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Tracking the cost of governance

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…How Federal, State Governments Squander Scarce Resources At The Expense Of Development
President Muhammadu Buhari jolted Nigerians penultimate Wednesday when he declared that it was wrong for Nigerians to perceive the National Assembly as being “highly overpaid” for doing little. The president, who spoke during the House of Representatives’ launch of The Green Chamber Magazine, a publication by the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, had said: “Hitherto, the public perception of the National Assembly is that of a bicameral legislature where overly comfortable and highly-overpaid members merely stuff wads of currency notes into their pockets for little work done. This wrong perception has resulted partly from the lack of understanding of the enormous work of lawmakers, especially outside the glare of television cameras.”

A lot of Nigerians who were hoping that President Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), would initiate steps to scale down the cost of governance in the country were indeed taken aback by that statement, given that the president had in the past postured as a leader who wanted a less costly governance style for the country.

Recall that on assumption of office on May 29, 2015, he announced a 50 per cent salary cut, likewise his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. Also at the onset of his administration, Buhari rejected a proposal for the purchase of five armoured Mercedes cars valued at N400 million for his use. Also in October 2016, he ordered the sale of two presidential aircraft, a Falcon 7x executive jet and Hawker 4000 to save costs.

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“When he campaigned to be President, the then APC candidate Muhammadu Buhari, if you recall, promised to look at the Presidential Air Fleet with a view to cutting down on waste. His directive to a government committee on this assignment is that he liked to see a compact and reliable aircraft for the safe airlift of the President, the Vice President and other government officials that go on special missions,” Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, had explained.

Thus, Buhari’s tacit endorsement of the jumbo salary and allowances of the lawmakers against the outcry of Nigerians came as a surprise to many political observers. Last April, the President signed the Minimum Wage Repeal and Enactment Act, 2019, which made it mandatory for employers of labour in both public and private organisations to pay N30,000 as minimum wage. The Act took effect on the very day it was signed by the president but it took another six months before the Federal Government and Labour could finally agree on the percentage increase on the consequential adjustment in workers salaries as a result of the new wage over claims of inadequate of funds.

In March 2018, however, the senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, had revealed that he and his colleagues receive N13.5 million monthly as “running cost.” Sani said that the running cost does not include a N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances which they also receive.

“I think what we can say is that the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million every month,” Sani said, adding that there was no specification on what the funds was meant for but each lawmaker was mandated to provide receipts to back up their expenses.

“What I am saying is that that money (N13.5 million per month) must be receipted for what you do with it. But what you are given to go and spend without any accountability is N750,000.”

Sani had also revealed that every senator was entitled to N200 million constituency fund for constituency projects.

“The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost every senator will go with a constituency fund of about N200 million, but it is not the cash that is given to you. You will be told that you have N200 million with an agency of government for which you will now submit projects equivalent to that amount. And it is that agency of government that will go and do those projects for you. Now, the corruption comes when the projects are not done and the money is taken.”

Sani, however, said he would “love a situation where we do away with running costs, constituency projects and leaves senators and members of House of Reps with salaries.”

Because the lawmakers had shielded their earnings from public glare despite repeated demands by various stakeholders, tumultuous outcry greeted Sani’s revelation.

Former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Suleiman, had in his reaction urged the relevant government agencies to take urgent steps to reduce the remunerations and bring it in tandem with the current realities.

“I will agree that it is not the decision of the National Assembly to decide what they earn. But in the spirit of fairness and considering the situation in the country, senators and members of the House of Representatives should passionately meet the executive to review their remunerations.

“Considering the situation in the country and the fact that the price of oil in the international market has gone down, I think they should reduce it. That money is too outrageous. It’s too killing and it does not make sense. During my days as a minister, I didn’t go home with up to N1 million every month.

“If a minister does not earn that in one month, I don’t think lawmakers should earn it. The N1 million I am talking about, my housing allowance was included. Something should be done about the pay and done urgently too.”

Sagay

In an interview with The Guardian last month, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), described the earnings of Nigerian politicians particularly that of the lawmakers as immoral.

“What our government officials are earning, particularly the legislature, is immoral. It’s outrageous. Officially they are earning about N15 million a month. The way they deceive us is that their salary is under N1 million but under allowances, there are over 15 items that will bring it to about N15 million a month. That is there. Then constituency projects, they are milking it. Budget padding is also there. All sorts of things! If you want to go for oversight duties, you demand that the host you are going to examine will provide the funds for you to do the job. I mean are you not compromised?

“Nevertheless, I have found that as far as that is concerned, there is no difference between PDP and APC legislators. They are united when it comes to money. They are so solidly united that even the most radical, most liberal and most socially oriented among them are involved in this money thing. That’s a problem,” he said.

Sagay, in the interview, hinted that President Buhari might not be able to achieve a downward review of the lawmakers’ jumbo earnings, stressing: “What can the government do? These are people whom you need to pass your legislation. To what extent can you try to strangulate them from having money if you want your programmes to go through? It’s a big dilemma. So, the only way is really to find a way of pricking their consciences for them to agree that what they are doing is wrong; that Nigeria, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, should not have one of the highest paid legislators in the world. It’s a dilemma and we all acknowledge it.”

So, does Buhari’s endorsement imply that the fat salaries and allowances of Nigerian lawmakers have come to stay? The outcome of the planned review of the remuneration of political office holders by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC) would answer the question. Recall that the Chairman of RMFAC, Mr Elias Mbam, said recently that the commission had started preliminary work on the exercise, noting that the pay package of political office holders could go up or down after the process.

Aside from the vexed issue of jumbo pay, the lawmakers also allocate funds to themselves for the purchase of official vehicles and other frivolities. For instance, the House of Representatives recently resolved to acquire about 400 Toyota Camry 2020 model for members estimated at N5.4 billion.

Nonetheless, the problem of frivolous spending of public funds by public servants to the detriment of capital development is not limited to the legislative arm at the federal level alone. The executive arm is also amply culpable. At the state level, some governors indulge the lawmakers with all kinds of incentives in a bid to have their way at all times. They embark on near endless appointment of aides who are paid and maintained from public funds all in a bid to reward loyal party members. The following reports from across the state exposes some of these tendencies and the citizens’ perception of such.

Cross River: Resident Knock Ayade Over Bogus Appointees
From Agosi Todo, Calabar

In Cross River State, even though the Governor Ben Ayade administration has not commissioned any landmark project since inception on May 29, 2015, the administration has almost 500 political appointees on its payroll. Just last week, the House of Assembly approved another 70 appointments while the state workforce is about 19,000.

This is not minding the fact that the administration has been living on loans that might prove difficult for the state to sustain in the near future. In the first half of 2019, a report from the Debt Management Office (DMO) showed that Cross River owed $192.73 million foreign debt while domestic debt was put at N168.82 billion. Barely a week ago, after so much drama, the state House of Assembly gave the government an approval to secure additional N35 billion loan from three commercial banks in the country. With this new approval, it is expected that the total indebtedness of the state would come to N181 billion from N146 billion.

Two weeks ago, the Secretary to the State Government, Tina Agbor, had in a letter dated January 14 to the Assembly observed that, “in line with the desire to make Cross River State an industrialised state, government has approached the United Bank for Africa (UBA) for a loan facility of N15 billion for developmental and allied projects in the State,’’ adding that, “the facility is offered for 120 month tenure at an interest rate of 15 per cent per annum.”

Some concerned residents wondered why the governor would keep bogus appointees despite the dire financial position of the state.

One of the residents, Demion Uche, accused the governor of reducing governance to caricature by his actions.

“To make matter worst, Ayade has reduced governance to a huge joke and comedy as indicated in the appointments of retinue of political office holders and aides in both the state, senatorial district and local government levels. He recently unleashed terror on the state-crunched economy with the appointment of 1,106 aides which when added with the existing 800 would take his tally to 1,906. The categories include Personal Assistants, Special Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Special Advisers and Commissioners. He ridiculously appointed people to some boards and agencies that have no legislative backings, for instance, Maize, Banana and Cassava Development Agencies.

“Apart from duplication of offices, he also appointed members and chairmen to some non-existing commissions. For instance, board of Cross River State Seaport Authority, Portside Authority, Wharf Etc. All these commissions are not seen anywhere in the state. The state House Assembly which is obligated to question this is a rubber stamp to the governor,” he said.

Another resident, Benjamin Abang, said: “When the President said it was wrong for Nigerians to think that the National Assembly were being highly over paid, one begins to wonder if all the incomes that enter into the Federal Government’s coffer should be paid to political appointees when there are other areas some of the money can be channeled to like the infrastructural development of the country so that the citizens can benefit.

“I believe that the high cost of governance should have been reduced by now. But what we are seeing especially in Cross River State is quite high because you have a governor who as we speak is still giving appointment to people and already, his appointment is going up to 500. You wonder where he is going to get the money to pay all these people. Civil servants are there; their salaries have not been increased. Those that were promoted from level 10 to 12 are still on that same salary scale; labour is threatening to go on strike over new minimum wage and you are still appointing every day. No! It is not called for.

“We expected that by now, he would have reduced the size of governance by trimming down the number of his aides to a sizeable number that can be managed so that he can save money for other things. When the federal allocation comes in and you add it to the meagre internally generated revenue, by the time you pay civil servants and appointees, what will be left? Nothing!

“I want to use this medium to call on the state governor to cut down the number of appointees. From what we are seeing, the House of Assembly has just approved another 70 advisers in addition to the ones that have been approved before. So, where is he heading? He still has projects that he has not completed. He should focus on some of these projects and commission them. Cross Riverians believe that his second term should be focused on commissioning of projects.

“If you look at members of the House of Assembly, I think they were better off during the administrations of Donald Duke and Liyel Imoke. Looking at the welfare of the House of Assembly members under Ayade, they are like mere appointees to him because we have heard them threatening to go on strike because their overheads or sitting allowances were not being paid and all of that. So, if they are well taken care of in line with what they are supposed to get, I think they can also meet up with the expectation of their constituents.”

Nigeria Spending Too Much On Governance, Plateau Residents Insist
From Isa Abdusalami, Jos

A public affairs commentator in Plateau State, Dr. Ismail Mustapha, has described the phenomenon where the members of the National Assembly receive fat salaries with the backing of the presidency as very unfortunate.

Mustapha told The Guardian that it was very clear that the way Nigeria operates its democracy or presidential system was too expensive in terms of cost implications.

According to him, “that is the more reason Nigerians are calling for a constitution review to reduce the tenure of the legislators to a part-time business. Allowances should only be paid based on the number of times the legislators sit for business or carry out oversight functions.”

Speaking specifically about Plateau State, Mustapha said that the cost of managing the 24 lawmakers in the state House of Assembly was very high.

He noted that the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and federal allocations to the state have been so meagre since the restoration of democratic governance almost 21 years ago, decrying that the huge chunk of the money was spent on maintaining the House of Assembly members.

“The immediate past administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under Senator Jonah Jang as the governor tried to have some physical infrastructure but the House of Assembly tried to divert the governor’s attention to itself, thereby stifling the government if it did not listen to the members. The cost of maintaining the House of Assembly and the political appointees is too high.

“Huge chunk of money is spent to maintain the state assembly. When the 8th Assembly was inaugurated, new vehicles were purchased at high costs and given to each of the lawmakers apart from constituency and oversight allowances. The state government recently purchased new cars, Jeeps and Hilux Vans for principal officers and members of the 9th Assembly which gulped millions of naira,” Mustapha explained.

He said that the 24 constituencies in the state where the 24 house members come from were yearning for development as they suffer infrastructural decay.

Also speaking in the same vein, the Director, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), North Central, Comrade Aluko Steve-Daniel, said that the cost of governance in the country was wasteful and unaccountable, adding that it does not encourage development.

Steve-Daniel said that what was lacking was “acceptable standard in devolution of more investible powers to the different tiers of government to freely participate in areas of their economic advantage that will encourage healthy competition, and to run compact or e-governance.”

He advised government at all levels in the country to reduce the number of political offices and appointments, adding that the National Assembly should be part-time and be placed on allowances and not salaries.

Abia Is Poor In Capital Devt., Good At Rewarding Politicians, Say Residents
From Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia

Many residents of Abia State have described the cost of governance in the state as high. They hinged their verdict on the amount of the state’s resources being expended on elected and appointed political office holders comprising state lawmakers, local council officials, commissioners, advisers, office assistants and members of statutory commissions/boards.

They noted that while the state governor has hundreds of statutory and non-statutory appointees, the state lawmakers, local council chairmen and Commissioners also have a retinue of aides.

They lamented that despite the state’s meager resources, the government spends huge sum of money on the payment of their emoluments/allowances and provision of operational logistics like vehicles and office space to the detriment of infrastructural development.

According to a retired civil servant in the state who spoke on condition of anonymity, when the cost of governance in the state are put together, not much is left to run the state effectively.

The organised Labour in the state also decried the number of political office holders especially those appointed as Advisers and Assistants, saying it was too much.

“They do almost nothing and in most cases were appointed as rewards to what they did for their appointers perhaps before and during electioneering campaigns,” said the Chairman of the state branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Uchenna Obigwe.

Obigwe said the high number of appointed political office holders in the state should be reviewed downward and henceforth restricted strictly to the number approved by the constitution.

He posited that only patriotic people with the requisite competence and qualifications should be considered for appointments, adding that the interest of the state should be paramount always. To reduce the cost of governance in the state, he recommended that lawmakers should be on part-time basis.

Nevertheless, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, who did not want his name in print, stated that appointing people into political offices was a way of reducing unemployment, adding that what should be ensured was that the appointees were effectively engaged to justify their appointments.

Attempts made to source the number of political office holders in the state, their emoluments and the percentage of the state’s revenue that goes to elected and appointed political office holders were not successful.

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Kebbi CSOs Vow To Track Funds Released For Constituency Projects
From Ahmadu Baba Idris, Birnin Kebbi

Following the recent constituency projects money recently released to the State House of Assembly members, the coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Kebbi State has vowed to track the funds.

Chairman of the coalition, Comrade Abdullahi Ibrahim Ngaski, said the CSOs would continue to monitor the funds to ensure that they would be spent on the projects they were meant for.

In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, the chairman said that billions of naira was released to the legislators by the state government for the execution of their constituency projects.

“We will be following their projects to ensure that the said various projects would be done in their individual constituencies,” he said.

He also said he was dismayed by the high cost of governance in the country, saying the salaries and allowances of both state and federal lawmakers and other political appointees should be reviewed downward.

“You see, if the Nigerian government can bring down the cost of governance, it will help a lot and improve the economy,” he added.

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Imo: Uzodinma Settling For Governance Slowly But Lawmakers Live Flamboyantly
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

After the Supreme Court’s January 14th judgment, which sacked Chief Emeka Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State and ordered the swearing in of Senator Hope Uzodinma, the new governor has not constituted his cabinet.

Uzodinma

Immediately the Supreme Court made the pronouncement, Ihedioha directed his appointees to handover to the new government.

Uzodinma only appointed nine Special Advisers recently that were yet to be inaugurated as at the time of filing this report.

Twenty-two Permanent Secretaries and seven directors who were appointed acting Permanent Secretaries were posted to various ministries and departments to carry on administrative duties pending the appointment of Commissioners.

Meanwhile, before Ihedioha was sacked, the state government bought Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) valued at millions of naira for the 27 members of the House of Assembly.

Many residents had kicked against that, saying the state didn’t have funds for that.

The remunerations of the lawmakers have never been made public and efforts made by The Guardian to obtain the information were fruitless.

According to a rights activist based in Imo, Uchegbu Chibundu, there should be thorough downward review of the earnings of the lawmakers to reflect the economic downturn the nation was facing. He noted that doing so would pave the way to deploy resources to other areas of need such as increased salary and pension packages for workers and retirees respectively.

“Our lawmakers, I think, are unnecessarily earning to much. We need to be convinced of what they are doing to be receiving humongous monthly salaries and allowances. We should address this in this country,” he added.

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Executive, Legislature Expend So Much On Governance, SERAP insists
By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
The Executive Director, Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, has called for a downward review of the emolument of federal lawmakers, saying he does not know what informed President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment that Nigerians erroneously think they were earning too much for doing little.

Mumuni argued that the standard of living of the average Nigerian should determine what those in government should earn.

He words: “When we elect people, they are not supposed to be our masters, they are not supposed to be our servants. But what we have seen repeatedly in Nigeria is that the legislators and members of the executive expend so much handling our activities. Do we want to talk about the exuberant amount members of the legislature are taking home or the exuberant amount that they receive as running cost? So I don’t understand the angle the president is coming from?

“Are we stupid not to know that, for example, the proposal from the House of Assembly to purchase 400 cars at the cost of $35, 000 each for principal members is not too much in an economy where the average worker earns N30, 000 per month. I think we have to look closely at all the emoluments these people in government take, so that the proper thing will be done. A review of their expenses should be looked into which is in the interest of the populace.

“The only thing that will determine effectively what those in government should earn is that, they should first of all look at the life of an average Nigerian and then make a clear balance based on what the legislator gets at the end of the month and the working Nigerian. That way, we will be fair.”

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