So, now, it is confirmed that we are officially in ‘austerity’. The last time we had that was sometime in 1982 under the Shehu Shagari administration. A few weeks ago, Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced stiffer economic policies following dwindling prices of oil, the country’s mega bucks spinner. Although she avoided referring to it as austerity, the indicators are all too obvious. These include the devaluation of the national currency (the naira), increase in lending rates and higher taxes on certain luxury goods. That our economy was not on solid ground has always been known and appreciated by many Nigerians, even when the government kept pretending. The good thing is that our government has now accepted the reality and has shown interest in confronting the challenge.
While not claiming to be a better expert on the economy than the finance minister who also goes by the superfluous title of ‘Coordinating Minister for the Economy’, I have a few suggestions on how to manage our economy better than we do currently. While the focus would be mainly on the federal government, the issues apply equally, if not more, with state and even local governments.
One major step to take is to cut down on the cost of governance. The starting point is the number of cabinet members in the government. Averagely, we find a crowd of 40 or more cabinet ministers. I appreciate that the constitution requires the president to appoint as many ministers as there are states in Nigeria. That translates to at least 36, or 37 if we treat the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, as a state. Until that provision of the constitution is changed, could we at least ask the president to be prudent as to limit his ministers’ list to 37?
It is also important to prune the number of the president’s aides. In June 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan sought and obtained the approval of Senate to appoint 20 advisers, but at a particular time and in apparent breach of the number of aides approved for him, he had at least 24. Notice that some of these adviser positions are irrelevant and superfluous to exist with ministers and ministers of state for related areas of government. Added to this is the fact that these motley crowd of ministers and advisers carry along their own list of advisers and assistants, complete with salaries, allowances and other perks of office, thus further bloating up the cost of governance.
Yet another contentious addition to the cost of governance are the huge costs run up in the name of governance by the wife of the president and wives of state governors and even wives of local government councils chairmen. Those positions, not recognised by the constitution, have since been illegally elevated to offices for spending public funds which are hardly accounted for.
Another waste point in public expenditure that needs to be addressed is the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet. It seems we end up buying a new aircraft every other year such that, at the last count, we had about 10 aircraft in the presidential fleet. This is scandalous for a country that has no official airline. Pray, what do we need all that number of aircraft for, given the high cost of maintenance?
Even more nauseating in the list of wastages in governance is the fact that every government – federal, state and local – criminally subsidises the political party in power at each level. This they do through several ways, including hosting of political party meetings in government houses, using public funds to foot the costs of meals, even when they do not pay for the cost of venues. In other instances, government officials use public funds to attend purely partisan functions that have no bearing on their official duties. See, for instance, the number of cabinet members, including the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), who keep attending the rallies of the political support group for President Jonathan, ahead of the presidential elections. Related to this is the fact that most governors do not just sit down in their states to govern. Rather they spend more time travelling to and virtually living in Abuja, running up unnecessary costs, in pursuit of political advantages.
And need we remind government again that pilgrimages, being religious exercises, are purely personal concerns of individuals, and as such government has no business spending money on anyone to attend them? The time is ripe for government to stop this spending, more so when the funds are usually splashed on privileged citizens who can afford such luxuries. It is apparent from the above that it doesn’t take so much thinking to cut down cost of governance after all. What is needed is the political will to do so.
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