Monday, 30 January 2012 08:52

No Government Agency Should Go Above Budgetary Allocation

Written by 
Valentine Ojo Valentine Ojo

Dr. Valentine Ojo, economist and social critic in this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO identified areas of waste in the 2012 Appropriation Bill and proffered ways to curb high cost of governance and waste in the system.

DO you agree that there are areas of waste in the budget?

Unquestionably, there are too many areas of waste in the budget. Nigeria’s bureaucracy and presidential system are simply too top heavy. Nigeria’s politicians – from the Presidency right down to the Local Government level and everything in-between, are about the highest remunerated political office holders in the world, to the point that holding a public office has merely become an easy avenue to wealth, and not a means of serving the nation or community. In addition to their basic salaries, which are already too high compared to salaries in other sectors, and the salaries of public officials, including those of more advanced countries, they receive too many fringe benefits, and too generous a retirement package for merely holding an elected office for a few years. They should not receive any retirement benefits at all, if truth must be told.

Then, there is too much allocated to security at both the Federal and State levels, when Nigeria is not currently at war, or developing a secret military weapon or anything like that. It’s even more ridiculous, when you consider that security of any kind is almost virtually absent and nonexistent today in Nigeria. The amounts earmarked for agriculture, the backbone of any nation, education and capital investment is scandalously small, when compared to the amount spent on running the government, our bloated bureaucracy, and for our so-called ”security votes” in a nation where the average citizen enjoys little or no security.

What can be done to minimise the waste?

The salaries of our politicians and their fringe benefits and sundry allowances must be reduced drastically. The salaries and emoluments of those in the upper echelon of our bureaucracy also have to be reduced. Foreign travels and the attendant estacodes have to be stopped, except for those who really have any business going abroad. Foreign travels should be more within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

All this practice of governors and members of NASS traveling abroad to collect meaningless awards under the guise of going in search of investors and business partners also has to stop. Sending government officials for medical treatment has to be stopped, except in rare emergencies that cannot be handled in Nigeria.

Finally, there has to be more accountability, where every kobo of government money spent has to be accounted for, and more frequent auditing of the accounts – like every quarter – the results of which must be made known to the public through the news media.

Public office holders found to have misappropriated or misused public funds should be disciplined and punished more stiffly.

Government also has the tendency to go outside its budget, with National Assembly seemingly helpless, what can be done to address this impunity?

The so-called supplementary budget clause should be abolished, except in cases of unforeseeable national disasters or emergency. When you are aware that you can always apply for supplementary budget, why would any ministry or government agency not be tempted to spend over and above their budgetary allocations?

The National Assembly is not helpless because they too derive benefits from over-spending. That is why they have no incentive to do anything about it. No government agency should be allowed to go above their budgetary allocation, not the Presidency, not the NASS, not the Police or the Judiciary or the Military.

What the budget cannot cover in a given year will simply have to be carried over into the budget of the following year. It is called fiscal discipline -- when government agencies are forced to spend within the monies allocated to them in the budget.

We all try to live within our budgets, don’t we? So, why should the same not apply to the government?

Would the 25 percent cut in basic salary for political office holders significantly reduce cost of governance?

No, not much! The salaries of the President, the Vice President, Senators, Members of the House of Representatives, Ministers, Special Advisers, Governors, their Deputies, Commissioners, Local Government Chairpersons and Council Members must all be reduced by at least 50 per cent, and brought more in consonance with that of professionals like teachers, police, lecturers, professors, medical doctors and nurses working in government hospitals. All their fringe benefits – food allowance, cars and housing allowance, etc. all have to be drastically reduced, and some totally removed.

Governance should not be seen or used as an easy means of acquiring wealth by people contributing basically nothing to the development or progress of the nation, and yet spending so much of its resources. There has to be a complete overhaul here, and the salaries should be determined by a civil service board, and not voted by the politicians themselves!

Does the country need a Bicameral legislature?

No, truth be told, Nigeria does not need a Bicameral legislature. Why? Because the United States has one for historical reasons, to distinguish between the landed gentry, farmers who owned slaves and those who owned and ran their own industries, factory owners who employed labour, etc., those who formed a kind of ‘Noble class’. Nigeria is merely creating an arbitrary class of do-nothing “nobility” in its so-called senators. A single Legislative Body or Chamber should be more than enough to cater for the Legislative needs of Nigeria, even if laws and motions have to be passed with two-thirds majority.

Public Procurement has been identified as one of the conduit pipe for corruption, as prices of goods bear no semblance to what’s obtainable in the open market. What can be done to correct this?

That unfortunately is one of the downsides of open market capitalism, and government pricing for goods, even in the United States! The public pays say 20 Naira for a bottle of water. The government would acquire the same bottle of water for double or triple the same amount! This was intended to let government have its supplies very efficiently and very quickly, even if there were to be a shortage out there, so that the work of governing would not be slowed down or impeded. And it,of course, provided honest patronage for those who helped the party in power win the elections. It is however more rigidly controlled in the US.

Like everything else that we borrowed from our Euro-American mentors, we simply have totally abused it in Nigeria. Governmental acquisitions should be more closely controlled and monitored, whereby government should not be made to pay more than the going market price for anything, and of course, bidding invoices compared before contracts for purchases are awarded. More regular auditing should also help reduce wastage here. But it cannot be totally stopped, especially as long as contracts are frequently awarded on the basis of cronyism. It is part of the all-pervasive culture of corruption that has Nigeria in a stranglehold.

The judiciary is not immune from the malady of corruption and waste, especially at bureaucratic levels, what can be done to save waste of taxpayer’s money?

The same measures that apply to other departments and agencies of the government must be made to apply to the judiciary as well, so I do not quite see why the judiciary should be singled out for mention. The same malady of corruption and waste is also present in the Ministry of Education, the Passport and Licensing offices, the NNPC, Customs, the Police, the Military and in all other branches of government.

What is really at stake here is that all of these measures, and especially frequent auditing, and the punishment of those found to be involved in corrupt practices and wastage of government resources must be made to apply across board and to all agencies.

In the United States system of government, and in most European nations, the media plays a major role in exposing the excesses and abuses carried out by the government, and thus acting as checks and balances on corruption and wastage in government, and even the abuse of governmental powers. Is the Nigerian press living up to that challenge?

One other measure that must urgently be undertaken to curb corruption and reduce wastage in government is abrogating the so-called Immunity Clause that prevents certain categories of public office holders from being investigated or prosecuted while in office. There is no other nation in the world where such an immunity clause exists for public office holders, to the best of my knowledge. It exists only in Nigeria, and it would appear to be about the only law that is religiously observed and respected in Nigeria!

This, in my own opinion, is the actual fountainhead of corruption in Nigeria! It has to be done away with. It should be possible to investigate and prosecute public office holders, if and when major allegations of corrupt practices and wastage of government money, or abuse of office should surface against them. A sitting governor was recently removed and later sentenced to a stiff prison sentence in the US for merely trying to sell a vacant senatorial sit in his state! This would not have been possible in Nigeria, given the Immunity Clause!

The EFCC and other agencies charged with investigating cases of corruption in Nigeria have to be strengthened and made independent of the Presidency or any other agencies, except the Judiciary.

Until all these measures are undertaken, Nigerians will simply have to continue living with corruption and wastage in government.


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