With the approval given for the implementation of a report submitted by the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies (MDAs) during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, experts have cautioned the Federal Government to be wary of the antics of the political elite, who would deploy all tricks in the books to scuttle the move.
Commonly called the Oronsaye Report, the 800-meeting the report will reduce the cost of governance with the elimination of duplicated functions by several departments and agencies, the government should go ahead to revalidate recommendations, which a March 2014 White Paper invalidated, especially given the critical need to address the burgeoning cost of governance in the face of emerging economic crisis, occasioned by the global pandemic.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who made the disclosure, last Wednesday, said already the president’s approval has been forwarded to the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
But commenting on the development, the pioneer Director-General of Bureau for Public Service Reform (BPSR), Dr. Goke Adegoroye identified three major obstacles, which are likely going to undermine the report as soon as the process begins, while a retired federal permanent secretary, Prof. Tunji Olaopa, also maintained that the implementation of the report “is just the first leg in the required housekeeping that government requires to align revenue with expenditure.”
On his part, Prof. Hassan Oaikhenan of the Department of Economics, University of Benin explained that since implementing the report will reduce the cost of governance with the elimination of duplicated functions by several departments and agencies, the government should go ahead to revalidate recommendations, which a March 2014 White Paper invalidated, especially given the critical need to address the burgeoning cost of governance in the face of emerging economic crisis, occasioned by the global pandemic.
It would be recalled that the Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, otherwise called the Oransaye Committee, was set up by the President Jonathan-led administration, three months after it mounted the saddle on August 18, 2011.
President Buhari’s decision to look into the committee’s report, which was released in April 2012, not only underscores the lethargy that has defined his administration’s approach to governance, but also suggests a knee-jerk implementation of policy initiatives.
Coming eight and six years respectively after the report and government White Paper were released, the Buhari administration’s decision raises a lot of questions about the seriousness of the government, as well as the feasibility of the planned rationalisation process.
For instance, in the executive summary of the committee’s report, it was discovered that 50 out of the 541 parastatals identified by the committee have no enabling laws, just as the committee reported the challenges of supervision in the monitoring of the parastatals/agencies, which was compounded by the fact that ministries were weakened by the excision of their departments and attendant applicable functions.
The report noted that the arbitrary increase in the number of parastatals and agencies is the main cause of identified overlaps and duplication of functions/roles and the fact that the splitting of the parastatals has not improved their performance and service delivery.
However, questions trailing the belated federal government decision to implement the report include whether the absence of an implementation committee and lack of National Assembly buy-in would not exacerbate problems that the rationalisation intends to solve.
Even though the Federal Government has assured that the envisaged rationalisation would not affect personnel, some of the affected agencies would need enabling legislation to consummate the harmonisation, just as stakeholders continue to urge restraint in the hurry to shrink the establishments.
Agencies that fall within this bracket include the Fiscal Responsibility Commission; National Poverty Eradication Programme; Utilities Charges Commission (UCC); National Economic Intelligence Committee; Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC); National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC).
Two years ago when the idea of harmonisation was mooted, Nobel Laureate and the first Chairman of FRSC, Prof. Wole Soyinka, urged the Federal Government not to merge the agency with the Nigeria Police Force, stressing that in the interest of effective performance FRSC should remain independent of the police.
Soyinka contended that over the years, the FRSC had been repositioned for effective performance, noting that merging it with the police would only affect its performance, especial- lyasFRSChasbecome“ the preventive medicine against an accident on our roads.”
However, shedding light on the likely obstacles the implementation would face, in an interview with The Guardian, Dr. Adegoroye said: “One of the roadblocks will be mounted by Politicians who are desirous/awaiting political appointments/recognitions, who may think that shrinking the number of agencies will reduce their chance of board appointments. Another roadblock will be mounted by career public servants in the agencies earmarked to be abolished, or merged with a major one, fearing that they would lose their jobs. The biggest roadblock lies ahead at the National Assembly (NASS) whose mandate is to carry out the legal realignment that will give effect to the new agencies to emerge, based on the recommendations of the updated report. As politicians themselves, they will be more inclined to offer listening ears to their colleagues on the outside who are awaiting their political appointments.”
He observed that given the large numbers of agencies whose Acts are to be reviewed, amended and/or abolished, and the weight of the expected lobby from politicians and career public servants, the process of legal realignment by the National Assembly could take upwards of 12 to 24 months.
He said the way forward is for the Federal Government to go ahead and produce a White Paper of the updated report for the President to forward to the NASS for necessary action, adding that the President would also have to issue an Executive Order directing the commencement of the administrative processes of the mandate
manning level determinations, screening of officers, etc., to effect the merger.
“To quicken the processes, the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and Planning would have to ensure that the next budget is prepared for submission to the NASS solely based on the newly approved agencies. In other words, activities of the agencies marked for the repeal of their Acts would only be recognized for execution
under the retained/new mother agency,” he explained. Adegoroye argued that there cannot be a better time to implement the report than now that the world is facing unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 amid revenue dwindling.
He continued: “For a report that was submitted to the government in 2012 not to be implemented within 12 months of its receipt, by the government that set up the panel raises questions about the sincerity and commitment of that administration to the Terms of Reference given the Panel. In governance, it is always best to emphasize the common good, rather than the interests of politicians. That it is now being exhumed for possible implementation is coming eight years late.
“Going forward, the White Paper should be withdrawn. Not just the White Paper alone, the report itself needs to be reviewed in the light of current realities of the seriously constrained economy and the fact that more agencies have been created in the last eight years. Accordingly, the government would have to set up two committees: one to review and update the report to streamline it with current economic realities (of less than $30 per barrel compared to over $100 per barrel when the report was prepared), and then a new committee that will come up with a fresh White Paper after the report has been updated. Both can be achieved within three months if the government commits itself to it,” he said.
But Olaopa, a former top civil servant expressed doubts that the sudden decision to implement the report would fetch far-reaching returns that are being anticipated by the Federal Government, even as he argued that government needs to free resources from payroll and overhead (cost of governance) so that capital
the budget could secure respite for the government of and development projects.
He stated: “For me, whereas the timing of the implementation of the Oronsaye Report is unfortunate, as it is a time that the government should give succour rather than pain, to a highly weakened and vulnerable populace carrying incredible poverty and unemployment burden.
But as is said in development and reform discourses, you cannot eat omelette without cracking an egg: no pain, no gain! My strong opinion is that the savings and efficiency that will come from Oronsaye Report implementation will nothelptheFGverymuch.The reason for this is multi-dimensional. One is because institutional rationalisation also carries the burden of the payment of severance packages in the short-run, which will be huge and unaffordable. And, if the government decides to say no, staff will be laid off in the margins of the mergers and acquisitions that the implementation will incident, then it carries also the efficiency costs of redundancies, which productivity loss is unimaginable if development is the reason for the move. Rightsizing and layoff’s severance cost really will be huge and non- payment will threaten industrial harmony.”
Apart from timing and incidental cost overhang, Olaopa insists that freeing resources from payroll and overhead would “create an inescapable stimulus for critical sectors, invest more proactively in infrastructure, move more decisively on the path of economic diversification and therefore set the national economy back on the path of sustainable stabilisation in the short-term and growth in the immediate future, post- COVID-19.”
Prof. Olaopa touched on the issue of macro-institutional dimensions to the entire governance conundrum, which he observed, was not part of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Oronsaye Committee. His words: “The first is the cost implications of running developmental federalism that invests more in bureaucratic infrastructure than in development concerns. The second, is the huge cost of the version of the presidential system that Nigeria runs, while the third is wastages on account of running 21st-century governance on analogue business models with a huge set of systemic leakages, which supports a thriving, but increasingly daily expanding and growingly sophisticated corruption industry operated by powerful cabals and its innocuous and faceless system Collaborators.
“The most critical for me is embedded wastages in the MDAs’ (Ministries, Departments, and Agencies) operations that only productivity audit and deep-rooted efficiency scrutiny could unravel.
According to Oaikhenan, an economist, in the absence of significant capital expenditures, deployed efficiently and productively in a transparent manner, every aspiration at jumpstarting the country’s economic development will remain at best-mere aspiration.
He, however, agreed that the approval of the report for implementation by President Buhari is workable, the time lag notwithstanding. “The lapse of time brings the imperative of implementing the recommendations of the Report to the fore all the more. Indeed, it would seem that the setting up of that Committee was a fall-out of some kind of clairvoyance, which has found expression in the emerging harsh reality the country and its economy is beginning to come to terms with, given the bitter lessons that will inevitably be engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is hoped that there will be the political will to implement the recommendations of the report through and through.”
On the benefits of its implementation, Oaikhenan explained: “Each of the departments and agencies has its own overhead and other running costs. For example, the EFCC, the ICPC and the Code of Conduct Bureaucarryoutcloselyrelat- ed functions. Yet, each has its entire paraphernalia- separate head, each with his official vehicles, support staff, etc. Merging the three agencies will imply one head running the emerging entity from the merger of the three outfits. This will translate to a significant reduction in the cost of governance. The same reasoning applies to the outcome of merging the other departments and agencies as recommended in the report. In a nutshell, it will make for a slimmer bureaucracy that will, expectedly, be more efficient and less costly to run.”
To give a fillip to the implementation of the commit- tee’s report, Oaikhenan said an immediate logical first step is to set up an implementation committee to be made up of men and women of good standing, devoid of partisanship, ethnic and religious consideration.”
He also warned that those that are likely to be affected by the mergers will put up some form of resistance, and try to constitute a cog in the wheels of progress, even as he suggested that there are credible Nigerians who can be called upon to carry through the recommendations in the report without fear or favour.
And for those expecting were going to spend N37b on many dividends from the renovating the National rationalisation of government agencies the Technical Director, Coalition of Scholars (a group championing for the rebirth of the Nigerian Economy through new ideas), Dr. Emmanuel Anoliefo has urged caution. Anoliefo a development economist said: “Don’t expect so much gain from the rationalisation of government agencies. No doubt, there’s going to be a marginal reduction in the cost of governance in the country. But I think what is required is a total restructure of the polity in such a way that there will be a creation of a new system that would allow for investment inflows into the country, thereby creating a lot of skilled and unskilled opportunities, for a vast majority of people. What is required to get this is the introduction of a new concept to develop a framework for a new superstructure for the economy. This must involve fresh ideas from people outside the bureaucracy because at the moment, the bureaucrats are opposed to fresh ideas, and this is not help- ng the cause.”
Another pert, who asked not to be named lamented that the amount of money the country spends on governance was mind-boggling.
“Look at the former Western Region; look at what Chief ObafemiAwolowodidinthose days from Ibadan. Most of the developmentintheSouthWest today are the ones initiated by Awolowo. The whole of the North was run by Sir Ahmadu Bello, from Kaduna, and we got more value.TheEasternRegion too from Enugu. So, we spend too much money governing Nigeria, and that is why the recurrent expenditure has continued to be high. Unless there is political reform, the recurrent expenditure cannot come down.
“How many people are in the Federal Civil Service that they are controlling the 70 percent of Nigeria’s budget, and what is the result? It is not enough to say you are scraping a parastatal, there must be political reform first. Let the political class show example by starting the reform from the political structure. It is the public service that supports the political structure, but it would be hypocritical to try to reform the public service before the political structure.”
He continued: “Let them reduce ministers by half and permanent secretaries by half. Afterwards, they can go to the parastatals. You cannot reform the parastatals when the parastatals are looking at you up there. It is not possible. So, we must show good example sand political leadership too.
“The Oronsaye report only addressed a part of the executive, what is happening to the legislature? The three arms of government how much are they consuming? If not for this Coronavirus, the lawmakers were going to spend N37b on renovating the National Assembly. Despite the public condemnation, they went ahead to defend it. Look at the cars they bought, imported cars, and they still shared those cars despite COVID-19. ”