By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Kaduna State governor-elect, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai yesterday advocated structural and systemic reforms of the Nigerian civil service and the adoption of a zero-budget system among others as key issues to be implemented if the incoming administration must succeed.
El-Rufai who spoke on the second day of the policy dialogue organized by the All Progressives Congress, APC called for the abrogation of the permanent secretary cadre in the civil service asserting it to be an aberration in the presidential system operated in Nigeria.
El-Rufai who accused the outgoing administration of maintaining a culture of greed and corruption that turned it into a master in destroying every good legacy it inherited, further affirmed that the administration was handing over the worst human development indices any government would ever pass on to a successor.
El-Rufai spoke on the topic “Governance and Improving Efficiency in Public Service” which was subsequently discussed by former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Steve Oransonye, the Director-General, Bureau of Public Service Reforms, Dr. Joe Abah and his predecessor in the bureau, Dr. Goke Adegoronye. The session was moderated by the former Lead, Public Sector Management Specialists at the World Bank, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun.
While urging the incoming administration to streamline the civil service and eliminate the permanent secretary cadre, El-Rufai, a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, said in running a zero budgeting system, every ministry and institution of government must justify its expenditure and by that enthroning transparency and accountability in the public service.
“We must operate a zero-based budgeting system. Let us dump the PDP budget of saying every government agency must justify every penny it wants to spend, because what often happens is that every year they take the budget of last year and reduce or increase the number so if we do that as APC we are implementing PDP budget.
“We must draw a line and say no more, let every agency justify every penny from personnel cost, how many people do you have? What are their salaries? Why are you paying them this salary? If it is recorded we would know why you are taking more tea than in any other country in the world?
“Why do your vehicles consume more petrol than all the vehicles in Kaduna State? We must ask this question and start the budgeting cycle now; it has to be zero based. In Kaduna that is what we are doing, I am not going to even look at the budget that is there, we are going to do a budget from 30 May.
“Permanent secretaries in a presidential system of government are abnormal. There is nothing like permanent secretaries. We learned that nomenclature because we came from colonial tradition and some permanent secretaries that have refused to disappear still exist. If there is one, show me who is a permanent secretary in the US.
“A permanent secretary is a deputy minister. It is a political appointee. He should even be cleared by the Senate. So, let us stop all these things about permanent secretary and so on. The highest level in the civil service in a presidential system of government is director.
“The moment you move from director, the civil service career has ended and you enter into the political realm and you will be treated like a politician. They don’t want to hear it. But it is the truth and I hope the APC government will streamline it.”
Giving details of the public expenditure by government institutions, the governor-elect said that unless the incoming administration made drastic decisions, the road to success would still be far.
“In the 2007 budget, we budgeted 600 billion naira for personnel cost. This is now 1.8 trillion which increased three times. In 2007, the National Assembly budget was N59 billion, today it moved to N150 billion by 2010 and this year, I understand it is about N130 billion. They are feeling ashamed of taking too much. What about fuel subsidy? In 2007, we budgeted about N279 billion for fuel subsidy. In 2009, it moved to N257billion and N2.6 trillion in 2011. In 2014, it was about N1 trillion.
“Now this is a graphic picture of how things have deteriorated in the last five to eight years and I think it is important to put this in perspective because when things go wrong, it is easy to blame those that are there without looking at what legacy they are inheriting.
“What I am trying to say here is APC is inheriting perhaps the worst ever set of human development indices in Nigeria’s history than any government has ever had to face and this change of 2015 arose because of this deterioration actually. People just got tired of this lack of progress and the tendency to go into denials that there were no problems.
“Now our performance as a government will depend on two things; first our political legitimacy and second, the administrative capacity. It is the combination of these two; political legitimacy and second, the administrative capacity that will ensure we succeed or we fail.
“To improve governance, we need to develop political vision, courage, and political will along with enhancing administrative capacity.
“It is clear from what I have described that political leadership provides the vision and will while the public service contributes administrative capacity and it is impossible to succeed without the two.
“The effectiveness of public service is vital to progress and we must all be interested in it. Where is our public service? I want to give you a quick summary of what we found in 2005. Our public service has been perceived as dysfunctional, inefficient, corrupt, lacking administrative capacity and incapable of attracting the best and brightest. Those of us old enough to remember would remember that the best graduates of Oxford University, Cambridge, Ahmadu Bello, and Ibadan University used to join the civil service. Not anymore.
“Our public service is too large. We have 1 million federal employees and between two and three million in states and local governments. So the entire public service in Nigeria is three to four million in size. In 2005, we found that public service was aging. The average age was 43 in a country where 75 percent of the population was below the age of 35.
“The public service was inadequately educated. Seventy percent of public service workers had secondary school leaving certificate compared to UK, China or the US. In China, you need to have a Masters Degree to even attempt the civil service exams but here we have 70 percent with secondary school certificate.
“Our public service is also expensive because it consumes 60 percent and 120 percent of federal, state and local government revenue. In some states like Kano, it was observed that the payroll of the public service was 120 percent of the revenue of the state. Our public service is outdated.
“Less than 5 percent of the public service is computer literate. The poor pay in the public service is also a problem. The pay hardly covers for transportation which accounts for 80 percent of our spending in this country, and finally, there is a complete breakdown of human resource management in the public service and ghost workers account for between 15 and 25 percent.
“Finally because there have been previous reform efforts that have had limited success, there is an inbuilt feeling in the public service when you mention reform or you want to check something, they just wait because they know you will leave in four years. They are there for 35 years. There is a culture of cynicism and change resistance. So, unless you are ready to take really difficult decisions they will just delay you and in four years you are gone and another government starts from where you left.
“I am putting this in perspective because if we are going to have to achieve anything we have to go in with a knife and take drastic actions in the shortest possible time to put things in perspective”, he said.
He put the blame for the bleeding economy squarely on the door post of the outgoing administration, even as he stated that challenges facing the APC administration were enormous.
“So what are the challenges ahead for us? The challenges for us are only five but they are big issues; first is rising governance cost. Jonathan’s legacy of waste, debt, corruption and institutional destruction. One of the things I think Jonathan deserves a Nobel Prize for is the capacity to take functional institutions and destroy them within the shortest period of time.
“Functioning institutions that we left have been destroyed and I don’t know how; it is magic, Jonathanian magic. The second is manifest injustice. We live in a country where 3-4 million people that work for the public service consume about 90 percent of the revenues of the government.
“That is injustice and we must ask ourselves whether that makes sense. We must ask ourselves whether we should live in a country with this kind of perverse prioritization. How can we be spending only 10 percent of the budget on capital expenditure and the entire 10 percent will be borrowed?
“So the entire revenues of the Federal Government are going to be spent on running the Federal Government so that one million people that work for the Federal Government wear nice suits meanwhile we don’t have roads, electricity is not working, no rail system. What kind of people are we?
Proposing solutions to the problems, El-Rufai said:“I have ten points. I am sure they are not exhaustive, but ten is enough. First we need to accelerate implementation of the national ID scheme. Now I am sure you are surprised why I put that as number one but one of the biggest problems we have in this country is tracing wrong doings and criminals.
“People do things and just disappear. People from neighbouring countries come into Nigeria and just take our passports and do things in our name. The national ID card scheme is the most important infrastructure we need not only to identify who is a Nigerian but to count ourselves and eliminate many areas of wrong doings.
“This project has been ongoing forever. In 2006, I was asked to take it over. We did organize; we did the Nigerian Identity Management Commission but it is still ongoing. We need to finish registering all adult Nigerians within the shortest possible time and give them ID cards so that when they do something they can be traced. It is a very important human infrastructure.
“Secondly, we need to review our statues on falsification of records and perjury. Nigeria is the only country where people lie on forms, change their age, do any kind of stuff without any consequence because our statues make it very difficult to convict.
“I don’t think we will make progress because it starts from there. The moment a person feels comfortable about altering records it is even easier to steal and disappear since there is no identification. For us in the APC government if we want to change government we have to do this”, he said
He also called for the overhaul of the NNPC.
“I said NNPC is evil, I mean it. Any organization that can singly bankrupt the country is evil,” he said.
Mr. Orosanye, who was a discussant of the topic, suggested that every law offender must be brought to justice.
“Now if you must make progress you have to identify what the problems are, but if you are in self-denial you can’t make progress. Now talking about promotion; people are put in positions that they can’t not even deliver. There are many abuses in the system one of such is sexual harassment which goes both ways.
“There are people who need to have courage to do the needful and protect when they take the right decision. You will find out that if you do the right thing you may be punished and if you do the wrong thing you have yourself being celebrated.
“I want to suggest that we create a day when we will name and shame people. Let us sanction people, there should be consequences for every action and those in service should also know what obtains outside. We have to know how the market is because we need to build capacity”, he said.