The ‘White Paper’ more or less encourages the waste in government
Two clear years after the presidential committee on restructuring and rationalisation of federal government parastatals, commissions and agencies submitted its report, the government recently released the “White Paper” with a directive for another committee to be set up to implement the report. “One thing that has become a recurring observation has been the cost of governance under the new democracy and the federal government is very serious about bringing down the cost,” said Labaran Maku, the information minister.
“The president has directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) to begin to put up a committee for his approval that will work on the actual merger of those agencies that have been accepted to merge to bring down cost of governance.” The irony is that the government does not still have the nerve to make the bold and brutal choice. Many of the recommendations that would have made for sensible and trim government were rejected outright.
The Presidential Committee headed by Mr Steve Oronsaye, former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation had in an 800-page report recommended the scrapping of many parastatals, the merging and privatisation of several others. The committee recommended the reduction in the number of parastatals from the present 263 to 161 while advocating that 38 of them should be scrapped.
While presenting the report, Oronsaye highlighted sundry duplication of functions by many of the agencies. For instance, while acknowledging that the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) has been quite active, the committee observed that what the agency was established to do is indeed a replication of the mandates of two existing bodies, namely: the highway department of the Federal Ministry of Works with respect to the maintenance of safety and orderliness on our highways and the role of the police in ensuring law and order on our roads.
The report further noted that “it is a fundamental breach of acceptable practice of good public sector governance to create a new agency or institution as a response to the seeming failure or poor performance of an existing agency in order to suit political or individual interests. Such a practice has proved eventually to precipitate systemic conflicts, crises and even collapse at a substantial but avoidably high financial cost to government.”
As things stand today, this is another missed opportunity to address the duplications and other lapses in the system and keep a lid on the growing cost of maintaining the nation’s bureaucracy. The white paper more or less obliges the ongoing indulgence in government and the parastatals. Many of the major recommendations made by the Oronsaye Committee were rejected while accepting those mainly with little or no impact.
The government, for instance, rejected the merger of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) even when it is apparent that they perform similar functions in which only one is active. It is still encouraging the unnecessary haemorrhage in a supposedly secular state – sponsoring pilgrims on pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem. And then you wonder: What is the Ministry of Police Affairs doing that cannot be performed by the Police Service Commission?
It is noteworthy that we have argued several times on this page that implementing the Oronsaye Report will be the first step in addressing the waste and profligacy in the Nigerian public sector. Over the years, successive governments have created a multiplicity of agencies and departments without any corresponding improvement in service delivery. Indeed, the only contribution many can be credited with is that they are cost centres through which some unscrupulous officials fleece government funds. With the decision to set up another committee to merge a few non-essential agencies, against the background that Nigerians had expected bold actions, it is very clear that the party is still on.