Cutting Cost Of Governance: Buhari Is Still Missing The Point
By Guardian Editorial Board
A publication the other day that President Muhammadu Buhari had decided to cut the cost of governance beginning with a low hanging fruit called estacodes (travel allowances) of federal public officers is gratifying. But there should be a more remarkable way of cutting the huge cost of governance in the country at this time that the economy is not doing well from all indicators.
That almost all public office holders in the last 20 years have collectively institutionalised unbearable high cost of governance in the country is a sad reality that shouldn’t be associated with the present administration. Reason: Nigeria’s leader at this time, Muhammadu Buhari has always been associated with frugality and integrity.
And that is why the high cost of governance is a trend that should have stopped since 2015 when we first noted this here. An appetite for greed, selfishness, and corruption aided by loose financial control had led to an impoverishment of the people – before this dispensation.
As the tendency for profligacy had been rising over the years, this newspaper noted that report at the beginning of the administration in 2015, that Buhari, his deputy, some governors, and a few other public office holders might slash their own salaries and allowances and cause same to be effected for all other political appointees, was a step in the right direction. It was noted then that the savings from the exercise might not be much, but the symbolism was laudable.
A Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission’s (RMAFC) statement about the same time in 2015 on its preparedness to review the remuneration law to align with the current realities of dwindling revenue, particularly from oil, may have also reinforced the new administration’s resolve to chart a fresh course in public spending. It has been disappointing that the RMAFC has not done much in this connection.
We also noted then that we hoped wearied Nigerians would likely gain from the measures if they were well-intentioned and coordinated. We had also then warned that expected gains from the proposed pay cuts must not end up servicing the interests of a few persons in public office. It is also said that nothing has changed for more than four years.
If anything, it should be seen as a case of officials also making sacrifices for the nation, the people having been tasked to their limit and cannot bear new burdens.
A reassessment is certainly desirable. What is needed though, is a clean break from the past where the privileged few pillaged the treasury.
As the same President Buhari is renewing his pledge to cut the cost of governance, he should walk his talk this time. He should go for, among others, a cut in the bogus provisions in the State House budget and aides’ remuneration while leveraging the 2013 report of the Oronsaye Presidential Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies.
We challenged the RMAFC to have the guts to publish the total pay, including allowances and sundry allocations of legislators then. Reason: the federal legislators are known to be running humongous bills in multiples of millions monthly and the highest in the world on the state, and they have defied all pressures on fairness, equity, openness, and accountability. We added then that the 8th National Assembly must come to equity on this issue, with clean hands. They failed the nation, in this regard. They did not do any full disclosure of their jumbo allowances. The RMAFC too did not have the details of the National Assembly’s secret budget details.
The country is in dire financial straits at present, a fact that supports the argument for a downward review in political office holders’ pay structure.
The reason should prevail, therefore, in an economy that cannot fully support the N30,000 minimum wage structure for public workers but can conveniently pay millions of naira monthly to supposedly part-time lawmakers.
The reality on the ground demands a savings culture while plugging wastages. Cost-saving devices must be officially institutionalised henceforth, just as accountability is made a priority.
Again, the government must tear down the infrastructure of corruption, that is, those easy means of enrichment that individuals exploit for their selfish ends. Corruption has become a monster and a way of life across the board in the country because the civil service has been weakened and destroyed.
This country must do without a system that encourages stupendous severance allowances and or pension to every man who happened to occupy the office of a state governor or other political offices for that matter.
The world has learned a lot from the Singaporean experience that has established a connection between the economy and official earnings. Nigeria must also learn from the globally acclaimed model.
To give vent to that for example, would demand that the RMAFC publishes the salaries and allowances of all categories of public officials, most especially the politicians, on a regular basis. Accountability and responsibility begin with openness in governance.
Meanwhile, Buhari should note our initial remark that estacodes (travel allowances) are unimportant items when it comes to public spending. There are ways the president’s action to has been bloating public spending. For instance, the day the president talked about the reduction of foreign travels and allowances, was the same day he approved six senior political office holders for the office of the First Lady, which already have many personal aides. The perks of office for the political officers would only increase the cost of governance the president seeks to control.
In the same vein, why did the president increase the number of ministries from 28 in 2015 to 43 in 2019 when he mulled frugality in governance? Why did he have to create a new Ministry for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Service when the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is already there? Why did the President separate the Police Affairs Ministry from the Interior Ministry? What economic consideration also led to the separation of Aviation from the Transportation Ministry in 2019? This is not how to cut the cost of governance.
Therefore, the President should immediately begin the implementation of the organic White Paper on the Oronsaye Report on rationalisation of public service for efficiency and low cost of governance. There is no reason as we have always noted why one chief executive cannot run the NTA, FRCN, and VON as Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), for instance, as the report in question also recommended. In the same vein, why did some professional bodies listed in the Oronsaye Report become agencies of government?