ESCALATING COST OF GOVERNMENTS

By NBF News
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WHEN high cost of governments was an issue last year, it was principally located in the jumbo pays the National Assembly instituted for its privileged 468 members. It is therefore refreshing to extend the debate to other areas of government.

The suggestion of the Presidential Advisory Council, PAC, for reduction in the number of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs is a way of tackling a looming doom nobody is willing to address.

PAC's advice could be ignored, as was the case in the past. Ministries and agencies are fertile soil for political patronage. A minister, a director general, a permanent secretary, directors - form the echelon for dispensing resources awarded to that section of government through budgets.

As political opportunities diminish in states and local governments (and with them patronage), the federal pool becomes the only one with resources to accommodate rising number of unemployed politicians. Appointments are only available if more ministries and government agencies exit to meet the demands for political appointments.

Political expediency over rules economics. One of the biggest fights among Ministers is about their status, especially if they are Minister of State, which reads Junior Minister.  The argument, leaning on constitutional provisions on equality of States, hammers on the absence of equity in subjugating one State to another. Proponents of this position wonder if there is a junior State. The political solution lies in 36 federal ministries, each with sufficient resource base to appease politicians.

More costs arise from the facility with which the National Assembly creates agencies. Little thought is given to financial implications of laws that expand bureaucracy. Each new commission or department of government adds to the cost of governance. However, these agencies hardly improve government services. They result in additional tension as government battles with appointments and political correctness in that direction.

If we take the anti-corruption agencies as example, government's reluctance in curbing waste will be more glaring. There was the Code of Conduct Bureau, then Independent Corrupt and other Offences Practices Commission and finally the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Their roles clash. Most petitioners tend to patronise all three, which stretch their resources in sustaining the waste.

Governments have ignored calls to merge them for more efficiency in costs and operations. Similarly, some commissions should be departments within ministries.

PAC Chairman, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma should also admit that PAC is an addition to bureaucracy and costs of government. Other wastes are in the unlimited number of aides for the president and governors, spurious appointments like Chief of Staff and Chief Security Officers for local government chairmen.

The N15.6 trillion governments spent between May 1999 and December 31, 2010 on public servants tells only a part of the story. It does not capture savings that would have been made on capital expenditures if these agencies did not exist.

Governments need to act fast to save shrinking resources for investments on development. It is also important to run government with great anticipation of a time when oil income that funds these wastes would have gone.