A hint the other day that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) might review the remuneration package of political office holders is not a good alert at this time that the dust raised over national minimum wage has not settled.
This is not the first time the revenue mobilisation body has dropped this untimely hint of emolument review for political office holders. The last time they reviewed in the first eight years of democracy, it was adjusted upwards but the economy was better.
Although the Chairman of the Commission, Elias Mbam, who disclosed the development, noted that the review would lead to either a reduction or an increase in the remuneration, it is not the right time for this. There is a time for everything. The RMAFC boss curiously said the review is to ensure that the remunerations “reflect current realities.” He, however, premised the outcome of the review on a process, which, “if followed appropriately will arrive at the appropriate answer.” This is not a time for this kind of obscurantism. There should be clarity in this connection.
The reasons for seeking clarity are not too far to seek, after all. Some of the expressions used by the Chairman of RMAFC, Elias Mbam, should be properly decoded to understand the intendments. For example, when he said that the review would follow a process and that, “if the process is followed appropriately, the appropriate answer will be arrived at”, did he not give a hint of the possibility of the process being inappropriately followed? That is, the process can be manipulated or compromised to arrive at an answer desired by the manipulators in their interests or those of their principals.
Furthermore, is it credible that the outcome of the review would depend solely on the process? If the correct input to the process is not there, what good result should be expected from such a process irrespective of it having been appropriately handled? But it is well known that for the quality of the outcome to be realistic and incontrovertible appropriate input and process are necessary.
The RMAFC, in carrying out this long overdue review of public office holders’ remunerations, should be true and forthright with the public under whose mandate it operates. It should access and factor in all necessary inputs that should play a part in the determination of what is ideal and fair. In this regard, the commission should, of necessity, take into account, for example, the current level of government revenue, inflation rate, slow or negligible gross domestic product growth rate, huge and unsustainable cost of governance, increasing and intolerable rate of poverty and insecurity in the economy, poor and overtly non-functional infrastructure across the country, enormous amount of outstanding salaries, gratuities and pensions of serving and retired civil servants, respectively. Besides, implications of the recently approved national minimum wage of N30,000.00, which has become a huge financial burden to most state governments, should not be lost.
Meanwhile, perception management should also guide the authorities on the wage review at issue here. It is certain that because government has not been raising enough revenue to meet its over-bloated expenditure that it has resorted to imposing increased tax rates under its recent Finance Act, 2019. An increase of Value Added Tax rate too by as much as 50% from 5% to 7.5% in one fell swoop cannot be anything but a sign of desperation by the government to increase its revenue profile. But let there be no perception that there is a correlation between the imminent review of remuneration of political office holders and concomitant tax increase. There will be public outcry if revenue from tax increase is not used for public good.
Given the desperate situation the country finds itself and that a remuneration review has now been kick-started, there is nothing to suggest that some of the existing remuneration lines cannot be completely eliminated to cause reasonable reality to emerge. And that is apart from drastic reduction in both amount and percentage associated with existing remuneration packages. Anything short of taking the foregoing into consideration in the determination of realistic remuneration of public office holders in the country may be tantamount to no gains from the exercise.
Consequently, Nigerians may continue to suffer perpetually from the deployment of unreasonable amount of government’s financial resources to service a few individuals against the interest and wellbeing of majority of the people. It may even heighten the emerging dangerous fights rather than contests towards gaining entry into elective positions into government, not for the purpose of servicing but for the perquisites of office.
It will therefore smack of high degree of insensitivity if at the end of the review, Nigerians are told that it will cost more to maintain our political office holders. Doubtless, as this newspaper has consistently argued, the current cost of governance in the country is still unacceptable as revenue sources have been dwindling and critical infrastructure level has been embarrassing even after more than two decades of unbroken democratic rule. This is what should guide public officers at the RMAFC who have a responsibility to review the reward system for political office holders. The letter of the law guiding their role is not more important than the spirit of the same law – at this time.