Still On Orosanye Report And The Public Service Reforms, by Labaran Saleh
This week, the Federal Government officially scrapped the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA), the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Petroleum Equalisation Fund (PEF).
The Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Chief Timipre Sylva, who made the announcement further disclosed that workers of the three agencies would be protected, while their chief executives had been relieved of their various appointments.
He explained that with the passage of the Petroleum Industry Act, the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NPRA) and the Nigerian Upstream Regulatory Commission (NURC) had taken over the functions of the DPR, PPPRA and PEF.
Faced with a consistently escalating recurrent expenditure in the face of dwindling revenue, the federal government has been seeking ways to cut the huge cost of government for many years. Several committees have been set up by successive administrations towards reducing the number of federal government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) but to no avail.
In 2011, the then President Goodluck Jonathan set up the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, under the Chairmanship of Mr. Steve Oronsaye.
Mr. Oronsaye had private sector background, from where he joined the civil service at a very high level and rose rapidly to become the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation. His choice was considered apt with the belief that having come from an original private sector, he would look at ways of cutting cost of governing by eliminating wastage through duplicated functions across several government MDAs.
There is concern that the federal government is yet to commence the implementation of the report of the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies, over 18 months after the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, announced a presidential directive to that effect.
The report, dubbed Oronsaye Report, after the name of the chairman of the committee, former Head of Service, Steve Oronsaye, was submitted to former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2012.
The committee was mandated to identify civil service inadequacies and recommend cost-cutting and efficiency measures.
Experts have for years lamented the heavy burden of recurrent expenditure on the government, with criticism that a significant percentage of the amount goes into funding personnel the government does not need.
The Oronsaye Committee turned in an 800-page report to President Jonathan after eight weeks of its assignment. It had far-reaching recommendations on MDAs that should be scraped, those to be merged and those to become self-funding, thereby freeing funds for the much-needed capital projects across the country.
Another key recommendation of the committee was to discontinue government funding of professional bodies and councils. Consequently, there is need to amend the Professional Bodies (Special Provisions) Act, 1972 which mandates government to provide financial support of various kinds to such bodies.
Ever since then, there has been a lull in the actions towards the implementation of the recommendations of the report. A key impediment was the fact that most of the affected agencies were creations of legislation. Consequently, the enabling laws had to be repealed before they cease to exist.
In a democracy, such processes could be cumbersome, especially given the fact that the Chief Executive Officers and management staff of the agencies don’t want to let go. The strategy of high-level lobbying, it was learned, was employed by many of the agencies’ managers such that when the government White paper of the Oronsaye report was released, most of the recommendations for scrapping and mergers were rejected government.
Some of the agencies with glaring duplicated functions that the Oronsaye committee recommended should be merged were ignored in the government White paper, which was released in 2014.
After many years in limbo, President Muhammadu Buhari in 2020 indicated the need to revisit the Oronsaye report with a view to implementing the government White Paper on it.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who made the disclosure then, said already the president’s approval has been forwarded to the Head of Civil Service and Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
President Buhari’s decision to look into the committee’s report, which was released in April 2012, not only underscores the lethargy that has defined his administration’s approach to governance, but also suggests a knee-jerk implementation of policy initiatives.
The Buhari administration’s decision raises a lot of questions about the seriousness of the government, as well as the feasibility of the planned rationalisation process.
The executive summary of the committee’s report, it was discovered that 50 out of the 541 parastatals identified by the committee have no enabling laws, just as the committee reported the challenges of supervision in the monitoring of the parastatals/agencies, which was compounded by the fact that ministries were weakened by the excision of their departments and attendant applicable functions.
The report noted that the arbitrary increase in the number of parastatals and agencies is the main cause of identified overlaps and duplication of functions/roles and the fact that the splitting of the parastatals has not improved their performance and service delivery.
However, questions trailing the belated federal government decision to implement the report include whether the absence of an implementation committee and lack of National Assembly buy-in would not exacerbate problems that the rationalisation intends to solve.
Even though the Federal Government has assured that the envisaged rationalisation would not affect personnel, some of the affected agencies would need enabling legislation to consummate the harmonisation, just as stakeholders continue to urge restraint in the hurry to shrink the establishments.
The issue of macro-institutional dimensions to the entire governance conundrum was not part of the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the Oronsaye Committee. The first is the cost implications of running developmental federalism that invests more in bureaucratic infrastructure than in development concerns.
The huge cost of the version of the presidential system that Nigeria runs, while the third is wastages on account of running 21st-century governance on analogue business models with a huge set of systemic leakages, which supports a thriving, but increasingly daily expanding and growingly sophisticated corruption industry operated by powerful cabals and its innocuous and faceless system Collaborators.
The embedded wastages in the MDAs’operations that only productivity audit and deep-rooted efficiency scrutiny could unravel.
In addition, in the absence of significant capital expenditures, deployed efficiently and productively in a transparent manner, every aspiration at jumpstarting the country’s economic development will remain at best-mere aspiration.
To give a fillip to the implementation of the commit- tee’s report an immediate logical first step is to set up an implementation committee to be made up of men and women of good standing, devoid of partisanship, ethnic and religious consideration.
We cant the fact that the amount of money the country spends on governance was mind-boggling. How many people are in the Federal Civil Service that they are controlling the 70 percent of Nigeria’s budget, and what is the result? It is not enough to say you are scraping a parastatal, there must be political reform first. Let the political class show example by starting the reform from the political structure. It is the public service that supports the political structure, but it would be hypocritical to try to reform the public service before the political structure.
Let them reduce ministers by half and permanent secretaries by half. Afterwards, they can go to the parastatals. You cannot reform the parastatals when the parastatals are looking at you up there. It is not possible. So, we must show good example sand political leadership too.
Recently, the Director General of the BPSR, Mr. Dasuki Arabi his agency has carried out a comprehensive review of both the Oronsaye report and the government white paper and provided its advice to the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
He added that the president has given his nod for the secretariat on implementation of Oronsaye white paper report to move ahead with that and I am confident that it is going to be done anytime soon.
Arabi also signalled to the fact that critical stakeholders’s support and backing of the report would go a long way in ensuring the reality of the report. In fact the National Assembly has a lot of roles to play because most of the agencies to be scrapped or merged have enabling laws. So, they must look at those laws and repeal them before we have the new agencies.
Labaran Saleh writes from Abuja