Eyebrows were raised recently when the federal government announced plans to harmonise salaries of employees of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Speaking during a webinar organised by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said that the government was ready to review its payroll in a bid to reduce the cost of governance.
We recall that the minister had earlier announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission (NSIWC) to review salaries of civil servants and some federal agencies.
Similarly, Director-General, Budget Office, Ben Akabueze in a paper titled: ‘Reducing the Cost of Governance in Nigeria,’ while describing the country’s current system of democratic governance as very expansive and expensive, noted that in 2016, personnel cost was N1.87 trillion while at the moment the same cost has spiralled to over N3 trillion.
In the considered opinion of this Newspaper, if the harmonization is a ploy to slash salaries of civil servants, then we beg to disagree and vehemently reject the proposal. Granted, the revenue of the federal government had plunged over 60 percent no thanks to the COVID -19 pandemic and crash of the price of crude oil in the international market. However slashing workers’ salaries is an unacceptable approach to solving the quagmire.
We believe that slashing salaries of workers when the country’s inflation rate is at an all-time high will be double jeopardy for the civil servants. Presently such a move will trigger civil rebellion from the workers and populace. In the meantime and for clarity will this also entail slashing the N30, 000 new minimum wage which over 80 percent of states are yet to implement?
What happened to the 2012 report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies headed by Steve Oronsaye then Head of Service of the Federation? Set up by President Goodluck Jonathan, the committee had proposed a drastic downsizing of the federal bureaucracy that would engender considerable reduction in the cost of governance. The 800-page report included a recommendation for the reduction in the number of parastatals from 263 to 161 while advocating that 38 of them should be scrapped.
In the prevailing circumstance, we suggest that government muster the political will to implement the recommendations of the Oronsaye report. Indeed, we see no reason why we should have agencies like Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and Vehicle Inspection office (VIO). They are basically performing the same functions. Similarly we suggest the merging of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC).
Besides, experts have attributed corruption bedeviling the country to the high cost of governance. In our opinion, reduction in the cost of governance should start with political office holders. We recall that in 2018, Senator Shehu Sani, had revealed that he and his colleagues receive N13.5 million monthly as “running cost.”
Sani said that the running cost does not include a N700, 000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances which they also receive. In a country where the some states are struggling to pay N18 thousand minimum wage, this is obscene and an abuse of privilege. Similarly, the executive arm is also guilty of this wasteful disposition. The practice of hiring a retinue of aides and buying of expensive cars frequently are major contributors to the high cost of governance.
In the United States of America, for example, senators, representatives, delegates and the resident commissioner from Puerto Rico make a salary of $174,000 per year. Higher-level positions in Congress make a higher income. For example, the speaker of the House makes $223,500 per year, and the president pro tempore of the Senate, majority leaders and minority leaders in the House and Senate make $193,400 per year.
It is from this perspective that we call on the government to think of creative ways of improving its revenues. Slashing of workers’ salaries and increasing taxes which is usually the first option shows vacuity on the part of the government.
This Newspaper had previously called on the federal government to privatize the refineries and we still stand by that position. The government should adopt the public-private partnership model in its infrastructural projects. We insist government has no business in business.
Consequently, the government should also block leakages in the revenue generating agencies. This Newspaper recall that the Senate Committee on Finance has recently revealed that 60 government-owned enterprises failed to remit a total of N3 trillion in six years, contrary to provisions of the constitution and Fiscal Responsibility Act. This has to stop. We insist that slashing of workers’ salaries should be the last resort.
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