The high cost of governance is crippling the economy

No matter the spin from government officials, emerging facts suggest that the nation’s finances and the economy are in dire straits. While there is nothing wrong for a country to face temporary economic setback so long as the managers are capable and indeed able to fix it, what is tragic is that we continue to live in denial with public officials, at practically all levels, still wallowing in profligacy. As things stand, there is no rational justification for deploying about 80 per cent of our annual national budget on recurrent expenditure, and about 60 per cent revenue on debt service. In many of the states, the ratio is far worse.

More disturbing is that rather than seek a solution, public officials are passing the buck on the issue. In June last year, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo admitted that the nation runs a large and expensive government. But he merely pointed fingers. “There is no question that we are dealing with large and expensive government, but as you know, given the current constitutional structure, those who would have to vote to reduce (the size of) government, especially to become part-time legislators, are the very legislators themselves,” said Osinbajo.

There was a tacit pushback last week from the Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal who argued that while reducing the cost of governance has become imperative, it must be done methodically and strategically. A former speaker of the House of Representatives, Tambuwal said such fiscal responsibility should go beyond the three arms of government to critical federal institutions like the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

We agree with both Osinbajo and Tambuwal. But they must move beyond rhetoric. We are worried that while government revenue continues to dwindle, there is no conscious effort to cut down expenditure on the recurrent side either by the federal government or the 36 states. Nothing speaks to this rather disturbing scenario than the increase in the number of ministers from 37 in the first term of the Buhari administration to the current 43. In the states, governors are still appointing hundreds of special assistants with no specific job functions. To compound the challenge, transparency and accountability in ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are at the nadir as official corruption is still high. The audit report for 2016 recently released by the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation is very instructive. The number of government agencies that failed to subject themselves to audit scrutiny under the present administration has doubled.

It is unacceptable that amid a debilitating revenue squeeze, public officials have continued to revel in criminal profligacy. What, for instance, would justify the N5.5 billion expended last year by the National Assembly to purchase exotic cars for its members? Why should the Federal Executive Council (FEC) continue to preside over the award of contracts when the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) Board should have been constituted to play its statutory role?

The federal government had in 2016 announced with fanfare the creation of an Efficiency Unit (EU) in the Ministry of Finance to eliminate waste and corruption in procurement processes. That unit appears to have become irrelevant since its pioneer head, Ms. Patience Oniha moved to a higher calling as the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO). Yet a nation that spends more than it generates to sustain civil servants and public officials is surely on a journey to perdition.

We hope the authorities at al levels will move quickly to steer the ship of state out of this rather dangerous trajectory.