- Time to revisit the Oronsaye report with a view to reducing the number
It is surely not surprising that calls for drastic action to cut the cost of governance in Nigeria are growing more frequent and louder by the day. The country faces grave fiscal challenges as she is unable to generate the resources to bridge the current huge infrastructure gap, alleviate mass poverty, provide qualitative and affordable social services as well as effectively protect the lives and property of the citizenry.
Thus, government has no choice but to resort to increased external borrowing to fund critical capital projects, with concerns being expressed in several quarters as regards the rising scale of loans being obtained from diverse sources, and the real possibility of a return to debt peonage. A substantial percentage of the annual budget continues to be expended on recurrent items, with little left for capital expenditure, which is critical for any economic recovery and sustained growth.
Against this background, it is alarming that over 100 of the existing 719 federal government agencies in the country are said to be redundant, thus unproductive. Yet, they have funds allocated to them yearly and expended, particularly on the payment of staff salaries for workers that have practically nothing meaningful to do. While some of these agencies merely duplicate others and perform overlapping functions, others were set up to address specific issues and achieve objectives that have either been realised or overtaken by events, making their continued existence superfluous.
The 9th National Assembly, during the consideration of its legislative agenda, had identified the outright scrapping or merger of some of these dormant agencies as one of its priorities, to minimise cost and reduce the recurrent expenditure of the Federal Government. Luckily, the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is on the same page with the legislature on the issue of reducing the cost of governance, to free more money for development as the President has signalled his determination to take firm action to achieve this objective.
We thus urge that the 2014 report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies headed by the then Head of Service of the Federation, Dr Stephen Oronsaye, be urgently re-visited. That report had made far-reaching recommendations for the scrapping and/or merger of a significant number of existing agencies to eliminate duplication of functions, reduce waste and enhance efficiency and productivity.
We note that the government, in its white paper on the report had rejected a number of the committee’s recommendations. For example, the committee recommended the abolition of the Public Complaints Commission (PCC) for redundancy and ineffectiveness as well as the merger of the National Commission for Refugees (NCR) with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). In a similar vein, it proposed the scrapping of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) and the merger of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and the Small and Medium Enterprises Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN).
Again, it was recommended that a new Tertiary Education Commission be established to absorb the National Board of Technical Education (NBTE), National Universities Commission (NUC) and the National Commission for Colleges of Education (NCCE). Similarly, the merger of the Public Service Institute (PSI) and the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) was recommended, among several others. It is possible that government did not accept these recommendations either because of the implication of likely job losses in affected agencies or the understandable fact that these bodies provide opportunities to reward political party members with board appointments.
However, huge governance costs have become such an obstacle to economic growth and development that government cannot continue to shy away from taking tough decisions in this respect. While there may be temporary inevitable pains, the resultant availability of more funds for capital expenditure, particularly provision of critical infrastructure, will revive and strengthen the private sector as well as unleash its immense potential to create jobs on a scale far beyond the capacity of government to do.