PRUNING THE COST OF GOVERNANCE

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MONDAY EDITORIAL

Government should trim all outrageous expenses

In what seems to be a step towards prudent management of scarce resources, the federal government recently placed restrictions on foreign trips for its officials and also reduced the allowances derived therefrom. This move, according to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, became necessary “considering the high cost of governance and the nation’s dwindling resources as well as the determination to reduce cost.” Of course, economic laws and even common sense dictate weight shedding in the face of lean resources as being experienced by Nigeria at the moment.

Though not far-reaching enough, this decision could serve as a pointer to an administration that is preparing for a more accountable and responsive leadership. The details of the directives to ministers, special advisers and assistants, permanent secretaries, directors and other top government functionaries, as cosmetic as they appear, nonetheless challenge the status quo. Publicly sponsored local and foreign visits must now be exclusively for official purposes and equally backed by documentary proof. We welcome strategies that ensure judicious public spending as squandering a chunk of our national income on a small fraction of the population is clearly an abuse of moral and social justice.

While the nation awaits the implementation of these rules, this administration needs to urgently map out more fundamental plans to lead the country out of its present financial dilemma. The quest to arrest leakages and achieve effective control of public spending must include one constant clamour of Nigerians – a drastic reduction of the remunerations of political office holders. The sheer volume of political appointees at the three tiers of government compounds the unpardonable culture of official profligacy. Deliberate actions of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Mobilisation (RMAFC) in this respect would convince Nigerian citizens more that their leaders would not continue on this path of self-aggrandisement to the detriment of the general good. 

Nothing announces this shameful reality to the world like the lopsided annual budgets across virtually all levels of government. For many years, federal recurrent expenditures have accounted for 70 to 80 per cent, leaving the remainder for the capital component. Even at that, the country’s standing worrying debt profile further rubbishes its capacity to run a productive, competitive economy.  Therefore, the tasks of curbing and eliminating wasteful spending are not only desirable but also inevitable.

The federal government should prove its commitment by checking duplication of duties among its agencies, halting frivolous acquisition of cars and other luxury items, and adequately monitoring monetary outflows. Members of the National Assembly, as the representatives of the people, must also show solidarity with their suffering constituents by reviewing their entitlements downwards. And governors, in addition to replicating the latest instructions from the presidency in their own states, should be transparent in spending the security votes that are currently shrouded in secrecy.

At a time of lean resources when the same federal government is making all the noise about rationalisation, we are witnessing the launch of expensive projects that was, for all practical purposes, conceived and cited in his home town just to please the president. Unfortunately, this sort of behaviour is not peculiar to this administration though it explains some of the decadence associated with our nation today since projects are no longer sited based on need but rather on sentimental considerations. Apparently to curry favour, officials in virtually every sector try to take one project or the other to the village or home state of the big man even when such decisions make no economic or even political sense.

If we are to cut the cost of governance in Nigeria, we must also do away with this sort of recklessness, which has become rather prevalent at the state level where there is little accountability.