflation. In Nigeria, inflation is projected to fall to 12.4 percent in 2018, from 16.5 percent in 2017, and to rise to 13.5 percent in 2019,” the report read.

The World Bank recently cut its growth projections for Nigeria by 0.2% citing reduction in oil production levels, and contraction in the agricultural sector, following the herder-farmer crisis.

Oluseyi Awojulugbe

Asia has the strongest annual property price growth, global cities index shows

 

The average value of a property in 150 key cities worldwide increased by 4.3% in the year to June 2018, with Asia the strongest performing region, the latest global index shows.

The Indian city of Ahmedabad leads the annual rankings, registering a 19% rise. Two other Indian cities also made the top 10 with prices in Hyderabad up 16% and in Pune up 14%, according to the Knight Frank Global Residential Cities Index.

According official Government data the Indian economy grew by 8.2% in the year to the first quarter of 2018 and this is filtering through to housing demand and consumer confidence, says the index report.

The data also shows that Budapest, Rotterdam and Amsterdam are Europe’s frontrunners with price growth of 15%, 14% and 13% respectively. But Turin is the city with the weakest rate of annual growth globally.

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‘Domestic and international buyers alike have recognised Budapest’s comparative value whilst Dutch house prices, which were falling up until 2013, have undergone a sharp correction,’ said Kate Everett-Allen, head of international research at Knight Frank.

Overall, of the 150 cities monitored, some 123 or 82% recorded a rise in residential prices during the year to June. Asia is the strongest performing world region, on average prices ended the year to June 5.1% higher across the Asian cities tracked.

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In second place was North America registering 5% growth. Long term strong performer, Hong Kong, registered a marginal slowdown in annual growth although prices in the year to June still accelerated 15%.

 

Of those countries where a rate rise has taken place in 2018, a number have a significant gap between their strongest and weakest performing city such as 16% in Canada, 11% in the UK, and 10% in the US).

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‘With some already registering negative annual growth, we expect any further tightening of monetary policy to be slow and steady. In some cities, the performance of the mainstream and prime market is diverging,’ said Everett-Allen.

‘A lack of prime supply is cushioning the top segment of the market in Sydney and Dubai where annual prime price growth is closer to 5.7% and down 0.8% respectively. Elsewhere, tax changes targeting foreign buyers or higher stamp duty such as in Vancouver, Toronto, and Hong Kong, and has led to slower growth at the luxury end of the market,’ she added.

Propertywire

A Blueprint for Low-Income Homes Goes Green In the Philippines

 

Luzviminda Capin, a housewife in the Philippines, never got used to the high utility bills for the small home she rented for much of her adult life. “I would be shocked to see my electricity bill. It never fell below 2,500 (Philippine Pesos, or about $50) a month,” she recalls. That was higher than what she paid for water, cable, and Internet combined.

For Luzviminda Capin, solar energy means more money for groceries.

Capin was far from being the only one suffering from the high cost of electricity: the Philippines has one of the highest household and commercial electricity rates in Southeast Asia, fueled by its dependence on expensive, imported fuel.

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But that’s changing as energy-efficient communities like Via Verde Homes, developed by Imperial Homes Corporation (IHC), gain ground in the housing market. IHC is the first developer to receive IFC’s EDGE green building certification in the Philippines for two of its Via Verde communities.

IFC created EDGE (Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies) to identify sustainable practices and solutions in construction, increase efficiency in the use of resources, and reduce impacts on the environment. Compared to conventionally built houses, Via Verde houses consume about 40 percent less energy, 25 percent less water, and up to 38 percent less energy in the making of building materials. Via Verde homes that run on solar power, like Capin’s, eliminate 1,200 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year—the equivalent of taking a vehicle off the streets for a period of three months.

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Appealing to Lower-Income Homeowners
IHC’s Via Verde is unusual because solar-powered homes are typically seen as a high-end market. By contrast, Via Verde built the country’s first grid-connected, solar-powered community of low-cost houses. Every house in Via Verde has a built-in 500-watt rooftop solar panel with a battery that powers basic household utilities during the day and stores energy for use at night.

This is helpful to Capin, who uses solar power to cook, watch TV, and wash clothes during the day. The lights and two electric fans can be turned on at the same time—which was not possible in her traditionally powered home.

IHC has been building homes for the middle- and lower-income market for the last 30 years. The company first went into business to provide solutions to the Philippines’ acute housing shortage—currently estimated by the government at almost 4 million. To meet growing demand, 6.2 million houses will have to be built by 2034.

By using EDGE as a guide for green building principles, IHC made additional design decisions compatible with Via Verde’s solar power features, including the use of raw materials to minimize the homes’ carbon footprint.

When Blueprints Go Green
EDGE, an innovation of IFC, has helped companies in nearly 140 countries design and construct green buildings. IHC began using EDGE in 2014 to create its Via Verde homes. The company recorded a 300 percent increase in sales after Via Verde was launched, in 2015.

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As IHC becomes known as a property developer that advocates sustainable urban development, it is gaining international attention: The company was awarded the prestigious ASEAN Business Award for Green Technology in late 2017. Within the Philippines, its 1,000 units of Via Verde row houses and two-story townhomes are sold out. It is building more communities that low- and middle-income Filipinos can afford in Greater Metro Manila. These will also offer 24-hour solar power and energy-efficient features.

For Capin, the money she saves is just a part of the overall relief she feels since moving into Via Verde. “My monthly electricity bill has gone down to only 500 (Philippine Pesos, or about $10). I use the extra savings of 2,000 (Philippine Pesos) to either buy food and groceries, or to pay off the mortgage on the house,” she says. “As long as we live here, even if electricity rates go up 10 years from now, our monthly costs will be at a minimum because of solar.”

EDGE

Push for more affordable housing

 

State governments have until the end of October to inform the federal government of vacant land suitable for affordable housing developments.

“This is about national interest. To put it simply, if states don’t give land, we won’t be able to build affordable houses for them,” Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin said.

“I have received good response from the states. They are coming up with a list of land available, so that they don’t miss out having affordable housing built by the government in their states,” he said when asked if state governments were cooperating in giving away their land.

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Out of the 127 ongoing government affordable housing projects, Zuraida noted that only 27 were being built on land supplied by states.

“The rest are private land, which in a way causes the houses to be expensive.

“That is why a policy is in place where the state governments have to give land to the federal government to build affordable housing.

“If we can lower the land cost, we will be able to reduce the price of the houses to benefit the people,” she added.

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Under the new housing policy that will be unveiled later, Zuraida said the government would subsidise the development of affordable housing units and rent them out to deserving citizens.

“This will help strengthen the rental market in the city. Under this Rent to Own scheme, there will be a review of income every five years,” she said after attending an industry-government open dialogue by the Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute here yesterday.

On a separate matter, Zuraida said five housing agencies would be consolidated to form a single entity known as the National Affordable Housing Council, which will coordinate the development of such homes nationwide.

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“The council will be directly under the Housing (and Local Government) Ministry and chaired by our prime minister,” she added.

The five agencies are Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, 1Malaysia Civil Servants Housing Programme, Uda Holdings Bhd, People’s Housing Projects and 1Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme.

Allison Lai

Nigeria bleeding under Chinese, foreign loans – Duke

 

The Social Democratic Party presidential flagbearer, Donald Duke, has expressed concern over the growing indebtedness of the nation to China and other countries, stating that Nigeria is haemorrhaging under foreign loans.

Stating that the government needed to indigenise the economy, the former Cross River State governor noted that the Federal Government was taking foreign loans because the interest rates were low, adding that the nation could regulate bank rates in the country to make credit cheaper and affordable for entrepreneurs to grow the economy.

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Addressing journalists at the SDP headquarters in Abuja on Monday, Duke pointed out that the about 30 per cent interest being charged on loans made it hard for businesses to grow and generate employment.

He said, “Indebtedness to any nation is worrisome, not just China. The concept of independence is being able to stand on your own; you are not independent if you are indebted to other nations. We need to strengthen our own local trade and when you trade, there should be a balance.

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“You cannot always import without exporting; you cannot always breathe in without breathing out, that’s the law of nature; there must be harmony. If you keep on importing and you are not exporting to have a balance of trade, then your country will haemorrhage; we are haemorrhaging.”

The SDP presidential candidate insisted that the nation could produce nearly all the things that were being imported if power and bank credit were available.

He said, “All the things that we import, can’t we make them in Nigeria? Each time you import, you are sustaining a job overseas. Our government goes to countries like China to borrow because it is cheaper there.

“But you can also do the same thing here; you can regulate interest rates here and ensure that credit is affordable; we need to indigenise this economy built by Nigerians for Nigerians,” the lawyer stated.

Duke pledged that if elected in 2019, his government would address gas flaring, make credit affordable and available to Nigerians, and invest in the housing sector, which he said could generate millions of jobs.

“Already, if you take the housing sector, you have over 17 million housing shortage. If you decide to build one million houses every year, you will employ over 10 million to 15 million people; it will still take you 17 years to catch up. So, even though it is a problem, the sector still provides opportunities,” he argued.

 

The presidential hopeful said it was not right to tie the nation’s growth to oil prices, which he noted were fluctuating like every other commodity prices, stressing that it should rather be tied to real, measurable growth.

Adelani Adepegba

FMBN disburses N14.7bn housing renovation loan to beneficiaries

 

The Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria on Monday disclosed that it had disbursed the sum of N14.7bn to 17,062 beneficiaries across the country in the last two years under various loan windows.
The Executive Director, Business Development and Portfolio Management, FMBN, Umar Abdullahi, confirmed this during the presentation of cheques to staff members of the Federal Medical Centre, Birnin-Kebbi, who benefited from the Home Renovation Loan scheme.

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Abdullahi explained that the loan window afforded Nigerians who had been contributing to the National Housing Fund an opportunity to access the HRL up to N1m per applicant to renovate and improve their houses, which was expected to be repaid within five years with six per cent interest.

He said, “The FMBN has approved and disbursed the sum of N123,914,000 to 157 staff beneficiaries of the FMC, Birnin-Kebbi. It may also interest you to note that the sum of N19m was earlier disbursed by the bank to 19 staff members of the Kebbi State University of Science and Technology, Aliero.

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“It may also interest you to note that the total sum of N14.7bn has so far been disbursed within the last two years by the bank to 17,063 beneficiaries across the country under this loan window.”

The bank, however, appealed to the Kebbi State Government to ensure the immediate return of the state’s civil servants to the NHF scheme to enable them benefit from the FMBN loan facilities.

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Governor Abubakar Bagudu, represented by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Establishment, Dr Mohammed Kende, assured the bank that the state government would queue in into its schemes and ensure judicious usage of the loan facilities.

Responding, the Chief Medical Director, FMC, Birnin-Kebbi, Dr Ibrahim Abdullahi, described the opportunities provided by the FMBN as a long-term initiative, which many Nigerians might not be aware of, stressing that his staff would forever be grateful to be among the beneficiaries of the bank’s loan windows.

Adeniyi Olugbemi

Buhari govt spent 1.7trillion on infrastructure in 2years

 

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has said that the Federal government has expended 1.7 trillion in capital investment in two fiscal years.

The Vice President made this claim while addressing participants at the 9th Presidential Quarterly Business Forum held at the State House Banquet Hall on Monday in Abuja.

The vice president said that infrastructure development was important to economic growth and job creation.

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He commended the commitment of the participants in extending the efforts being made by the Industrial Training Fund(ITF) and the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA) on skills acquisition.

“These must take into account the need to provide real value to the private sector through the ITF scheme and where necessary, develop optimal incentives to support the private sector.

“It will also be important that we commit to constituting sector skills councils and encourage the development of these councils for various sectors, especially in sectors we have identified as being of priority for job creation.

“I am convinced that we can crack the jobs problem and we are in the right direction.

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“ First, by Investing in infrastructure; we are investing more in infrastructure today than any previous governments in our history.

“We have spent so far in two budgets, N1.7 trillion in capital investment – that is the largest in the history of the country despite earning 60 per cent less; we are doing far more with far less resources,’’ he said.

Osinbajo revealed further that the Federal government is doing all it can to improve the power situation of the country.

With the view of enhancing the capacity of business people by boosting power supply, Osinbajo stated that the federal government was making plans to review the previous power privatization.

He added that Job creation had been a priority of President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration.

He said further that the surest way of creating jobs was by enabling the private sector to do business easily.

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“Opportunities are created in agriculture and the agro-allied industry, services, manufacturing, among others.

“But we realised that that would not solve the immediate problems of thousands of graduates who have no jobs or the millions who are at the bottom of the trading pyramid barely eking out a living.

“This, we believed created a compelling argument for direct intervention by government,’’ he said.

Joshua Oyenigbehin

Operators fault government’s infrastructure financing involvement

 

CIS pledges advocacy role to boost bourse

Capital market operators have faulted government’s level of financial involvement in the provision of critical infrastructure, urging them to focus more on the formulation and implementation of policies that will impact positively on the lives of the people.

The operators, who gave the advice during the 22nd yearly conference of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers (CIS), in Lagos, at the weekend, argued that balanced approach would help to boost production in the country and generate more employment for the rising youth population.

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Specifically, the Chief Executive Officer, Cowry Asset Management Limited, John Chukwu, said the need for government to show less involvement in the financing of key infrastructure, as well as allow the private sector to mobilise capital to fund these key infrastructure has become imperative.

“Government should concern itself in policy formulation and implementation of programmes that will transform the living standard of the people. There is still abject poverty in the country, as parents cannot afford to send their children to school and have quality education.

“In fact, there is lack of manpower in the education sector and government should find a way of boosting the sector,” he said.

The Chairman, Association of Stockbroking Houses of Nigeria (ASHON), Chief Patrick Ezeagu, pointed out that “government has no business being in business.”

“The provision of infrastructure is key, but the financing should be driven by the private sector. There should be Public Private Partnership, PPP in this key infrastructure so that government can pay more attention to the provision of enabling environment that will strive investment and production.

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“Also, government should pay attention to policies that will transform the economy faster. Imagine, a key government agency, SEC without substantive Director General and Board. How can the foreign investors take the capital market serious?”, he said

The Presidential aide on Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Jumoke Oduwale, however, assured that government is doing everything within its powers to address some of the economic problems facing the country.

She said: “The Economic Recovery Growth Plan has helped in taking Nigeria out of recession in the short term. It has also helped to bring down inflation, though with marginal growth. It is helping in providing jobs through the provision of infrastructure and alleviating poverty among others.”

The President of CIS, Adedapo David Adekoje, said CIS operates in full partnership with the best known international professional bodies in Securities and Investment in the world.

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He pointed out that as a mark of recognition of the institute’s high professional and examination standards, the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment, United Kingdom (CISI-UK), with effect from this year, will grant full membership (MCSI) to Fellows and Associates of our institute.”

“The Institute has always made it a cardinal responsibility to bring its rich intellectual resources to bear and serve as a strong advocacy platform to guide policy makers at all levels of government and the organised private sector in forging a strong and robust economy, especially from the perspective of the financial services sector,” he added.

Helen Oji

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