In a bold move to reduce the cost of governance, President Muhammadu Buhari, some days ago, restricted foreign trips and slashed the estacodes enjoyed by government officials. According to the directive issued by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, all public-funded travels (local and foreign) must strictly be for official purpose backed with documentary evidence. Henceforth, when a minister is head of a delegation, the size of such delegation should not exceed four, including relevant director, schedule officer and one aide of the minister.
Also, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) will submit their yearly travel costs for statutory meeting and engagements to the office of the SGF or Head of Service (HoS). The directive, according to government, has become necessary to curb leakages and ensure efficiency in the management of resources.
In addition, the Auditor General of the Federation has been directed to treat all expenditures that contravene these guidelines as illegal. The president’s action is in line with strident calls by Nigerians for a drastic downward review of the salaries and allowances of political office-holders. Government’s move came some days after the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, hinted that a review of the salaries and allowances of political office-holders was imminent.
Members of a presidential committee set up to do the review included the Minister of Labour and Employment, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, the Minister of State for Budget and Planning, the Accountant General of the Federation, Director General, Budget Office of the Federation, and Head of Service of the Federation. We commend the President for taking this move and urge state governors to emulate him and slash their outrageous allowances, the ‘security vote’ and other pecks of office. We also hope that the review will affect all tiers of government, as well as the presidency. According to financial estimate for 2020, the President and Vice President will spend N4.2billion in 2020. A breakdown of the figure shows that travel will gulp N3.3billion, while catering will cost N149.1billion.
The time for a drastic cut in the cost of governance is now because the economy can no longer support the opulence of our political office-holders and other appointees. The nation’s dwindling oil revenue can hardly carry the heavy financial burden. It is contradictory that while the cost of governance is becoming expensive, many Nigerians are groaning under the weight of extreme poverty. The nation is grappling with dilapidated infrastructure, rising debt profile and increasing amount for debt servicing. At the same time, the standard of living of most Nigerians is nothing to write home about.
Therefore, there is urgent need for fiscal prudence. It is good that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is considering a downward review of the remuneration and allowances of political office-holders to reflect the present economic realities. This will include members of the National Assembly, who earn jumbo salaries and allowances. Section 84(1-3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) stipulates the remuneration and other entitlements of the National Assembly members as determined by the RMAFC. Now that the President has commenced the move by slashing the travel allowances of ministers, there is need to streamline the wages and allowances of political officials and workers in certain government organisations, ministries and departments.
The Presidential Committee on the review of salaries of political office-holders should go a step further and consider other factors that have led to high cost of governance. All the same, the high cost of governance can be reduced by merging and rationalising government agencies with similar functions and adhering strictly to approved remuneration of political office-holders.
Statistics show that between 2014 and 2018, the 36 states budgeted over N14 trillion for salaries, allowances and overheads. In 2015, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) advised the Federal Government to reduce the high cost of governance and end what it described as the “financial recklessness of those in political office.” The advice is still relevant today. Failure to drastically cut the cost of governance will not augur well for the nation’s nascent democracy.
Since 2015 when the Committee led by Abdullahi Inde was set up to review the Remuneration Act 2008, which prescribes the salaries and allowances for political, judicial and other public office-holders, little has been heard of its recommendations. Reducing the cost of governance has become expedient now more than before. It will make more funds available for developmental projects. Let our politicians show leadership by example by voluntarily giving up part of their salaries as the President and the Vice President did some years ago.