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El-Rufai calls for cut in size of “bloated” civil service

By The Citizen
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The former Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has blamed the bloated size of public service for poor infrastructural development calling on government to drastically reduce the size.

He described as”irresponsible and selfish” on the part of civil servants most of whom are idle for federal government to spend the chunk of federal budgets on their salaries rather than building infrastructure.

He warned that if those in the civil service without the required skills continue to stay to the detriment of skillful youths,¬† Nigeria will continue to have Boko Haram in the North East, militants in Niger Delta and kidnappers in South East and the civil servants who insist not staying put will not enjoy the civil service job”. The former Minister also said pegging retirement age for permanent secretaries at 60 was wasting of human resources, and that being political appointees, the age barrier does not apply as they are in the same categories as the SGF and ministers.

Speaking yesterday at the Governance and Sustainable Development Initiatives (GSDI) annual roundtable with the theme: “Integrity in Public Service”, held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja, El-Rufai wondered why the payroll of the civil service rose from N600m to over N1 billion in less than five years after the Obasanjo administration.

He also blamed the civil servants for rewarding the bad and punishing the good in the system, decrying that in the last two years, the bad had advanced than the good in the public service.

El-rufai, described as dangerous where public service is more  loyal to those in power rather than the system.

According to him, “we have a public service which is unsure of its role, the public service is still searching for its soul. We have a civil service that refused to let go of certain privileges, the permanent secretaries want to eat their cake and have it, the appointment of permanent secretaries is no longer on merit but political appointment.”

The former minister however suggested strong public service in whatever circumstances to restore its to its glory.

“In china to pass the civil service exams you have to get masters and practice for four years before having the confidence that you can pass the exam that is why the best brains are in their civil service. Same thing happens in Singapore and you can see the difference. Singaporian permanent secretaries are paid better than the CEOs of multinational corporations, and permanent secretaries sometimes earn more than ministers which is how it should be and you can see the difference.

“So we need to bear that in mind and try to restore our system, we all suffer this development failures because of disfunctional public service.

“Even if you privatise everything you still need a strong public service to regulate and make sure the rules of the games are followed. So it doesn’t matter if is completely privatised or public sector driven, the US has more that four million federal employees but is a private sector driven economy. You need civil service in whatever circumstances and you need your best and brightest in public service that is the experience of countries that have made it in the last 50 years.

“When we allow this disfunctionality to continue we will end up being victims. When you leave the service and your pension does not come even if you have stolen a little bit it will get exhausted, so you need the system to work so that whatever you have stolen you can preserve. If you have any doubts ask the people from Yobe State that have a lot of money can they go and live there? Ultimately these things catch up with us so what do we do? In my opinion number one, we need to reduce the number of people that work in government, we need to improve the quality and then we need to pay them very well. People should make choices that working for the government is not only prestigious but you can buy your fridge and do so legitimately.

“We should pay our civil servants well, the current level of pay should be four to five times what it is presently, and we cannot pay that if we have the current numbers which all of you know half of them are not doing any work. So let us set down and do audit and say this is what we need and get rid of the rest, give them a nice pay offs to go into the private sector.

“Secondly, we must define federal character to be only at the point of entry into the service. You cannot be appointing permanent secretaries based on federal character is criminal. It is not the intentions of the constitutions, is not the intentions of the founding fathers. By all means for the federal civil service give a quota to each state, set an exam and have a cut off points, those that make the cut off points should enter the service. Promotion should be based on your performance. Let everyone have equal opportunity to get to the service but not to be permanent secretary from your state. You are a permanent secretary of a federal republic not your state.

“Thirdly, we need to convert the practices of the service in line with the constitution. What that means is that permanent secretaries are political appointees, that should be clearly accepted, no doubts about it. If you are a director you join the pool, you retire if you are 60. But there is no reason a permanent secretary should not be 65 years old because they are political appointees. Insisting that permanent secretaries retire at age of 60 is wasting human resources. Age barrier does not apply to political appointee, you can be 70 and be a permanent secretary you can be 70 and be a minister.

But because the permanent secretaries insist they are career civil servants which they are not the constitution is clear, they are listed along with SGF, ministers and so on. We are losing people to early retirements, is wrong, is unlawful, is unconstitutional. So let us sit down and rewrite the books and the permanent secretaries should stop being selfish about this career thing and accept that they are political appointees.

“Fourthly, we need to inject new blood from outside the service from the private sector into the service at a certain level. A limited number, maybe one per cent of all the Assistant Directors to Directors should be from outside. You need new blood you need new thinking, is good for you, it benchmarks you, it shows whether you are better or not up to the scratch.

“We also need to recognise that when you work for the government your loyalty is to the state not to individuals. The biggest problem is with the security agencies who should protect the states but they spend all their time protecting those in power. There is a difference between the two.

“We need to revamp and modernise the management method in the public service. And for God’s sake we are in the age of technology and those that cannot do this thing should leave. Anybody that cannot use ipad, computers, word excel should go. They are enough young people in this country with these skills that are looking for this opportunity and if we don’t give them this opportunity we will have Boko Haram in the North East, militants in Niger Delta and kidnappers in South East. And if we don’t create the opportunities for our youth you will not enjoy your civil service job. So take a bow go, go and do something with your life.

“Finally, we should remember that Nigeria is a young nation, not 54 years old in that sense but I’m saying 75 per cent of our population is beyond the age of 40. Look at all of you here, we are all old and gray, is not stress is old age, we cannot as old people continue to think and do this job forever, we must know when our time is up. If we do not give this young people a future we will not sleep with our two eyes closed. And the beginning point has to be the public service we have to set the standard and I hope you will do so”.

Earlier in his remarks, the organiser and a retired permanent secretary, Dr. Goke Adegoroye, said sadly in the kitchen of corruption, the civil servant is seen as the cook, the one who served it and is the one to clean up the mess thereof, hence the civil servants should be at the forefront to clean the mess in the system.

He said the round table was to open up discussion on the way forward and ensure that as civil servants “we may not be in a position to directly change the polity; by our calling, we, do have a moral responsibility to steer the nation on the right path”.

He said the frequent changing of permanent secretaries were also responsible for the crisis in the service. Citing the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) ongoing strike as an example, he said while ASUU will come to the negotiate table with a powerful team made up of past presidents of the union, the government is always new resulting in them gaining the upper hand.

The key speaker, Chief Executive Officer, Governance and Management Service International (GMSI) United Kingdom, Prof. Victor Ayeni said integrity was important but stressed that travelling down integrity road could be horrendous full with real temptations.

He ended with a call to end corruption using a Yoruba proverb which says “like a needle one compiles lies but the day it grows to a size of a how is the day it will kill someone”