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Enthroning efficiency in the civil service – Part 1


civil-serviceLet’s start and see what an efficient bureaucratic civil service and university should be like. The examinations leading to admission should all be held on the same day throughout the federation. The results will be posted on a day to be announced, so that everyone knows. Admission to the universities based on the results to be announced the same day throughout the federation. Universities will have to publish their calendars at the beginning of each session. Those to be granted accommodation at which halls of residence will also be announced and everyone would know. Graduation days will also be published by the universities and graduates given their degrees on the day of graduation.

Meanwhile, those who want their transcripts should give notice and all should be ready within four weeks. All administrative charges to be collected on due date so that no graduate or past student would have anything to do with the examination and records office so far as transcripts are concerned.

This system is to be replicated in the secondary and primary schools; it has been done before. Our primary schools were run efficiently by the missions or local governments or even private ones like Corona. There was no messing about with regards to dates of examination, homework, discipline, cleanliness, etc. When students went to Ibadan University, their halls of residence were clearly determined, they checked in and started classes at due time on due date. Our higher school certificate (HSC) or ‘A’ level results were published in the government gazette on the day promised. The minister of education should gird his loins and get to work, through the National Universities Commission (NUC), and all other auxiliary organisations under him.

A strict Principal, a strict Headmaster, a strict Vice-chancellor, Dean, Heads of Department, these are the building blocks of a good education system. Moreover, can you imagine? What kudos it will give the government and the minister for people to know that this is a fair and no-nonsense administration. Such discipline could be replicated in the Armed Forces not ruling through fear but ruling with discipline and fairness. None fears justice except the guilty. If it is clear what would happen to you if you fail to meet the standards as a Headmaster, Principal, and VC etc, no one would even have the courage to appeal when a case has been so patently hopeless. I would not go to intercede for my own children when they knowingly break the rules.

Once you enthrone efficiency and transparency, corruption runs away .The trick is not to relent; once you do, corruption is back. If corruption is to be substantially reduced in the National Assembly, transparency must be enthroned, salaries of all National Assembly members in the last four years before the last
elections including all allowances – constituency ,travel, estacode etc., year by year, person by person should be published and made public.

The freedom of information Act is a law in Nigeria but the National Assembly seems determined to frustrate it when it comes to releasing their salaries, allowances and other emoluments. If we taught the National Assembly to obey its own laws, it will earn the respect of those who elected them. But if, as it is now obvious, they do not want to release information so basic and easily obtainable in all the internet search machines, why should anyone respect them?

The pursuit of efficiency must be the guiding principle of the civil service. The President complained that his budget was mangled by civil servants. Sacking of Vice-Chancellors and University Councils was a mistake; again the President apologised and blamed the civil service for wrong advice. In the old civil service, the Cabinet Office and Cabinet Secretariat prepared all council memoranda including the Budget and circulated them well before the Wednesday Federal Council Meetings (only the Budget memos were circulated on the day of the meeting). The old Cabinet Office had an office called the End Room, full of confidential secretaries who must finish the Wednesday Council meeting minutes that night and circulate the conclusions of the Cabinet minutes by 8a.m. on Thursday.

The Governor of the Central Bank brought the balance sheet of the nation every morning at 7:30. He brought it in person and briefed the Head of State/President on how the Nigeria economy stood every morning. The Civil Service had giants like C. O. Lawson, Abdul Attah, Joe Iyalla, Alison Ayida, Philip Asiodu, Ime Ebong, Gorbi etc. These were men of calibre, professional, unafraid and gave the best advice any Government could want.

The President’s problems with his Budget would not have risen where there is an efficient civil service. Budget is usually the result of complicated and prolonged negotiations between and among ministries, what can be accommodated or given priority, within revenue and even within an ideological stand. For example, a Presidency that believes in a balanced budget or one that encourages savings and a surplus budget.

These negotiations were carried out between ministries, their results forwarded to Aso Rock to check on what was electorally promised and what was practicable. Thereafter, it goes back to Finance and the sub-committees of the National Assembly for further discussion until some version of a compromise is reached. Sometimes the so-called constituency projects i.e the items the National Assembly put in the Budget may be problematic. If they were not in tune with the Executive’s wishes or if the National Assembly removes matters dear to the Executive, negotiations continue until an accommodation is found. That accommodation cannot be part of the budget unless it gets Executive approval even if reluctantly done.

There would be no case in which the Executive and his ministers will publicly disown a Budget on the basis that it had been doctored by civil servants or anyone else. The Executive has a lot of leeway so far as the Budget is concerned even after it has been passed. Economic conditions may deteriorate such that the budget cannot be implemented as presented. Or, there may be a surplus and the executive needs more money and would go for further appropriations. The Executive may ignore parts of the budget or do part implementation. But a wise Executive does not resort to such tactics, because it may lead to impeachment. At that point, the stakes have gone so high, communication has broken down and a crisis is being played out.
To be continued.
•Ambassador Cole is a Consultant to The Guardian Editorial Board.

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