On the cost of running government
A wave of reactions, mostly justifiably negative, has followed from recent revelations and insinuations concerning the earnings of government officials in both the legislative and executive arms.
Senator Shehu Sani, who represents the Kaduna Central Senatorial District, the other day lifted the lid on the earnings of the members of the Nigerian Senate, which, apart from a consolidated monthly salary of N700,000, he revealed to be about N13.5 million per month.
Quickly following Sani’s bombshell were two others: the news report that members of the House of Representatives earn about N12 million monthly as running cost, and former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi’s declaration that Nigerians would be even angrier if they knew what the earnings of state governors are.
Considering that details of the emoluments of top government officials have hitherto (even under the Freedom of Information Act) been shrouded in secrecy, and assuming that these revelations were made with pure intentions and no ulterior motives, then Nigerians must hail the courage of those who have come out to speak about this sensitive matter. This does not, however, minimise the shock that must accompany the knowledge that in a country where people are getting poorer by the day and some states cannot even afford to pay the minimum wage of N18,000, some people are taking away so much from the collective coffers simply because they are government officials.
What is even more mindboggling is the possibility that what has so far been made public might just be the tip of the iceberg. There are always those hidden expenses or payments: oversight functions, education for the children of these officials, healthcare for their families, and the worrisome “gifts” which, one way or the other, get paid for from the pockets of the people.
President and Vice President, governors, senators, representatives, judges, ministers, heads of government agencies, commissioners, chairmen of local governments, are hereby challenged to make public their entire earnings!.For many Nigerians, it is also very disheartening that the rape of the country’s resources by the very people who should be protecting them continues even long after they leave office. Even if it is quite difficult (due to its shadowy nature) to talk about the undue, immoral, and often very costly influence that ex-government officials often exert on current ones, it is crystal clear, for example, that the so-called pension scheme for ex-governors is a blatant exercise in social injustice and legalised corruption.
After working for 35 years or up to the age of 65 as the case may be, the regular civil service retiree is placed on a minimal pension (partly paid for by himself during his period of active service), thus given barely enough to cater for himself. But then, in most states, there is an outrageous pension scheme for governors, who normally serve for a maximum period of eight years during which they enjoy all the extravagant perks of public office. In Lagos, for example, the law enacted to this effect in 2007 provides for elected governors and their deputies to be entitled to the payment of pension at a rate equivalent to the annual basic salary of the incumbent, including certain other benefits. The question to ask is whether this kind of emolument for ex-governors is justifiable in the light of the nation’s developmental needs, especially in states where government is not even able to pay the salaries of its workers.
Truth be told, the problem of the misplacement of fiscal priorities is not limited to the legislature, nor is it only a governance matter. Year in year out, the country’s budget is lopsided in favour of recurrent expenditure. Capital expenditure, which is what really drives development, is either altogether given inadequate attention or budgeted for in a way that focuses on white elephants while neglecting the true (human) developmental needs. It was only the other day that Bill Gates openly criticised this aspect of Nigeria’s push for development.
These unwholesome expenses need to be stopped so that Nigeria can be saved from the doom of insolvency. The national budget needs to be re-adjusted to give adequate and proper attention to capital expenditure. All the money used to service present and former public office holders can be used to improve on the healthcare of children and to provide for the scholarship of promising but indigent students. Also, the $15 billion that is used yearly to achieve the subsidisation of fuel import is more than enough to build a standard refinery. Government should show responsibility and begin to take the high road of prudence in its expenses.
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has come out to declare the N13.5 million running cost given to senators as illegal, a declaration to which the law-making body has promptly responded. Leaving the ensuing bickering aside, however, it is clear that the appropriation of so much funds to lawmakers and other public officials is doing the nation much more harm than good. That body, therefore, along with its counterparts in the executive and the judiciary, should show leadership by cutting cost at the level of governance. Leadership is about sacrifice, and because Nigerians have lost much faith in their leaders, these leaders need to demonstrate their worth by taking up the gauntlet of fiscal discipline.
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