• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

High cost of government, low outcome

Kuje graduate inmates seek presidential pardon

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has taken both symbolic and structural actions to demonstrate his belief that the current high cost of government is not sustainable. The first was an announcement or executive order directing Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) to slash the size of official delegations for foreign and domestic trips by up to 60 percent—an action that resonated with the mood in the country. The second is the Federal Executive Council’s approval to implement Steve Oronsaye’s report on the merger and scrapping of MDAs.

Both measures are more symbolic than substantive. However, it clearly shows that the government realises the negative impact of high government costs on economic growth and providing services to the people. It is a fact that a US-type presidential system tends to be big by constitutional requirements, especially in a country where the government is both an industry and a social welfare institution.

“Politics and wealth are often linked, with politicians’ lifestyles becoming a public nuisance and separating them from their constituents.”

Beyond the symbolic actions, which have their values, is the need for substantive actions and a complete attitudinal change towards waste and profligacy in government.

We have had enough debate on the unwieldy and inefficient size and structure of government, and our leaders have enough ideas and justifications to prune down the size of government. The only ingredient left to make that happen is political will.

On attitude, most government officials have yet to come to terms with the reality of our economic downturn and the need to be more disciplined, prudent, and productive. The signals from high officials of the government are both depressing and insensitive.

Political officeholders must change their attitude towards ostentatious living and craving opulence and status within society.

Politics and wealth are often linked, with politicians’ lifestyles becoming a public nuisance and separating them from their constituents. This attitude is counterproductive to the reality of many struggling for basic necessities. Frank Herbert, an American writer, argues that good governance depends on the personal qualities of those who govern, and government machinery is always subordinate to the will of those who administer it.

Political officeholders should change their attitudes towards abuse of official property, including vehicles assigned to them, and eliminate the culture of assigning multiple security attachés to VIPs and political office holders. The current security situation in Nigeria is dire, but wasting existing security personnel on a few is deplorable. It is crucial to ensure the lives of ordinary Nigerians, just as political officeholders’ lives matter.

It is disheartening that some of the political officeholders are still in a permanent political campaign mood, not knowing it is time to govern. They spend ten times the cost of a single project on project flag-off or commissioning. The level of corruption among public officials is still alarming and must be challenged and exposed, and perpetrators must be held to account by the law for their dastardly acts.

Some structural changes and constitutional amendments are needed to cut down on the cost of governance in Nigeria. Cutting down on our bloated bureaucracy is essential to saving costs. This is the aim of implementing the Oronsaye report. The government should reduce the number of political appointees and close inefficient public enterprises that incur losses that the government eventually covers. We cannot preach the message of fiscal prudence when the number of political appointees gets higher every year.

Addressing the issue of high governance costs is crucial for ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently to promote economic development and enhance the standard of living for the Nigerian people.

More disheartening is the fact that the high cost of government has not translated to administrative efficiency,quality services, or high policy outcomes. Nigeria’s government effectiveness index for 2022 is -1.04, one of the worst globally. The index of government effectiveness captures the perception of the quality of public services, the effectiveness of implementing government decisions, the innovation capacity of political leadership, public healthcare, and public schools, amongst others. The maximum score is +2.5, and the minimum score is -2.5.

Our budget and expenditure on critical sectors such as education and healthcare, by percentage, have not improved over the years. The spending has also not delivered on indices. Our maternal mortality ratio is still at 814 per 100,000, while the mortality rate for infants and children under five years is 70 and 104 per 1,000 live births, respectively. This is one of the highest globally.

I recently had a two-hour discussion with the Minister of Health, Prof Ali Pate, and the Minister of State for Health, Dr Tunji Alausa. Their clarity of vision, grand strategy, and commitment have raised my hopes and expectations for the healthcare sector. Watch out for a different trajectory in this sector in the immediate and near future.

The education sector indicators are similar. Government expenditure on primary education for the year 2022 is below 0.5 percent, and the pupil-trained teacher ratio is 49.1, all below the West African regional average. According to the USAID dashboard, the enrollment rate and government expenditure at secondary schools are also below the regional average. This abysmal data is coming from the same country that borrows to fund the lifestyle of government officials.

Addressing Nigeria’s high government costs requires a multi-faceted approach involving structural reforms, fiscal responsibility, attitudinal change, and increased transparency. I will articulate a few solutions that we may have to consider to reduce the cost of government. Apart from the obvious answer of fighting corruption, wastage, and profligacy and implementing measures to enhance transparency in public financial management, the government should first undergo a more thorough public sector review than just adopting some part of a report authored over ten years ago that may not fit in with our current realities.

Second, implement a rational salary structure for public officials, aligning remuneration with economic realities and the country’s financial capacity, and regularly review the same to ensure competitiveness. Third, introduce cost-cutting measures in government operations. Fourth, embrace e-government through technology to enhance efficiency in government processes. Fifth, develop a sustainable debt management strategy to reduce reliance on borrowing.

Sixth, implement and enforce fiscal responsibility laws. Finally, encourage citizen participation and oversight through platforms allowing the public to monitor government spending, hold officials accountable, and foster a culture of fiscal responsibility and transparency through public awareness campaigns.

Implementing these solutions requires strong political will, commitment from government officials, and collaboration with various stakeholders. Mr President has started to address the elephant in the room of inefficient government structure, but he should take a step further by empaneling full e-governance. He would also gain the trust of the people and mileage by leading by personal example on the attitudinal change of government officials.