Calls For Probing Sure-P
WHEN President Muhammadu Buhari terminated the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) it did not come as a surprise. The wonder is why it took the National Assembly so long, yet again, to call on the Executive arm to probe the programme which was hastily instituted in response to the wide-spread public outcry and protests against the Goodluck Jonathan administration’s intended increase of the pump price of premium motor spirit, from 67 Kobo to 112 Kobo per litre at the time.
The scheme was ostensibly to cushion the negative impact on the populace of removing a far from transparent subsidy on the pricing of refined petroleum products imported from other countries. The termination of SURE-P is yet another lesson that nations are built on enduring institutions and not on ad-hoc, or “task-force” measures to tackle problems arising from a failure to strengthen and utilize existing ministries, departments and agencies established for such functions.
The concern and apprehensions of well-meaning Nigerians who questioned the workability of the scheme was unmistakable right from the beginning. In November 2013, the allegation of the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on SURE-P was that 500 billi0n naira was unaccounted for out of the 800 Billion naira that should have accrued as savings from a consumption of 25 billion litres of petrol in the period from January 2012 to September 2013. The question was then raised on if the SURE-P Committee had reported the discrepancy to the Presidency and what answers it received. The Senate at the time was then called upon to ensure that it used all its powers to muster the courage to clarify the issue. This same demand is being made on the present Senate and the House of Representatives on the same matter.
What really is the meaning of subsidy, on refined products from countries near and far by agents appointed by the federal government; who claim to import at a price higher than the approved sale price? Nigerians have persistently asked: why not put the effort and resources into refining domestically? This will result in savings on the costs of maritime transportation and currency fluctuations. Where are the economists whose research would unearth the colossal amounts wasted in the insane policy, making Nigeria a laughing stock in the comity of nations? How do we quantify the retardation of development of infrastructure on account of funds that had gone to a few hand-picked beneficiaries of the government in power? The so-called marketers hold the nation to ransom at will, whenever there is any delay in collecting their money from the Federal treasury. Fuel shortages and long queues at filling stations then become a recurring national experience.
The SURE-P was another example of the Nigerian government’s penchant for creating ad-hoc agencies which duplicate the functions of existing ministries, departments and agencies even when such interventionist agencies have never yielded much benefit to Nigerians. The overlapping functions of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency and the Federal Highways Department (in the Ministry of Works) have not resulted in fulfilling a demand expressed in an axiom of road administration: “every pothole starts as the size of an orange while prompt attention prevents it becoming a crater.”
In a nation that thrives only on the road, with little or, at best, a woeful performance in other modes of transportation, this sector has suffered more than any other area, from the fact that funds that could have constituted a Road Fund get channeled to an agency that hardly uses such judiciously. In 1984, it was suggested to Government that part of the withdrawal of subsidy (from 19 Kobo to 25 Kobo per litre) be applied to commence a road-user contribution (of 5 kobo per litre at the time) to establish the Federal Roads Authority.
In the process of considering the laudable idea, there was a change in the Federal Military Government in 1985 and the succeeding regime established Department of Food Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI) instead. In a similar vein, the proceeds from partial withdrawal on petroleum subsidy were used to establish the Petroleum Trust Fund, which was involved in road projects nationwide. In 2012, the SURE-P Committee was advised to apply a substantial percentage of the funds to establish the National Road Fund rather than get directly involved in road maintenance projects. All of these intervention have not only failed, there is now a rash of probes into the huge sums, which accrued to them but practically went down the drain.
The present call by the Senate should not be seen as a probe of a particular administration, but of a scheme that was prone to failure at inception. May the requiem of SURE-P serve, at last, as a lesson to this nation that it must build institutions and not resort to ad-hoc interventionist agencies tied to the lifespan of a political tenure as well as to the whims and caprices of any successor.