BRAEKING: Long overdue civil service reforms

Since President Bola Ahmed Tinubu assumed office on May 29, we have seen courageous leadership in action and hard decisions are being taken which were expected, except we want to deceive ourselves. Our economy is in bad shape and there are no easy answers on the way forward. There will be short-term pains but the long-term gains will be beneficial to everyone.>>>Continue Reading

We have witnessed quick hits resulting in small and big wins as a deliberate strategy – what is now famously called “Tinubunomics.” However, what is important is the sincerity of the Tinubu administration to turn things around and bring about a new lease of life. So far, we can see that the president is on the right track. But the task of nation building is for all Nigerians – we must have a sense of shared ownership in problem solving and take responsibility for our individual decisions and actions.

These are still early days in the life of the Tinubu presidency but in rallying support for the president to succeed and finish well, we must not overlook the civil service where comprehensive reforms are long overdue.

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When we say the cost of governance is high, it is not limited only to the civil service but civil servants behave like Lords of the Manor and it is disgusting. Each time political appointees share their experiences in the various ministries, departments and agencies, you will feel sorry for them.

They are seen as outsiders (accidental public servants) and their ideas to uplift standards and enhance efficiency and effectiveness in the MDAs are often resisted or sabotaged. What follows is frustration, and pray not to step on banana peels.

The decadent and inefficient cash-and-carry civil service culture is the product of an over-bloated and opaque bureaucracy that is corrupt. Civil servants are permanent employees who retire after 35 years on the job or when they attain 60 years of age – whichever comes first.

These civil servants, it has been alleged, award contract to themselves and they have a way of ring-fencing others. They are so rich that they can point to fat bank accounts and choice real estate in different parts of the world as benefits even before retirement.

Can civil servants honestly explain the source of their wealth?

The budget for every MDA is an open secret and it is controlled by the rank and file of each ministry and agency. Sometimes, a permanent secretary and his colleagues in the ministry would award contracts and make payments without the supervising minister having a clue of what has happened.

With 42 ministers based on the current structure where some ministries have two ministers, there are too many parastatals, commissions and agencies under each ministry. What are we doing with as many as 20 parastatals or more under a ministry if it is not just another way of throwing money away?

A few years back, it was rumoured that the director of finance (DFA) in one of the ministries lodged over N4 billion in a single bank account. This discovery was made only after he died. I am sure there are several other rogue civil servants who compromise their positions and steal our money.

The civil service has been turned into one huge bazaar where civil servants just “share” money among themselves and they believe it is their birth right to do so. This is clearly an egregious sense of entitlement that is on full display because they know there are no consequences for their bad behaviour.

The tragedy of our country is that a pervasive culture of impunity exists which encourages people to do whatever they like and get away with it. The craze for money has debased the values of a decent society and there is nothing like “ethical standards” anymore.

We live in a world where might is right and if you cannot beat them, it is better to join them. Now, when the treasury is looted the way we have seen it over the years, what is the moral justification to ask tax payers to continue to pay taxes?

Where there’s no accountability, the tax payer will be reluctant to perform a basic statutory obligation. What they need is the assurance that every kobo paid as tax will be properly accounted for. This is why the recent announcement that President Tinubu approved the establishment of a Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms is salutary.

The committee’s primary objective, according to a statement issued by Dele Alake, presidential spokesman, is to “enhance revenue collection efficiency, ensue transparent reporting, and promote the efficient utilization of tax and other revenues to boost citizens’ morale, foster a healthy tax culture and drive voluntary compliance.”

Apart from the minister, perm sec, directors, deputy directors and other senior officers in each ministry, parastatals/agencies under the ministry also have their own set of directors-general and directors.

These DGs have personal assistants and when they travel overseas, they fly business class fully paid for by the government and sign for estacodes as part of their statutory entitlements. They also have two drivers for an SUV and a backup car in Abuja and one driver with a standby car in Lagos. Some DGs have one car in Abuja and one in Lagos.

A director in each agency has an official car with aides amongst other benefits. No doubt, the perks of office are attractive and, truth be told, I do not have a problem with benefits that are statutory. But what are we doing with over 540 parastatals, commissions and agencies when we are owing over N49 trillion in public debt?

I am fully persuaded that the Tinubu administration will have the courage and political will to carry out the necessary reforms based on the Stephen Oronsaye Report that has been ignored since 2012 and trim the civil service to a manageable size.

It was former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan that set up the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies on August 18, 2011. It was headed by Stephen Oronsaye, a former head of the civil service of the federation.

The aim was to reduce the size of the bureaucracy and enhance the efficiency of the civil service. Eight months later (April 16, 2012), the Oronsaye Committee submitted its 800-page report with wide-ranging recommendations.

The committee identified 541 parastatals, commissions and agencies – statutory and non-statutory – and recommended a reduction in the number of statutory agencies from 263 to 161; 38 agencies were recommended for abolition, 52 for merger (most agencies and parastatals have duplicated roles/functions) and 14 to revert to departments in existing ministries.

What happened next? A White Paper Drafting Committee headed by Mohammed Bello Adoke, attorney-general and minister of justice, was set up to review the Oronsaye Report. When the government is not ready to act in the public interest, it creates smokescreens in the name of committees that go on a wild goose chase and deflect the main issue.

By the time a Government White Paper was released in March 2014, the Jonathan administration still had one full year to act on the report but it did not. As you would expect, the white paper rejected most of the recommendations, confirming that Nigeria is a “hesitant” reformer.

The Buhari administration (from 2015 – 2023) also refused to implement any part of the Oronsaye Report and save us billions of Naira. It was not surprising. The failure to act on the report could be attributed to lack of political will, and politicians love playing to the gallery just to satisfy narrow and selfish interests.

Why do our leaders fail to take tough decisions in the public interest when it is absolutely necessary to do so? It is evident that the cost of governance must come down and I have no doubt President Tinubu and his team will act on the Oronsaye Report.

The budgets of all the 774 local councils, 36 states, the FCT and, of course, the presidency and national assembly must also be reduced because the country is flat broke. All inefficiencies have to be uprooted and “leakages” blocked.

Do we still have ghost workers in the civil service? Technology (data capture, biometrics, etc.) can be used to address the problem.

Besides the Oronsaye Report, I agree with Eric Teniola, a retired director at the presidency and public affairs commentator, that the Tinubu administration should act on two other reports: the 1999 Ahmed Joda’s Report on Streamlining and Rationalisation of Poverty Alleviation Institutions and Agencies, and the 2014 National Conference Report.

According to Teniola, the Ahmed Joda Report identified ministries and 18 institutions/agencies that have a mandate directly on poverty alleviation. The story on eradicating poverty in Nigeria did not start today but when panels are set up, their recommendations are never implemented.

The National Conference on the other hand, was broken into 20 committees and I can testify that they produced excellent reports. Prominent among the committees were devolution of power, political restructuring and forms of government, national security, public finance and revenue generation, public service, electoral matters, and trade and investment.

The Ahmed Joda Panel was set up in June 1999 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo while former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the National Conference on March 14, 2014 in Abuja. It was headed by Chief Justice Legbo Kutigi who passed away on October 21, 2018. Ahmed Joda has also passed on; he died on August 13, 2021.

These great Nigerians served their country with grace, humility, courage and integrity; we should not allow them to die in vain. We can honour their memory by recognising their work and implementing the recommendations contained in their reports.

President Tinubu’s administration should review these reports – which are, by the way, low-hanging fruits – and act on them as quickly as possible.>>>Continue Reading

There’s no need to re-invent the will.

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