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N1.2b bonus demand as test for govt’s fiscal reponsibility compliance level

By Chijioke Nelson
29 June 2016   |   3:43 am
Stakeholders from the financial sector and civil society groups have said that government’s ability to stick to the rules of Fiscal Responsibility Act in the implementation of 2016 budget stands...

Kemi Adeosun

Stakeholders from the financial sector and civil society groups have said that government’s ability to stick to the rules of Fiscal Responsibility Act in the implementation of 2016 budget stands to be tested with the emergence of frivolities in and out of the fiscal document.

Besides, they said that the ongoing protest by the workers of the Ministry of Finance over bonus and special overtime allowances estimated at N1.2 billion, which were not part of conditions for engagements and presently not captured in the budget, will serve as a litmus test in government’s compliance level to FRA.

The ministry recently floated Efficiency Unit, with the mandate to scrutinise activities and budget spendings as a foil to assessed wastages of public fund, which had some of the protesting workers as its enforcement officers.

President Muhammadu Buhari, since the inception of this administration, has continuously preached fiscal discipline, especially with the full-blown breakout of the ongoing financial crisis.

The nation’s treasury watchdog under the leadership of Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had at the World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in April, said fiscal discipline would help Nigeria achieve economic stability and perhaps, a promise to global investment community, as a confidence boosting strategy.

A top government official in the fiscal space who pleaded anonymity had confided in The Guardian that the lock-out by the workers was not only unnecessary, since they are agitating for what is not constitutional, but dangerous, because the period of the action would have caused non-payment or delayed salary.

Adeosun, who said that her promise to Nigerians to enshrine fiscal responsibility in government dealings was like a bond, added: “The money we spend is not our money, it belongs to the Nigerian people. We need to justify every naira and at a time when all Nigerians are suffering the consequences of the financial crisis inherited from previous administrations, we simply cannot afford to pay out special bonuses to civil servants. Those days are gone.”

She said that all salaries and lawful allowances are paid on time and in full, emphasising that the overtime allowance sought by some staff is non-statutory and that such culture was carried over from the immediate past administration, which cannot continue, especially at such austere time.

“The sum of N1.2 billion computed by the staff union for payment could not have been budgeted for in 2016 in the first place, not only because of the paucity of funds, but also the fact that the SOT allowance was not part of the remuneration in the Federal Public Service,” she had said.

The Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said that frivolities have hallmarked the nation’s budget documents over the years and such claim by the ministry’s workers might not be the exception.

“If what they are agitating for is part of the rule for civil service engagements and captured in the budget, they should be paid, but if otherwise, no matter what pressure they come with, they should be ignored.

“We have been campaigning against duplications in the budget items, wastages and frivolities. Who knows what budget lines that such bonuses and allowances were previously captured from which they withdraw the funds and distribute among themselves. The demands must be well scrutinized,” he said.

So far, there are indications that no federal civil servant civil servant is being owed, even the protesting workers, despite the biting revenue profile of the government. Still, no civil service redundancies have been implemented.

For Jide Ojo, the Executive Director of Abuja-based OJA Development Consult, the lock out of the Minister of Finance by the protesting staff of the Federal Ministry of Finance and some parastatals under it is regretable.

According to him, the action is an affront to constituted authority and shows lack of tact and decorum by the bureaucrats, although the workers have the right to protest but such should have been after exhausting all avenues of resolving the issues through dialogue.

The ministry’s Director Information, Salisu Na’inna Dambatta, said that the workers union did not seek audience with the minister prior to their embarking on the protest, which should have been the first reasonable step to take.

But impeding the holding of Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), leading to the postponement of the important forum was also a course of self-inflicted pain, although it was averted.

The workers were asking for trainings, performance allowance and special overtime, not being owed backlog of salaries like many of their counterparts in states civil service.

According to Dambatta, the payment of “Special Overtime (SOT),” which the workers were demanding was stopped by the previous administration in 2014 on the ground that it was not listed in any extant government circular, financial regulations or the public service rules.

Besides, he noted that the N1.2 billion claims computed by the staff union for payment could not have been budgeted for in 2016 in the first place, not only because of the paucity of funds, but also because the SOT allowance was not part of the remuneration in the federal public service.

“Much as everyone wants more money, the staff should not expect the federal government to continue a practice which was established by the rules of the thumb without appropriate legal backing. Is it also allowed under civil service rules for each MDAs to determine its own allowances? More so, the staffers are aware that government at all levels has been trying to reduce cost of governance and as such some of the wastages and leakages in the system are being cut off.

“It is in the same Ministry of Finance that the Minister set up Efficiency Unit, which is advising the Federal Government on areas it could reduce waste. It is on record that the Unit has issued circular that no public servant would be allowed to fly First Class when on official assignment.

“The Unit has also reduced by 65 per cent the meals allowance due to civil servants from the current N13,000 to about N4,500. Even as at the time immediate past Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala declared austerity measures in November 2014, she had placed ban on international travels and trainings for civil servants’” Ojo said.

Okonjo-Iweala had said that “foreign travel will have to be funded by those inviting civil or public servants and all expenses paid by the inviting body. Same goes for training. Local training will be encouraged, but expenses for foreign training will be borne by inviting foreign host with permission sought from Head of Service (HoS).”

Recently, the Federal Government have similarly banned medical tourism for civil servants except for ailments that cannot be treated in Nigeria. “I empathise and sympathise with the workers, however, they should know that we are in unusual times with very lean resources at government’s disposal. They should see the stoppage of the trainings and allowances as part of the wider reform of cutting down the cost of governance,” he added.

The minister therefore, said that while she is determined to end the ongoing impasse over bonus and allowance, the labour unions should propose modalities that would increase revenue generation and the structure to pay the bonuses.

She warned of a grave impact on all Nigerians and consequent delay of the payment of salary should there be a further lock-out.According to her, the administration is now faced with borrowing to ensure adequate payment of the monthly civil service bill of N165 billion, which she described as commitment and sacrifice to their course.

Pointing out that many people across the country are now struggling to find work, with some losing theirs, while civil servants in many states are not getting their salaries, she urged her ministry workers to be grateful for getting their salaries on consistent basis and work together to get the whole economy back on its feet.

While she expressed understanding for their demand for additional bonuses, based on their past dealings with the previous administration, the minister has reiterated that she does not have any power to pay N1.2 billion, especially the one that is not in the budget.