The challenge of a continuous increase in recurrent expenditure amidst dwindling revenue has always been a recurring one in the last three or four decades. Now, the Federal Government has announced the strong desire to seek concrete ways to cut the huge cost of governance.
This is following the statement from the ministry of finance that the Federal Government had directed the salaries committee to review workers payroll, as well as the number of its agencies with the aim of merging them.
Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, disclosed this at the National Policy Dialogue on Corruption and Cost of Governance in Nigeria. The Programme was organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
In her words, “Mr President has directed that the salaries committee that I chair, work together with the head of service and other members of the committee to review the government payrolls in terms of stepping down on cost.”
The minister also said that government agencies with the same mandate will be merged.
In the same way, successive administrations have set up several committees with the aim of reducing the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), but to no avail.
For instance, in 2011, the then President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions, and Agencies. The committee was under the Chairmanship of Mr. Steve Oronsaye.
Mr. Oronsaye had a private-sector background from where he joined the civil service at a very high level and rose rapidly to become the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. His choice was therefore considered apt.
Other members of the committee included: Japh Nwosu; Rabiu D. Abubakar; Salman Mann; Hamza A. Tahir; Adetunji Adesunkanmi; and Umar Mohammed (Member/Secretary).
The Oronsaye Committee turned in an 800-page report to President Jonathan at the end of the very tasking assignment. It had copious recommendations on MDAs that should be scraped, those to be merged, and those to become self-funding.
Another key recommendation of the committee was to discontinue government funding of professional bodies and councils.
There was however a lull towards implementing the recommendations of the report. A key impediment was the fact that most of the affected agencies were creations of legislation. The enabling laws had to be repealed before they cease to exist.
Meanwhile, as Federal Government struggles with raising funds for capital and recurrent expenditure, the National Assembly has been more involved in passing bills that will create more agencies.
It was only last week that the Senate passed a bill for the establishment of Nigeria Steel University, Ajaokuta, Kogi.
Also, the legislative body passed the Agricultural Research Council Act (Amendment) Bill, 2021; and the Federal Medical Centre Mubi, Adamawa State (Establishment) Bill, 2021.
This practice of creating more agencies by members of the National Assembly amidst dwindling revenue brings to bear the need for the arms of government to work in harmony in order to address the costs of running the state squarely.
Following the approval given for the implementation of the report submitted by the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions, and Agencies (MDAs) during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, analysts have cautioned against the antics of the political elite who would deploy all tricks in the books to scuttle the move.
The Director-General of Bureau for Public Service Reform (BPSR), Dr. Goke Adegoroye echoed this when he pointed out that the roadblocks against the moves will be mounted by politicians who may think that shrinking the number of agencies will reduce their chance of board appointments:
“…another roadblock will be mounted by career public servants in the agencies earmarked to be abolished, or merged with a major one, fearing that they would lose their jobs.
“The biggest roadblock lies ahead at the National Assembly (NASS) whose mandate is to carry out the legal realignment that will give effect to the new agencies to emerge, based on the recommendations of the updated report.
“As politicians themselves, they will be more inclined to offer listening ears to their colleagues on the outside who are awaiting their political appointments.”
On his part, Prof. Hassan Oaikhenan of the Department of Economics, University of Benin urged the Federal Government to revalidate recommendations a March 2014 White Paper invalidated. This, he believes, is vital given the critical need to address the burgeoning cost of governance in the face of emerging economic crisis, occasioned by the global pandemic.
Despite the fact that the Buhari administration has summoned the courage to work with the Orasanye’s report, there’s a growing concern in some quarters that some agencies should not be merged.
For instance, few years ago when the idea of harmonisation was mooted, Nobel Laureate and the first Chairman of FRSC, Prof. Wole Soyinka, urged the Federal Government not to merge the agency with the Nigeria Police Force. He stressed that in the interest of effective performance, FRSC should remain independent, especially as it has become the preventive medicine against road accidents.
Even with the need for cost reduction in governance, no recommendation from any committee should be swallowed hook, line and sinker.