It is no longer a secret that our country is in dire financial straits. Yet our leaders across all arms and tiers of government carry on as if everything is hunky dory. It is like we are back in the ’70s and ’80s when the party was going full blast.
I am concerned that the current administration has not made any pronouncements regarding the bloated cost of running government and the need for its drastic reduction. The president’s national day broadcast was a missed opportunity in this regard.
The symbolic and substantial value of attacking the cost of running government cannot be over emphasised. Indeed, it is so critical that our president must lead from the front, in word and in deed.
The most obvious, wasteful, and offensive is the cost and choice of official vehicles. Our Action Minister for FCT, whose appointment I like, should be made to understand that Abuja no be PH and stop riding around in exotic cars and advertising himself and his cronies in private jets. Someone will leap to his defence and claim that government funds are not involved in these excesses, but that completely misses the point.
Another area of significant waste is costs associated with travel, especially international travel. Steve Oronsaye tried to tackle this when he was Head of Service under President Yar’Adua, but virtually the entire Federal Executive Council was up in arms against him. He wanted to establish an automated government travel desk in his office in partnership with Amadeus, the global travel management company. This initiative died along the former president, who was his only supporter at the time.
Thus, this malaise is not about the Tinubu administration. It’s been going on at least since the Jonathan administration, who almost completely lost control of his government. Former President Buhari made some initial noises about tackling the insanity and then promptly proceeded to ghost away once he was informed that the size of the presidential fleet would be the first to face the axe. Today, we have a president who has the capacity and competence to tame this monster, but charity must begin at home.
I personally reckon that the cost of government can be reduced by at least 20% by tackling obvious excesses and achieving cost reductions in procurement.
The National Assembly recently engaged in the self-indulgent procurement of Toyota Prado SUVs for all its members. The least it could have done under our current economic circumstances would have been to step down to Toyota Fortuner SUVs, or better still buy half of the number purchased, place these in a pool, and manage the service requests with technology. After all we’re told that these are operational vehicles for committee work. By the way why didn’t they buy Innoson?
The irony of the SUV culture in government is that the initial justification was the state of the national road network. Today those same “roads” have overcome the most rugged 4x4s, and the National Assembly could do better by declaring a national highway emergency instead of fiddling away. This is the same way we chose to buy generators, instead of fixing the power sector. Today, diesel prices have gone through the roof, many government offices barely function due to power outages.
One of my pet peeves is the purchase of Apple devices for senior public servants. Government money should not be used to buy iPads, iPhones, and Macbooks whose brand premium attracts a cost over 40% more than similarly specified equipment from other equally credible brands. This makes no sense and has no basis other than sheer indulgence.
This piece is not just about highlighting waste, I also want to suggest concrete steps that can be taken to tackle the problem. Here’s how.
Strengthen the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to be more alive to its oversight function.
The Budget Office of the Federation should be more attentive to submissions from MDAs. For at least the last 15 years the budget process has been quite farcical.
A Code of Conduct for public officers should be developed and strictly enforced.
If the executive arm of government cuts its costs and paraphernalia of office, then it will have the moral authority to lean on the legislative arm to do so also.
In “juicy” parastatals foreign training is written into the conditions of service as a benefit. This is nonsensical and a presidential directive should be issued against this. I often wonder if public servants in other countries chase after foreign training the way we do. By the way, I am not naive in not understanding that this is seen as a way of augmenting the poor salaries of civil servants. However, this is wrong and often becomes an instrument of patronage for “loyal” staff.
It should be restated that public office is rather a sacrificial call to duty than a ticket to a five-star lifestyle.
The president should constitute a committee with a mandate to identify all cost excesses and make recommendations towards their reduction or outright elimination. This committee will also review the extant institutional frameworks charged with this responsibility to determine their efficacy.
Deliberate and targeted deployment of technology in all facets of government will aid in reducing costs while enhancing performance and outcomes.
Further to this, the matter of a government travel desk should be revisited. This is bound to yield significant savings and improve travel discipline.
Public institutions, federal and state, should extend the depreciation period of vehicles to at least six years.
All the above equally applies to state governments, and as Bob Marley echoed, where there is a will there is always a way. I rest my case.
Ilukwe is a former Managing Director of Galaxy Backbone and immediate past Chief Information Officer of the Kaduna State Government