THENATION
by on October 13, 2019
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Following Senator Rochas Okorochas recent call on the Senate to consider reduction of number of lawmakers as a way of reducing cost, governance experts and politicians have offered more ways of reducing high cost of governance in Nigeria, reports Sam Egburonu, Associate Editor

OWELLE Rochas Okorocha, the senator representing Imo West Senatorial District, brought back into focus Nigerians complaint over the high cost of governance, when he canvassed, at the beginning of this month, for a cut in the cost of running the legislature, contending that it would herald a general reduction of cost of governance in Nigeria.

He said this can be done by reducing the number of lawmakers representing each state in the Senate to one and the number of members representing every state at the House of Representatives to three, he said. Okorocha reasoned that the proposed arrangement would bring the total number of federal lawmakers to 146, from the current 469, a whopping 69 per cent reduction.

The immediate former governor of Imo State made the proposal at the floor of the Senate while reacting to the report presented by the Committee on Finance and National Planning on the 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Planning Strategy Paper (FSP).

He asked: What (are) three senators doing that one senator cannot do? Here, we have three senators per state. In that National Assembly (House of Representatives) over there, we have 360 eligible human beings. This country must begin to make sacrifices and cut down the cost of governance.

I do not know what we are doing differently today in the 9th Senate from what we did in the 8th Senate and what we did in the 7th Senate, 6th Senate and so forth and so on. And if what we are doing today is similar to what we did in the 8th Senate be rest assured the product will be the same.

He called on the Senate leadership to change its style so as to achieve a different result. Asked to explain further he said: Lets proffer solutions and not creating more problems for the executives. They are waiting for us. What do we have different to show? The summary of what we have been talking about is money; we dont have enough funds to support the needs of Nigerians, to create jobs and put food on the table of the common man.

This problem arises from the fact that we depend on only one source of income which is crude oil, which consists of over 50% of our revenue and 90% of our foreign reserves, and this oil is static. We should look inwards. Lets cut our clothes according to our materials, not our sizes. The budget of Nigeria is cut according to our size not the material available and according to the solution.

He was therefore advised to sponsor a bill that would amend section 48 of the 1999 Constitution which provides for three senators from each of the 36 states of the federation and one from the FCT (totalling 110). Also, section 49 of the constitution provides for 360 members of the House of the Representatives elected from the constituencies in each state of the federation.

As would be expected, there have been varied reactions to Okorochas proposal. For example, Dr. Adetokunbo Pearse, a governance expert and Lead, Diaspora and Global Africa Studies, Institute of African and Diaspora Studies (IADS), University of Lagos, told The Nation on Friday that while there is urgent need to reduce the cost of governance in Nigeria, the country would need to do more than that. According to him, the country should also seek ways of making money in order to meet up with its needs.

As he puts it: I agree with Senator Okorocha because it is essential in order to maintain a vibrant economy. Your recurrent expense must be either at par with or slightly higher than your capital expense. We are spending so too much money paying salaries across board. I have always argued this case that there is nothing that is going on in the House of Representatives that cannot be handled by the Senate. So, maintaining the two houses simultaneously is a waste of money. It is something that a country like the United States is able to fund because it generates huge amount of money in its economy. But note that even in the United States, the balance sheet is usually disturbing. It generates trillions of dollars in its account but it does not have a balance account because of this same problem. So partly because of the high cost of governance, the US which generates so much usually has a balance sheet that is in the red. But because there is so much economic activity in the US, the country is surviving. But that is not the case in Nigeria because Nigeria does not have that kind of economic base, to generate enough economic activity that would make it easy for anybody to lend us money. So, the best way to start is for Nigeria to reduce the high cost of spending. Recurrent expenditure is too high in Nigeria. So, Okorocha is right. We can start from the top to reduce the expenditure, not only by reducing the number of federal lawmakers; my opinion is that we should reduce the number of houses. There is no need of having the Senate and the House of Representatives. We should have just one legislative House at the federal level. Anybody elected to the National Assembly can be a senator. That is one. The second thing is that the salary of our lawmakers is too high. Compared to anywhere in the world, their salary is too high, higher than that of the United States of America. So, we can reduce the number of houses and the salary of our lawmakers.

Pearce, who is also a PDP chieftain and former governorship aspirant also suggested other ways of meeting up with the countrys economic and socio-political needs. Let me add here that economic survival, economic growth is not achieved only by reducing cost. It is achieved also by making more money. Nigeria should think of how to increase its earning power. As we are reducing the cost of governance we should focus on how to make more money in this economy. Nigeria depends only on oil, but oil is not only a wasting asset, it also fluctuates. So, it does not make sense to depend only on such asset. If we have restructuring of economy as we have argued all these years so that each state can develop its God-given resources instead of the federal government putting all these into exclusive list, Nigeria will develop. Ondo State sitting on the 3rd largest deposit of bitumen in the world and is still poor and Nigeria is poor. But if you allow it to develop and utilize it, to have direct access to investors from all over the world, the whole of the Southwest and Nigeria would be better off for it. The same thing goes for the Northeast, Northwest, etc. We have more mineral deposits in the North than the South. We have gold, phosphate Uranium. The Southeast of Nigeria is sitting on the 9th largest deposit of natural gas in the world. Can you imagine what we can do with that? We already know how richly endowed in oil the South-south is. So, the whole of the country is well endowed. If we restructure our economy we would make more money and take care of our economic needs.

But the National Chairman of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, in his reaction said Okorochas suggestion is more of grandstanding. He told The Nation on Friday that what Nigeria needs is a unicameral legislature. The single House we need is the House of Representatives which is more representative in nature. Besides that, what everybody has been advocating is that federal lawmakers should render that service on part time basis, he said.

On why he dismissed Okorochas proposal as mere grandstanding, Okorie said, He knows the senators cannot do what he was telling them to do. He knows the senators cannot make a law that will reduce their number. What we know the senators for is to pad budgets so as to increase their take home. Besides, Okorocha knows that what is suggesting requires constitutional amendment and that it takes time. If he is serious, he should have proposed a private member bill on this matter and see how far it would go.

I think what senators should do right now is while considering this years budget to show Nigerians how much sacrifice they would make for the sake of the country. They are about to take N15billion for this year alone. How much are they willing to sacrifice in terms of the huge salaries and the large number of aides they have. That is a more practical area to start reduction of high cost of governance instead of grandstanding on what will certainly require prolonged constitutional amendment, he said.

Even before this renewed interest in the need to reduce cost of governance, Nigerians have over the years agreed that something has to be done to reduce the huge overhead. That urge has never waned. Recently, a coalition of civic groups dragged the Senate to court for deciding to spend billions of naira to purchase new cars for its members amidst the tough economic situation and lean resource of government. This sentiment, according to Dr. Francis Ukaegbu is an accumulation of peoples resentment of the type of governance that seems to take everything for the few and leaves nothing for the majority poor. It is a system that must be changed because it is no longer popular here in Nigeria.

It would be recalled that in a detailed report, Professor Anya O. Anya had warned the Federal Government some years ago that the country was spending over 70 per cent of its total revenue on public administration. Of the balance of 30 per cent, which should go to capital projects, at least 15 per cent is lost through policy slippages and widespread public corruption. Large bureaucracies tend to provide more opportunity for graft and public corruption. They constrain growth. It can, in the circumstances, be seen why vital infrastructure projects, such as roads and electricity supply cannot be executed in the country.

Making reference to Anyas report, Dapo Fafowora in a recent contribution, wrote: Nigeria runs 37 separate governments, consisting of the federal and state governments, one of the largest in the world. At the federal level, the president is constitutionally obliged to appoint a minister from each of the 36 states, plus Abuja. In effect, he has to appoint 37 ministers. This constitutional provision should be reviewed. At the state level, the situation is pretty much the same. The governors are constitutionally obliged to appoint not fewer than 12 commissioners. But in actual fact, at both levels, the president and governors find a way of circumventing even these large constitutional limits by adding a coterie of special advisers and other numerous idle aides. In addition, the country has to run over 700 local governments with the same overstaffing as the federal and state governments. When you factor in the vast expenditure on the National Assembly, it is a prescription for economic and financial disaster at all levels of government.

The United States, the most powerful and richest country in the world, has a comparatively slimmer and more cost effective bureaucracy than Nigeria. It has less than 20 federal ministries and secretaries of state (equivalent to our own ministers). The British cabinet is smaller than that of Nigeria. And spending on the public service in Britain is undergoing savage cuts currently to reduce the cost of running the country. I can only think of two or three countries that, because of their huge size, have larger bureaucracies than Nigeria. But despite the huge size of its bureaucracy, top heavy with an inverted pyramid structure, Nigeria really does not have an effective public administration. This accounts for its poor budget implementation. Its bureaucracy remains weak, incompetent, and ineffective. A slimmer bureaucracy is likely to be more effective in implementing the governments economic programmes and easier to control.

Even critical government agencies have publicly expressed interest in the reduction of cost of governance. One of such agencies is the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). The Acting Chairman of the commission, Shettima Abba-Gana, who stated this in Abuja during the National Policy and Development Summit jointly organised by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Policy Development and Analysis and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, early this year said the cost of governance could be minimised by reducing the executive structure of the optimum cabinet, limiting the number of political appointees and aides, merging and rationalising government agencies with similar functions and adhering strictly to approved remuneration of political and public office holders.

Abba-Gana, in a presentation titled, Interrogating the change agenda: Challenges and lessons learnt in the implementation of the Federal Governments change agenda, said the high cost of governance in Nigeria was caused by the expensive nature of the presidential system of government, large bureaucracyduplication of government ministries, departments and agencies and endemic corruption.

He added that other factors were the high cost of public service delivery due to infrastructure failure, high-security costs as a result of insurgencies, kidnappings, ethnoreligious agitations and armed robbery, multiple salaries and severance allowances; extravagant activities and expenditures, high domestic and foreign debts and weak enforcement institutions.

To consolidate the change agenda gains of the revenue collecting agencies, the RMAFC recommends a comprehensive review of the 1993 Production Sharing Contracts and the introduction of initiatives to stem down pipeline vandalism as well as crude and product losses in order to increase production to maximise benefits from production.

Granting of waivers and concessions should be carefully implemented. The Mining and Inspectorate Division of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development should be upgraded to a full-fledged agency for the purpose of improving the collection of solid mineral revenue.

The FIRS and NCS, being the major non-oil revenue collecting agencies, must improve their performance to move the country away from over-reliance on oil revenues, he said.

Other Nigerians, experts and researchers agree that the cost of governance in Nigeria has become unbearable have therefore commented on the need to do something urgently to save Nigeria.

For Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, the Senate the Senate should be scrapped in order to save cost and reduce financial burden on the government.

The governor suggested the adoption of Stephen Orosaye report which recommended the merging of federal governments agencies that perform similar functions in order to save the countrys resources and ensure effectiveness.

According to him, the type of legislative system that would be more productive for Nigeria in this current economic situation is a unicameral legislature.

As he puts it, We do need to look at the size of government in Nigeria and I am an advocate of a unicameral legislature. What we really need is the House of Representatives, because that is what represents.

You have three senators from little Ekiti and you have three senators from Lagos State.

Its a no-brainer that its unequal, I guess the principle is not proportionality but that if you are a state, you get it automatically.

But I think that we can do away with that. There are several things that we can do away within the government, he said, adding, the Oronsaye report that proposed mergers of several Ministries Departments and Agencies that are doing the same thing is something that the government should pay serious attention to and reduce the resources being expended on them.

In a recent article, Reducing cost of governance in Nigeria, Ojeveiome E Otobo, a non-resident senior expert at the Global Governance Institute, Brussels, and Oseloka H Obaze, a public policy expert and MD/CEO Selonnes Consult Ltd., took the same position when they said Nigeria suffers from democratic overload. Governance expenses are hugely disproportional to its developmental strides and democracy dividends. This is reflected in the high recurrent expenditure relative to the capital expenditure at the federal, state and local government levels. Since the return to civil rule in 1999, the share of recurrent expenditure in the federal budget has hovered slightly above 70 per cent and accounted for 78 per cent of 2018 federal revenue. It was not always thus.

According to them, Nigeria had relatively lean governance structures under first civilian administration in the post-Independence era as well as under the military regimes, which were marked by conspicuous absence of bloated parliamentary structures. While military regimes are aberrations and cannot serve as a useful model for assessing governance costs, tackling the problem of high cost of governance requires a deep understanding of its genesis.

The prevailing high cost of governance in Nigeria is attributable to both structural and operational factors. The structural factors include a pervasive mentality of national cake sharing; the federalisation of several standards, in particular as it relates to payment of wages, salaries and pension entitlements; constitutional principles mandating the application of federal character or ethnic balance; the high level of pensions for some elected officers codified into law; the huge number of institutions provided in the Constitution and several national legislations; the inability of most states to meet their recurrent expenditures from internally generated revenue despite federal government bailout; and the bourgeoning cost of campaign financing a sectoral expense poised to outpace public administrative costs.

As a way of proffering solution they said, A thorough review of the current structure and functions of ministries, departments, commissions and parastatals at the federal and state level is required. At the federal level, such an effort has been made. This is reflected in the findings of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalising of Federal Governmental Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies. The failure to act on the recommendations of this panel explains the persisting high cost of governance at the federal level. Cognizant that constitutionally created institutions will be difficult to fold up or merge, the same cannot be said of governance bodies created by decrees or executive fiat. What is needed is the political will and commitment to implement the recommendations in that report and initiate actions on other measures herein proposed. The growing resort to borrowing to cover the cost of recurrent expenditure and the increasing debt service burden are warning signals for the political leadership at all levels to act fast to ensure that Nigeria does not fall off the fiscal cliff and plunge into a debt peonage.

Also in a research work, Democracy and Cost of Governance in Nigeria, Agu, Osmond Chigozie shared the same view and said the cost of governance in Nigeria has greatly increased due to unnecessary increase in the number of government agencies, high number of Commissioners, Special Advisers, Special Assistants and Personal Assistants, jumbo pay of political office holders, payroll fraud as a result of ghost workers, high number of official vehicles irrespective of the monetization policy of the government, incessant foreign trips, existence of security vote and extra-budgetary expenditure. Thus, questioning the cost minimization strategies and revenue assurance mechanisms in the States. Similarly, the trend of Extra-Budgetary Expenditure put to question the implementation of budgets at the States.

The researcher concluded that the task of reducing cost of governance for revenue assurance at states level does not rest on the executive, legislature and judiciary alone. It is a task demanding the collective effort of all stakeholders, and recommends that there is the need to reduce recurrent expenditure to sustainable level through reducing waste, inefficiency, corruption and duplication in government, as well as, make capital spending more effective.

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