Reduced travels, estacodes as cost cutting measures

Few days ago, thefederal government announced several cost-cutting measures as a way of reducing the cost of governance and shoring up its dwindling revenue. AbdulRahman Zakariyau writes.
Measures to be adopted
Among the measures the federal government is adopting are the restriction of foreign travels to two per quarter for heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as cancelling first-class air tickets for some category of officials.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Boss Mustapha, in a statement issued on his behalf by the Director, Information in the office, Willie Bassey said the decision is “in a bid to curb leakages and ensure efficiency in the management of resources of government”.

In other word, the federal government is worried that the cost of running the government is gradually becoming unbearable and therefore a burden that must be addressed to free scare resources for the more relevant capital expenditure.

Mustapha therefore said President Muhammadu Buhari has approved for immediate implementation, additional cost-saving measures aimed at instilling financial discipline and prudence, particularly, in the area of official travels.

The measures, according to the statement are; “Henceforth, all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) are required to submit their Yearly Travel Plans for statutory meetings and engagements to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and/or the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation for express clearance within the first quarter of the fiscal year, before implementation.

“They are, further required to make their presentation using the existing template and also secure approvals on specific travels as contained in the plan, from the appropriate quarters.

“On the Nature and Frequency of Travels, all public-funded travels (local and foreign), must be strictly for official purposes backed with documentary evidence. In this regard, all foreign travels must be for highly essential statutory engagements that are beneficial to the interest of the country.

“Except with the express approval of President Buhari , ministers, permanent secretaries, chairmen of extra-ministerial departments, chief executive officers and directors are restricted to not more than two foreign travels in a quarter.

“Also, when a minister is at the head of an official delegation, the size of such delegation shall not exceed four including the relevant director, schedule officer and one aide of the minister. Every other delegation below ministerial level shall be restricted to a maximum of three

“For class of air travels, the president has approved that ministers, permanent secretaries, special advisers, senior special assistants to President Buhari, chairmen of extra-ministerial departments and chief executive officers of parastatals, who are entitled, to continue to fly business class while other categories of public officers are to travel on economy class.

“Also, travel days will no longer attract payment of Estacode Allowances as the duration of official trips shall be limited to only the number of days of the event as contained in the supporting documents to qualify for public funding.

“The Auditor-General of the Federation has been directed to treat all expenditures that contravene these guidelines as ineligible”.

Some Nigerians think these measures were long overdue. They, therefore, advised the federal and state governments to further look inward and address the unwieldy cost of governance.

According to Prof Charles Ayo, the Vice-Chancellor, Trinity University, Yaba, the federal government must reduce the cost of governance in order to achieve sustainable national development. Ayo, who is a former Vice-Chancellor of Covenant University, Ota, noted that high cost of governance in the country was partly responsible for the heavy debt serving in the nation’s annual budget.

“I implore the Federal Government to emulate Italy that reduced the size of its parliament to save about N450 billion over 10 years.

“Also, Senegal scrapped its Senate and the office of the vice-president in 2012 to reduce the cost of governance in their country and free up money for development,” he said saying unnecessary expenses that do not add economic value to the economy.

He added that a situation whereby more funds were allocated to the Senate than to education and health in the budget was not healthy for the country.

In the same vein, An Economist, Prof Segun Ajibola has advised the federal government to do everything possible to reduce the high cost of governance and block all drain pipes used in siphoning the country’s wealth.

While reacting to the signing of the 2019 Appropriation Bill of N8.92 trillion into law, he particularly raised eyebrows over the high cost of debt financing.

According to him, the recurrent expenditure of N4.65 trillion in the budget is still on the high side. The debt service of N2.25 trillion is high.

“However, the projects financed by the loans must directly generate enough revenues and surpluses and indirectly create sufficient multiplier effects to help galvanise the economy. This is the only way such huge debt service ratio can be rationalised.’’

Ajibola, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, however, said the capital expenditure of the budget would help to build infrastructure.

“The 2019 budget seeks to reposition the Nigerian economy by concentrating attention on the critical sectors and industries, and provision of basic infrastructure.

“With N2.94 trillion of the N8.92 trillion devoted to capital expenditure, it is expected that some key projects across industries and zones of the country would be completed during the year. This will help the economy to end on a stronger note in year 2019.

“One also expects the various projects tied and infrastructure related borrowings from China and others to strengthen the productive capacity of the country,’’ he said.

However, some feel that the recently announced measures are not sufficient without giving attention to the huge cost it takes to run dual houses of legislature. Accordingly, they think much would be saved in terms of freeing funds for other necessary needs were the two chambers of the National Assembly reduced by one.

Although the heavy cost of maintaining Nigeria’s 469 federal lawmakers has always been a source of concern, “sitting politicians’’ have joined in the campaign for the reduction of the number of federal legislators.

New converts

In fact, one of the converts even suggested the scrapping of the Senate, as according to him, it is the House of Representatives that represents.

The converts: Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti; Senator Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Imo and Chief Osita Chidoka, former Minister of Aviation, made their suggestions at different fora.

Chidoka, who advocates for a unicameral legislature, made the suggestion after President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2020 budget. “In Nigeria, we need a unicameral legislature with six members each from the 36 states and two members from FCT.

“The legislature with 218 members will be less than 50 per cent of current members and term limit of three terms.

“The 2020 budget for the National Assembly (NASS) is N125bn, higher than the combined budget of Education N48 billion (excluding UBEC and TETFUND), Health N46 billion and Social Investment N30 billion.

“Reducing National Assembly members by half will provide over N60 billion annually for the social sector, that will be 600 billion over 10 years.”

Chidoka said the new National Assembly would be both efficient and economical.

He described the budget of N125 billion for the National Assembly as “hugely extravagant,” in an economy adjudged to have over 100 million poor people with gross infrastructure deficit.

The former Minister of Aviation said that funds saved from the contraction would be available for investment on policies and projects that would serve the common interest of the greater number of the population.

On his part, Fayemi advocated for the scrapping of the Senate in order to save cost and reduce financial burden on the government.

He also advocated for the adoption of Stephen Orosaye’s report which recommended the merging of federal government’s agencies that perform similar functions.

Fayemi said the type of legislative system that would be more productive for Nigeria in this current economic situation is a unicameral legislature.

“As it stands, the country’s legislative arm consisting of 109 Senate members and a 360-member House of Representatives, on yearly basis gulps millions of Naira.

“We do need to look at the size of government in Nigeria, and I am an advocate for a unicameral legislature. What we really need is the House of Representatives because that is what represents.

“You have three senators from little Ekiti and you have three senators from Lagos State, I guess the principle is not proportionality, but that if you are a state, you get it automatically.

“But I think that we can do away with that. There are several things that we can do away within the government,” he said.

Okorocha, the immediate past governor of Imo, now the Senator representing Imo West, on his part called for the reduction in the number of federal lawmakers representing a state.

He suggested that a Senator and three members of House of Representatives should represent each state.

“I want one senator and three House of Representatives members per state, which will cut expenses.

“A Senator and three House of Representatives members can do what many have been doing.’’

He said that the reduction in the number of representatives from the states would help cut cost and ensure effective representation.

While advocating for ways to cut cost and ensure effective representation, Okorocha said he would sponsor a bill that would seek for the reduction of the number of Senators and House of Representatives members for each state.

Position of CUPP

The Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) has endorsed the suggestions for the reduction of the number of federal lawmakers.

The CNPP via a statement from its Secretary-General, Willy Ezugwu, said Okorocha spoke the truth concerning the need to reduce cost of running the National Assembly.

“The former governor simply told Nigerians the truth when he said what three Senators from a state can do; one lawmaker is capable of handling the same.

“Like Sen Okorocha asked, what is too sacrosanct that Senators and House of Representatives members are doing that only a Senator per state cannot do?’’

Also, two professors of political science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Jonah Onuoha and Aloysius Okolie, agreed with the advocates for unicameral legislature, which they reiterated would reduce the cost of governance.

Onuoha, who is the Head, Department of Political Science, said bicameral legislative system is not cost effective, especially in a country like Nigeria, where federal lawmakers receive bogus salaries and allowances.

“It takes huge amount of money to maintain bicameral legislative system, especially in a country like Nigeria where federal lawmakers receive bogus salaries and allowances monthly.

“Bicameral legislative system is not only costly but delays legislative processes of passing bill into law, since the bill will pass through the two chambers.’’

Onuoha, who is also the Director of American Studies in UNN, urged the country to adopt unicameral legislative system as it is cost effective.

“If the country settles for unicameral, the extra money it could have spent in paying salaries, allowances and maintaining the two chambers which runs into billions can be used to carry out capital projects,” he said.

He said if the country insisted on running bicameral legislative system, the number of lawmakers should be reduced.

Unicameral legislature reason for delayed budget

Okolie in his contribution said that it was as result of bicameral legislative system that every year the budgetary allocation to the National Assembly had remained the highest.

“I subscribe to opinions in some quarters that the country should adopt unicameral legislative system as it will reduce the cost of running government as well as quicken legislative processes.

“The country is spending much to pay salaries, allowances and maintaining the two chambers — 109 Senators and 360-members of House of Representatives,’’ he said.

Okolie, former chairman, Academic Staff Union of Universities, UNN branch, also said that as part of measures to reduce cost of running the government, the country should return to the regional structure.

“If we have one federal parliament and one regional parliament in each of the six geo-political zones, it will go a long way in cutting down cost of running the government,” Okolie said.

However, a legal practitioner, Mr Dele Igbinedion, said that people should not clamour for unicameral legislature just for cutting cost, adding that the issue is not whether or not a bicameral legislature is good or bad.

“I believe the bicameral system should remain because it has been proven to be sustainable and necessary. The process of law making is a very serious business which cannot start and end within a short time.

“The problem with the unicameral system which we have at the state level is that a bill can be introduced and passed the same day and sent to the governor for assent.

“This is not the case in the National Assembly; the two chambers must meet and possibly form a joint committee to look at the bill before sending it for presidential assent.

“The rigorous process a piece of legislation has to pass through forms part of the beauty of democracy. I think Nigerians should stop looking at the legislature each time there is a slight challenge and asking if we really need that arm of government.

“The judiciary often doesn’t respond to executive excesses, except there is a case it initiates, but in the legislature, a member can raise it as a matter of urgent public importance, national importance or ethics and privileges, and the attention of the parliament can be brought to it.’’

Apparently, Igbinedion was surmising that many state assemblies have become rubber stamps because the governors could easily “conquer’’ them, because it is only a single chamber.

Stakeholders say that unicameral and bicameral legislature have their advantages, but the country should settle for an option that cuts costs and wastages.

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