By Otung Gabriel
The ease of doing business is one of the major factors that attract investments to a country, in addition to other factors such as capital, market, security, etc. Some years ago, investors looking to do business in Nigeria were easily turned away by the difficult process of registering a business, filing returns and other business registration matters. Often, foreign investors would come into the country with huge sums of money ready to set up shop. They come in inspired by the potentials that abound in the giant of Africa. However, as they go through the difficult bureaucratic processes involved in registering a business, they start to have second thoughts about investing in Nigeria.
Although previous managers at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) did their best to reform the agency’s operations, the current Registrar General, Mr. Bello Mahmud has, since his appointment in 2009, made significant efforts to ensure a huge leap in the transformation process from where he took over. He enhanced the systems and processes at the CAC by identifying the key impediments to quick registration of companies and filing of returns. One after the other, he fixed those issues through various solutions that altered the status-quo, reduced the cost of operations, and improved efficiency. These changes led to a very sharp reduction in the time required to register a new company or file annual returns, thereby making CAC a model public agency of reference in terms of efficiency in service delivery.
What exactly did Bello Mahmud do during these years? He introduced direct registration of companies by First Directors/Subscribers. This eliminated previous restrictions which allowed only accredited agents to register companies. This development ensured a democratisation of the process of company registration as practiced in many other countries. He also introduced a Public Search Window on the Commission’s website which provides names, addresses, registration numbers and dates of registration of all registered companies. With this unique tool, members of the public could log on and search for details of a registered company without any bureaucratic encumbrance.
The Registrar General also spearheaded the decentralisation of the Commission’s operations to take its services a lot closer to its customers across the country. So, six State Offices in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Enugu, Lagos and Kaduna can now receive applications, approve and issue new registration certificates to applicants. This means that these State Offices now have a start-to-finish registration process, unlike in the past when the processes had to be completed at the head office. Latest information from the Commission revealed that it plans to extend the start-to-finish registration process to 20 other states by the 3rd quarter of this year. The Commission has also revised its service timelines for registration services. For example, name reservation is now completed within 12 hours from submission of request. Registration of new companies, business names and incorporated trustees are now completed within 24 hours from the time applications are filed.
The CAC has also stopped receiving physical applications in its six State Offices. Starting May 2017, therefore, customers of the Commission process new registrations by applying online. They now complete the application forms, provide other information, make payments for registration and stamp duty (where applicable) on the CAC Company Registration Portal (CRP). Afterwards, customers upload all necessary documents through the Commission’s upload interface after proper execution. In addition, the Commission also extended its operating hours to accommodate more transactions. It now opens from 8.00am to 7.00pm from Mondays to Fridays in its State Offices.
The CAC went further to out-source the hosting of its main database and operating software to a private firm. This has dramatically reduced downtime, with an average of 99% uptime, resulting in enhanced efficient registration services. Also, online registration is now made more convenient, cheaper and faster. This is evident in the fact that within four days of implementing full online registration, the Commission received as much as 1,250 submissions online.
Worthy of note, also, is the current effort to revise the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), which has been in operation since 1990 without any substantial amendment, in order to bring it in line with global best practices in Company Regulation and administration. Some of the key features of the review include the right of one person to form a private Limited Liability Company; provision for Business Rescue and Recovery Proceeding that will give temporary moratorium to financially distressed companies to adopt recovery measures under close regulatory supervision and the suspension of right to creditors to intervene during the period; as well as review of fines and penalties in line with current economic realities.
This review, once completed, will strengthen the regulatory and enforcement capacities of the CAC to effectively discharge its functions and thus promote global best practice and good corporate governance in the management and operation of Companies, Business Names and Incorporated Trustees.
The reforms being carried out by the CAC’s current management, not only place the Commission on the path of becoming a world-class company registry, but also aim at achieving global competitiveness and enhancing the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Thus, from a Commission that used to spend weeks and months to register a company two decades ago, the CAC has evolved into a model agency in Nigeria’s public sector. Today, from the comfort of his/her room, an individual could go online and register a company in Nigeria within 24 hours. This is not a small achievement. It’s a major revolution that will further enhance the ease of doing business in Nigeria.
As Nigeria strives towards a non-oil reliant economy, it is feats like these that give investors hope that the giant of Africa really means business.