Critical vacancies at RMAFC

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It should be of huge concern that the federal government is yet to fill the vacancies of 30 members of the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMAFC) for more than three years. As has been in so many institutions of governance, this habitual failure to fill critical vacancies is an executive inertia that should no longer be tolerated in this age of disruptive technologies when governance consequences come at the speed of thought. In the absence of systems and structures, many issues suffer reverses within the four-year tenure of any administration.

Specifically, the RMAFC is a critical constitutional body that should not be allowed to suffer from such paralysis for three years.

The six months it took Buhari to constitute the Federal Executive Council in 2015 has become a negative reference in executive tardiness. Is it not scandalous too that the Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) the focal point for recruitment, discipline and promotion of federal civil servants whose Chairman retired since March 2017 just got a replacement last week. The FCSC Chairman assumed office while a report emerged that the five-year tenure of the 12 Commissioners of the National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) expired since September this year and nominees to the office have not emerged from the presiding officers of the federal legislature and the presidency respectively. What is nurturing the procrastination spirit in the nation’s capital?

The RMAFC is a constitutional body, which provides for appointment by the President of a Chairman, Secretary and a representative of each sate and the Federal Capital Territory. With the expiration of the 5-year tenure of 30 others, there are now only the seven representatives of Sokoto, Borno, Adamawa, Taraba, Osun, Imo and Bayelsa. The tenure of these seven members will expire next year.

Although the immediate past Chairman Mr. Elias Mbam, whose tenure expired since November 2015, was re-appointed for a second term by President Buhari in 2016, his name is yet to be submitted to the Senate for confirmation. This is embarrassing. On that account, the Commissioner from Borno State, Umar Gana has been the acting Chairman since November 2015.

This Commission is of great importance to the country, considering the functions and significance to the economy. The RMAFC is empowered to monitor accruals of revenue to Federation Account and the disbursements therefrom. It must review (from time to time) the revenue allocation formulae and principles of operation, in conformity with changing realities; but as this requires approval of the National Assembly, whatever is approved must remain in force for 5 years. In addition, the Commission is to advise the federal and state governments on fiscal efficiency and methods, including how to increase their revenues. It also determines appropriate remuneration for political office holders.

Section 6 of the enabling law empowers the Commission to demand and receive reports of revenue accruals from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC) the Nigeria Customs Service, (NCS) Federal Board of Internal Revenue, (FIRS) the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Finance. With the all-important function of determining the Revenue Allocation formula for the three tiers of Government, the Commission must be represented on the Federation Account Allocation Committee, Local Government Joint Account Allocation Committee, Joint Tax Board, the Nigerian Niger Delta Development Commission and the Commission on Ecological Fund.

With such enormous responsibilities, how can the presidency delay appointments of 30 members of the Commission since 2016? How can only seven members fulfill their statutory roles in these major agencies of national affairs? How many meetings of any of the statutory agencies can one of the seven RMFAC members attend, as there are not enough to go round?

The inability of the Commission to fulfill its functions with only one-quarter of the membership has attracted the attention of concerned Nigerians. A member of the House of Representatives, Honurable Uzoma Nkem-Abonta from Abia State, sponsored an Amendment Bill aimed at “aiding the Commission” to perform its duties. In the discussion on the floor of the house, it was stated that the Commission is not adequately funded. A situation in which the Commission will merely receives reports, without the wherewithal to verify “on the field” offers a fertile ground for corruption. It is on record that the Federation Account Allocation Committee meeting for June 2018 could not hold because revenue from NNPC was not properly accounted for. Although the RMAFC Amendment Bill had passed Second Reading in the House, it has been referred to the House Committee on Finance for further “legislative” action. It has a long way to go before Senate Concurrence.

There was a report in 2014 that the Mbam-led Board announced that a Draft New Revenue Formula was ready. However, at that time, the Jonathan Administration then failed to forward it to the National Assembly. As governance is a continuum, President Buhari was informed, when he assumed office. However, beyond re-appointing the Chairman, there has been no further action. Certainly, timing played a factor on Jonathan’s failure to pay attention to that and other pressing issues; as he was busy campaigning for re-election. Buhari is in the same straits now, after three years of procrastination on appointing members of the RMFAC. Had the New Formula been ratified, its 5-year validity would necessitate a review in 2019.

In recent times, exigency compelled many state governors to reduce the number of political appointees. The protocol list recognizes consultants, personal assistants, special assistants, special advisers, senior special assistants and other positions listed under the RMFAC. When the persisting wages formula came into force at the outset of the global economic meltdown of 2007, rather than cut the number of political hangers-on drawing salaries, some state governors accepted the “voluntary” decision of the appointees to draw only half of their basic monthly salary. And at the moment, the issue of national minimum wage has crept into the mix and it is complicated within the context of a national body such as RMAFC fixing remuneration package for all political office holders and other national bodies negotiating for the 36 states and Abuja.

As this newspaper has reiterated, why make this a national issue? Why must there be a directive from Abuja for uniform rates of remuneration for different locations, with varying costs of living? This is how protracted dithering on restructuring of the polity has complicated matters for our leaders at all levels. Can any hope be placed on this administration to act fast at this juncture?

Although Section 6 of the enabling law states that the RMAFC shall be an independent body, “not subject to the directions and control of any other authority or person,” the failure to constitute its membership violates the raison d’être, the very justification of establishing the Commission.

Indeed, there is no justification for the executive inertia that has led to this failure to fill 30 critical vacancies out of 37 since 2016. This is one other area in which the unstable presidential bureaucracy too has failed the system it serves. Why has the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) failed to sensitise the presidency about this critical vacancy since 2016?

Meanwhile, this newspaper would also like to draw attention of the authorities to our earlier hint that even the Federal Inland Revenue Service and Securities and Exchange Commission too have some critical Board membership vacancies since 2016 too. This too is a sad commentary on the efficiency of the relevant president’s men who have a responsibility to assist the chief executive of the federation to carry out his responsibility. Whatever happened to all the president’s men!

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