Sanctity of promise on pay cut
A report the other day that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) appeared to have abandoned the downward review of salaries and remuneration of political office holders, which it recommended more than two years ago, is another sad story of significant promises not kept by those who lead Nigeria. Once again, integrity deficit stands out as the signature of the Nigerian elite. And it is sad.
The promised downward review of remuneration of political office holders by the commission followed an outcry by members of the public over fat remuneration packages in the face of tumbling revenues. It was well received well over two years ago when the idea was mooted that those in public office would trim their pay and stop treating themselves so sumptuously at the expense of the people. Sadly, it has turned out to be a political statement not meant to be fulfilled by those concerned. This is one of the reasons many feel that most public officers in Nigeria do not know the meaning of integrity or they know it by its absence in their conduct.
According to paragraph 32 (d) of the Third Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), RMAFC has the power to “determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders, including the president, vice president, governors, ministers, commissioners, special advisers, legislators” and other office holders mentioned in Sections 84 and 124 of the Constitution.
The revenue commission should therefore see the planned pay cut which is in the public interest to its logical conclusion. The public interest will even be better served if the pay cut goes beyond the federal executive branch to the federal and state legislators, as well as the executive branches in the states.
Under the existing package for political office holders, annual take home pay for the President is N14.058 million, the Vice President’s is N12.126 million, that of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) is N7.801 million while Ministers receive N7.6 million. These figures are, however, marginal when compared with the very high allowances and sundry perks of office that they receive. These outrageous allowances are a drain on the economy.
Which was why in 2011, the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, alerted the nation to the fact that about 25 per cent of government’s recurrent overhead was spent on the legislators. Though the percentage was then disputed, what has not been disputed is the spectacle of uneconomic remuneration package for the Nigerian lawmakers who are ironically charged by the constitution to control the power of the nation’s treasury.
It is therefore sad that President Muhammadu Buhari and the RMAFC appear to have artfully dodged the painful surgery needed to instill people’s confidence in the administration.
That is why the argument of the Acting Chairman, RMAFC, Mr. Umar Gana, who said that what had transpired between the time the current remuneration package came into effect and current state of the economy might have taken some steam out of the need to keep the promised review is unacceptable. A building block of trust between the government and the governed is fulfillment of promises to the people.
Even if it appears unrealistic to call for a downward review of remuneration of political office holders in view of new economic realities, the people should be carried along and told to bear with the promise makers.
Indeed, appropriate strategies should be adopted by the government to reduce the already high cost of governance rather than hang on only to the cheap popularity of the token gesture of downward review of remuneration of political office holders. What is more, there has been so much opaqueness in the reward system of the political office holders, notably the federal and state legislators. The trouble therefore may not be with the official packages but the perks they share as constituency allowances and cost of running the committees system in the legislature. All these should be looked into.
All told, the ruling authorities should understand the turbulent economic times Nigeria is in at the moment. Even the peculiarity of dwindling income from oil and Nigeria’s huge import dependence call for prudence and all that can be mustered to reduce cost of governance.
This journey to prudence will even be helped by the implementation of the Steve Oronsaye-led committee’s report, which had since 2014 recommended the merger of several government agencies to reduce the cost of governance. There are other many serious matters of waste in the same Oronsaye report and white paper no serious government should ignore.
Once again, the core issue in the circumstance is that public officers should be mindful of their words while making promises to the people. Their words should be their bond and nothing erodes authority faster than integrity deficit.
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