• Monday, June 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

States and federal civil service reforms made easy

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It is no longer news that Nigerian states and even the federal government are in bad financial shape – states currently owe months of salaries, pensions and other due financial obligations. To curb this, there have been rounds of bail out, manifesting in varying forms. Still, there seems to be no respite to the gloomy financial situation of states. To some, this is an expected consequence of the decline in the crude oil price, which currently stands at an average of $47 and the downward staggering of oil production resulting majorly from the many disturbances from groups in the region. While most government sympathizers would try to come to terms with the explanations coming from the government quarters, some, mostly from those who believe government can do better and would rather hold them to their change promise have chosen not to excuse the current administration from these unfortunate economic happenings. Indeed, these are hard times for us all.

 

There are arguments that governments, both states and federal need to free up funds for developmental purpose as states and even the federal government still struggle to vote more for capital expenditure due to what most public reform canvassers call over-bloated civil service tipped to be gulping more money in forms of salaries and wages from the fast depleting national purse. It is widely believed, and often times heralded and amplified by governors that the best way to get states to become more viable after being hit by the global oil price shock is to either reduce the state’s workforce or cut salaries – either way, state governments will be able to do their developmental jobs. In fact, we are already seeing moves by some state governors gearing up to cut salaries in the excuse that there are no funds. Another argument has been to restructure the sharing formula to allow states access to more funds that can be used for development.

Though, not rational, many have argued that what stands against effective civil service reform both at the state and federal level is the need for political leaders to be politically correct in spite of staring economic facts justifying the need for the reform. The herculean task therefore is the need to balance the politics and the economics of the reform. Until there is a form of agreement between the politics and economics on this issue, civil service reform will remain a mirage. Meanwhile, huge and costly damage is being done to the body politic, development would have been shrinked, social service delivery will be greatly hampered, poverty will increase, and the future further dimmed.

We must act now and fast, and I suggest that governments at all level must demonstrate leadership in this, at least before asking the civil servants to pay the price. One fact that is often overlooked is that even if more funds are made available to states, the tendency for misuse and misappropriation is high. In fact, more funds to states could propel more reason to expand the recurrent element of the budget, particularly with the likely call by some groups for increased wages and other usual complementing increases. Before canvassing for more revenue for states, there is need to carefully appraise institutionalized incentives for misspending, and audit governance systems and practices that can further embolden more needless expenditure on the part of governments. There is need for institutional strengthening that can help prevent political leaders from taking economic decisions that rather than develop the state further plunge them into economic difficulties.

There is need for both state and non-state actors to understand that one way to grow our economy, create more jobs and improve the wellbeing of citizens is for us to begin to take pro-development actions, which entail citizens paying their taxes, groups not making demands that can further constrain available funds for development and much more.

These times should teach us some lessons that should shape our development thinking going forward. It should force actors – both state and non-state to evaluate and assess how their actions and inactions have contributed immensely to the current quagmire in the states. Civil servants at a time like this should be aware that it is not business as usual – the era of government job being the most secured and a safe haven for lazy and unpatriotic fellows is gone. Governments, at state and federal levels must begin to tie the continued stay in office of their cabinet members to performance, and this must be shown to the people, even civil servants. Governors for instance must share reports of business travels, meetings that have been financed from the state purse to prove to civil servants that every kobo must be accounted for.

Before asking citizens to pay the price, which they will gladly do, governments, both state and federal must show willingness to open their books, be more transparent and accountable. The more government operations are shown to be dark practices, the more difficult it is to balance the economics versus politics argument of civil service reform – if governments, first on their part can demonstrate commitment to productive orientation to public service delivery, then can they secure the cooperation of the citizens, and even civil servants in the struggle for civil service reform. I dare submit by saying civil service reform is much easier – Governments first and others will follow.

 

Adedotun Seyingbo