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Public Service in Private Interest

07 Feb 2013

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The Verdict By Olusegun Adeniyi. Email, olusegun.adeniyi@thisdaylive.com

The Adamu Fika-led Presidential Committee on the review of the reform processes in the nation’s public service last week Monday submitted its report. This is the major highlight: “The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) fixed and allowed the gross amount for salaries and allowances to rise to N1.126 trillion. Of this, salaries took a mere N94.56 billion, while allowances gulped the whole N1.031.65 trillion..It is certainly not morally defensible from the perspective of social justice or any known moral criterion that such a huge sum of public funds is consumed by an infinitesimal fraction of the people.”

That summation tells a compelling story about our public service which, as the administrative machinery of government, is responsible for implementing policies and therefore principally a vehicle for serving the people. Unfortunately, over the years, our public service has proved incapable of mobilizing scarce resources for the advancement of the common good and while the world is tending towards smaller and more efficient government, what we have in our country today is a behemoth that largely serves its own interest. What that means in effect is that spending over a trillion Naira on just about 18,000 persons who have not shown the requisite capacity at serving the people through the equitable management of the nation’s resources amounts to a gross waste.

Three weeks ago, the office of the Head of Service of the Federation and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) organized a weekend retreat in Lagos for all federal permanent secretaries and I was invited to be one of the guest speakers. In his opening remarks, Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Bello Sali, reminded the permanent secretaries, who are the accounting officers in their respective ministries, that they bear heavy responsibility since spending is at the heart of modern government. When it was the turn of the BPP Director General, Engineer Emeka Ezeh to speak, he began on a jocular note even though he sounded truer than he imagined. “This is the federal government sitting down here”, he said. Before my brief intervention, I extrapolated on that to say: “Here in this room are people who can make Nigeria to work or fail”.

Indeed, the public service is the engine for any government and that explains why in most countries, it is peopled by the brightest and the best. But for many years in Nigeria, there have been serious concerns about the quality and integrity of our public service. Today, tales of looting and monumental acts of corruption are so common place that Nigerians have become so cynical as to believe the worst of anybody that joins government either in appointive or elective capacity. There have also been concerns about cost not only in terms of salaries and allowances but also with regards to multiplicity of agencies and high number of staff even when there is no link between their remunerations and service delivery to the people. In this regard, anybody who has read the report of the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of the Federal Government Paratastals, Commissions and Agencies cannot but understand the waste we call government in Nigeria.

Chaired by former Head of Service, Mr Steve Oronsaye, the committee, established in August 2011 (and submitted its report last April), has come out with some damning revelations. Aside their 659 page report, there is an executive summary which highlights some of the salient areas of rot in the identified 541 federal government agencies, 50 of which have no enabling laws! There are also 55 agencies that are in the statutes book yet not under the supervision of any ministry and some of them include: National Agency for Population Programmes and Development; Population Activities Fund; Population Fund Activities Agency and Population Research Fund!

According to the report, one common feature of virtually all the parastatals is the prevalence of high personnel cost as “many of them receive more budgetary allocations for personnel than they require because that component of their budget is usually inflated”. Several of them are also “obvious duplications of existing bodies” which then underscores the fact of “overlaps and enormous wastage of scarce resources”. To compound the situation, “successive administrations have over the years created parastatals which were not necessarily based on requisite need assessment that would drive development agenda”.

Debts owed local contractors, the report stated, had long been verified and paid off by a previous administration, which instructed all MDAs to ensure that any new debt be treated as First Line charge entities in the Annual Budgets. However, ”several years on, it is worrisome that payment to local contractors continue to feature in our National Budget, thereby giving the impression that the authorities are condoning the bad behaviour”.

Further revelations include the fact that there are 106 core research and quasi-research institutes spread across the nation with little or no end product and this may be why: “In the 2011 Fiscal year, the sum of N97,108,917,918 was allocated to all the institutes with personnel and Overhead Costs accounting for N42,581,362,128 and N10,157,863,826 respectively. Of the N44,369,691,964 allocated to Capital, only N10,408,574,488 was for core research activities.” We can see from the more than N97 billion earmarked for Research Institutes that only about 10 percent of the money is expended on core research work with the rest going into salaries and sundry procurements!

Nowhere is the disregard for prudence and accountability more evident than in the management of the Monetization Policy. No new official vehicle were to be purchased by any ministry or federal government agency under this policy; except with the express approval of the President. But ten years after the policy was introduced, vehicles are still being purchased and rent being paid for accommodation of some fat cats in apparent disregard of the policy. This effectively translates into double payment for the officials concerned, especially in the area of housing. But this problem is exacerbated “by the significant disparity in the salary structure” within many of the agencies, especially those that draw support from international donor institutions or take a percentage of the revenues they generate.

Also, while the proposed aggregated figure for Travels and Transportation for all MDAs for the 2012 Fiscal Year is a whooping N18,258,167,866, the current global trend is to cut costs through a variety of initiatives such as video-conferencing and the restriction of travels to only essential matters. Yet, according to the Oronsaye report, “whereas the regulation stipulates the Business Class Ticket for top officials of government, many senior officials have been known to fly First Class in defiance of the regulation”. This lawlessness is even extended to the families of ministers and heads of parastatals many of whom within the country now travel only by private jets.

The foregoing are just a few of the revelations in the Oronsaye Report which depict very clearly that public office in our country has largely become avenues for the pursuit of private interests by many. But that is just a small part of the story of waste if one considers the unwieldy nature of the governing boards of these agencies and their number, what with their overlapping and duplicating functions. For instance, some of the agencies in the ministry of Culture and Tourism are: National Institute for Culture Orientation; National Theatre; National Troupe of Nigeria; National Council for Arts and Culture; Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilization; National Gallery of Arts; National Commission for Museums and Monuments and then you have the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) and National Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Development Corporation! Yet each of these nine stand-alone agencies has a Director General or Managing Director, full board membership and a retinue of mostly redundant staff. And it’s from the Oronsaye report that I learnt that we actually have a full-fledged Research Institute for the study of Trypanosomiasis!

I must state here that all the problems associated with our public service identified by Oronsaye predate this administration, so it would be wrong for anyone to blame President Goodluck Jonathan for them. However, what I find baffling is that this government has a predilection for identifying problems without attempting any solution. In the last two years, several committees have been set up with far-reaching reports that have been put on the shelves, so you wonder the purpose for these committees: just to be seen to be doing something? For instance, despite the recommendations contained in the Oronsaye report that some agencies be merged, while others are to be scrapped, this government has actually created a few more in the last two years.

Yet the continuous increase in the number of agencies, according to Oronsaye, is principally “to satisfy individual interests” as most are created on an ad hoc basis before they assume lives of their own. Very soon, SURE-P, Amnesty Office and all such new creations that have no enabling laws will also become permanent money guzzling quangos. The frightening revelations of the Oronsaye Report should compel quick action, at least beginning with the easily-implementable recommendations. Unless the federal government quickly does something about its multitude of parastatals, most of which add little or no value to the people and the Nigerian State, it can say goodbye to any pretensions that it is serious about cutting waste and enthroning good governance.

Nigeria We Hail Thee!

On an internet forum where many Nigerians (at home and in the Diaspora) identify themselves more by their ethnic affiliations and where trading abuses, curses and hate-speech has become the usual fare, something dramatic happened last Sunday afternoon. The moment the match between Cote D’Voire and Nigeria ended with the Super Eagles coming out victorious against popular prediction, there was a ‘ceasefire’ with everybody suddenly becoming proud to be Nigerian.

Interestingly, it would not be the first time one would see such unity of purpose, especially when individual Nigerians excel in sports and other fields of human endeavour. What that says about us is that whether we are “yesterday’s men” or “today’s men” or even aspiring to be “tomorrow’s men”, we all love this country. And that accounts for the frustrations of many Nigerians who can see the potentials that are not being realized. But hurling insults at those in authority today, or at one another, will never resolve our problems.

If we go back to the football field, only few people gave the Super Eagles any chance against the star-studded Cote D’Ivoire side last Sunday (a confession: I didn’t) but anybody who watched the match could see that our players were never at any point over awed. Even when they lost their one-goal lead advantage early in the second half, they picked themselves up and played with tenacity and purpose until they scored the second goal which eventually settled the match in their favour. And yesterday, they overran Mali to book their ticket to the final.

The lesson from the African Cup of Nations tournament is that having individual talents is very good but to have a team is even better. The strength of Nigeria is not in the oil buried on our ground but in the knowledge and capacities of our people--our much endowed human resources. The moment we are able to build a credible team from the abundance of talents that populate our nation today, we will take our rightful place on the continent of Africa and in the world.

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