Peril of high cost of governance – Guardian

The high cost of governance in Nigeria which has become a very disturbing phenomenon, and has been widely acknowledged by many both within and outside the corridors of power is engaging our attention again for one inescapable reason: state actors at all levels in Nigeria do not seem to understand the importance of cutting cost of governance at this time.

The suffocating impact of the high cost of governance on our national life has made it to assume a national emergency dimension. With this high cost of maintaining the bureaucracy, the economic fortunes of the country have recently been pronounced as uncertain with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) downgrading the growth prospects of the economy for 2018 and 2019.

In addition, the minister of finance recently cried out that insufficient revenue has been the major problem in the effective implementations of the federal budgets. In spite of this hue and cry about revenue shortfall, not much has been seen to be done by the authorities to address this unsustainable level of the cost of governance, which invariably has not reduced despite these clearly identified revenue challenges. Thus something drastic needs to be done in this regard to arrest this undesirable trend.

President Muhammadu Buhari, on his own part, recently vowed as always, to reduce the cost of governance in the country. While receiving members of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC at the State House, Abuja the other day, the President promised to beam the searchlight on cost the of governance and weed out possible corruption that exists anywhere. While this may be considered commendable, as we noted a few weeks ago on this page, it clearly displays a lack of holistic strategy in assessing this cancer of high cost of governance in the country. There is this penchant by the same (Buhari) administration to view virtually everything from the prism of “fighting corruption,” which is only a part of the problem. It is largely structural as well as attitudinal, without downplaying the context of corruption in this regard.

The appropriate structure of government is one major issue that needs to be addressed in reducing the high cost of governance in Nigeria. Hence the bicameral nature of our legislature, for instance, needs to be critically examined. Given our current economic circumstances, can the country afford to continue with this arrangement when some developing countries have modified imported parliamentary structures to suit their peculiar circumstances? A country like Senegal is a case of reference in this regard. There appears to be the need for the country to consider reducing the number of members of the National Assembly by having only one House, to reduce membership and thus cut high costs of maintaining them as we noted the other day. The core principles of equality of states and population can be fittingly incorporated in a formula that would determine the composition of the emergent unicameral national legislature from the constituent parts.

By doing this, significant costs can be saved. This could also be accompanied by a reasonable reduction in the remuneration of the legislators at all levels. The reported recklessness in spending on unnecessary new vehicles at the National Assembly is a sore point in the aggravation of this cost issue.

In this regard, some members of the public have even called for an arrangement where the legislators will operate part-time – to enhance cost reduction. Except the country considers restructuring along these lines, reducing the cost of governance will remain a mirage.

Let’s not be distracted: The executive arm of government is the main culprit in incurring excessive costs in governance. This applies to all the tiers of government. The State House, in the nation’s capital, Abuja, as well as those of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, are the first culprits. There’s a lot of wastage at these State Houses, ranging from the bogus and mysterious security votes to the unimaginable expenditures in maintaining the bureaucracy, utilities, and even victuals.

At the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government where the ministers, permanent secretaries, and director-generals hold sway, it is a routine merry-go-round with a preponderance of unnecessary foreign trips, poor public procurement practices and entrenched corruption that result in poor outcomes for the national economy. Many of these men and women at the helm of affairs in these arms of the government seemingly turn out to be the owners of choice estates in Abuja and many parts of the world, leaving office as multimillionaires or even billionaires while the national economy continues in a state of stupor.

Attitudinally, the government needs to convince the public that it is serious in reducing the cost of governance by changing its ways in the incurring of overheads. Though this applies to the three arms of government, it is particularly so for the executive branch, which controls about 90% of all public expenditures. In this time of economic emergency, why is the Buhari administration calling for a reduction in the cost of governance, yet it is creating new ministries and thus increasing the recurrent expenditure? Buhari just got himself a new luxury and expensive car when the old ones are still functioning well. This administration does not appear to be practising what it is preaching. The President has made such cost-reduction promises during and after campaigns, even before his first term in office but his actions, on health tourism, the size of the presidential fleet of jets among others, do not support such posture. The use of irritating convoys of vehicles by the President, governors and other officials and their wives has not stopped and yet the public is being told of a “vow” to reduce the cost of governance. Also, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in its manifesto had promised, if elected to power, to have a leaner government bureaucracy, yet since 2015 what is being experienced is totally different. This smacks of a lack of integrity and people are no longer amused by these contradictions.

Meanwhile, mere lamentation without action plans by the people must stop. There is a need for the development of a more politically sophisticated electorate. The public should make their voice to be heard in seeking redress on how they are governed. That is why this democracy should not be truncated and the mainstream and social media should not be censored. Doing any of these would be counterproductive and not augur well for the Nigerian society. The attitude to power by the political class needs to be interrogated. Power should be acquired to enhance the public good and the human condition. Hence, the people should hold the leaders accountable for how society is run.

How do we come out of this quagmire? Aside from the issues raised earlier, public recurrent expenditure should be drastically reduced. We will continue to say this: The verification of personnel in the public service should be undertaken to institutionalise an integrated, automated payroll system. Government should restructure its economic policies by resisting the temptation of unnecessarily taxing the already impoverished working class through taxes on telecommunication and others.

The speed of incurring public debts should be reduced and discipline should be introduced in government operations such that recurrent expenditures can be drastically reduced and capital expenditures increased – to develop the critical infrastructure needed for economic growth. The Buhari administration should look beyond corruption in addressing this issue of reducing the cost of governance. It should have a change of attitude, by leading by example, keeping to its promises as well as consider spearheading the movement to restructure government to enhance the well-being of the Nigerian people which it swore to serve well.

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