New pay for public officials
AS the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) prepares new remunerations for public officers, it must keep in mind that these are not the best of times for Nigeria and the season calls for serious belt-tightening. An end must therefore come to sumptuous treatment of public office-holders in the face of the hardship the rest of the citizens endure.
The public officers whose salaries and allowances are under review include the President, Vice President, members of the National Assembly, state governors, ministers, commissioners and special advisers.
Nigerians expect the recommendations of the commission to reflect the nation’s economic realities, for, with the crash in the international prices of crude oil, the nation can no longer sustain profligacy in public offices. In fact, the current austere times have imposed on the citizens and those who want to serve them the necessity of reconciling themselves to the fact that public office is for service to the nation and the citizens. The nation’s economy can no longer accommodate sinecurists.
Thus beyond just fixing new salaries and allowances, the commission should clear the opaqueness that surrounds the remunerations of public officers. It must allow the citizens to know how much those in government are earning as the existing secrecy around the remunerations of public officers has become a veritable ground for corruption.
To a large extent, the bogus salaries of public officers do not do as much damage to the nation’s revenues as their allowances. Many public officers have made these allowances open-ended in such a manner that they can easily hide anything under such to take as much for themselves from the public till as they want. And the nation is doubly jeopardised because these allowances are not taxed. Thus the allowances should be clearly spelt out by the commission. The ones that are unnecessary should be expunged from the list. For instance, it is ridiculous that public officers are paid something called hardship allowances when the bulk of the citizens are afflicted by the hardship that is occasioned by their leaders’ mismanagement of public resources. And what is the rationale for wardrobe allowances when most of the citizens cannot clothe themselves as a result of their penury?
The biggest pot from which public officers, especially legislators, draw the most sumptuous loot is perhaps the so-called constituency allowances. This is often misappropriated and does not improve the well-being of the citizens. Indeed, what Nigerians need is good governance that would really improve their economic well-being and not token gestures of care from their public officers.
One way to stop the use of allowances as a conduit for corruption is for the commission to state the specific amounts of money that could be paid at a given period. In this regard, the budget of the National Assembly should be made transparent and the committees of the assembly should be pruned. This should also be adopted in the states. This is because the bloated size of the committees as it exists now is a drain on the nation’s revenues and given the extortionist tendencies of many in the guise of legislative oversight, they are avenues for perpetrating corruption.
Nigerian public officers must take a cue from their counterparts in enlightened parts of the world where the watchwords in public service are accountability and responsibility. They must learn from other public officers who do not create unnecessary barriers between themselves and the citizens through opulent lifestyles. There is nothing that makes them more important than the citizens they have put in office to serve.
The RMAFC may be the body the nation’s constitution empowers to fix the remunerations of public officers. But in view of the need for more prudence and accountability in the light of the depleted revenues of the country, it would not be out of place for the recommendations of the commission to be subjected to further scrutiny. After all, there is the danger that RMAFC may end up fixing the same ridiculously high remunerations for themselves as well as other public officers. But the solution to this can be found in the President raising a separate body of distinguished Nigerians and experts to vet the recommendations of the commission on pay for everybody. Such a body would determine if the recommendations truly reflect the nation’s economic realities as well as work-to-remuneration ratio, and, backed by the force of law, that body should help ensure Nigeria walks the path of prudence.
Anyone who considers such remunerations as recommended by that body inadequate will do well not to get into public office. For public office is a privilege, an opportunity for service and not an avenue for self-aggrandisement.