Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hon Dimeji Bankole, Public Servants and Ministers

Honourable Dimeji Bankole noted at 6th Annual Trust Dialogue organised by Media Trust Limited, publishers of Daily Trust, that civil servants steal the bulk of unspent funds that should have been returned to the government treasury. In fact he was quoted has saying “………we have now discovered that each year, N700 billion is lost in the hands of civil servants. The money was never remitted to government coffers”. He observed that while politicians “come and go”, civil servants are a permanent feature of government bureaucracy. And that no Permanent Secretary had been put on trial for any financial misdeed.

I’m not entirely sure about the motivation behind these statements. Is it to score cheap political goals? or create an impression that politicians are no more corrupt than civil servants? For the Speaker to say civil servants are ‘corrupt’, is like a-pot-calling-a-kettle ‘black’. It is common knowledge that the Nigerian public service is as corrupt is it can get. The Nigerian Civil Service evolved from the colonial service which was established by the British authorities as the administrative machinery for governing Nigeria. However, it is unfortunate that currently 70% of its workforce is made up of unskilled staff (only 1.7% is in the strategic thinking directorate). It is saddled with the problem of “ghost” workers, symptomatic of poor personnel records and payroll control systems. And to make matters worse, we currently have Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with neither Mission nor Vision Statements, or clear corporate and individual schedules of duties. The Nigerian civil service is perhaps one of the most poorly paid in the world. A Permanent Secretary in the Federal Service earns an average of $1000 a month!

The creation of Bureau of Public Service Reform in 2003 by Ex-President Obasanjo was aimed at dealing with the some of the structural decay in the civil service mentioned earlier. It is however sad to say that, six years on these problems still remains. Probably, the ‘reformers’ themselves needed to be reformed. Unfortunately, the public service reform has not lumped into the President Yar’adua ‘7-point agenda’ - which is currently a waste of time.

My question to Hon. Bankole is, what has the National Assembly done to strengthen and re-vitalise the civil service? In a democracy, the Legislature should be responsible for holding the Executive and Public Service accountable. However, instead of that being the case, Nigerian legislators collude with civil servants to loot the treasury. The same National Assembly members have been guilt of sharing ‘unspent funds’ with civil servants – as seen recently in the case of Ministry of Health and Sen. Iyabo Obasanjo.

Also in the same vein, he alleged that three ex-ministers, (whose names he refused to divulge) sacrificed the opportunity of a foreign direct investment because the investors preferred to execute the projects themselves under the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) model and were not prepared to release the funds to the ministries related to the projects. His word I quote “There was a consortium that came to Nigeria last year. They all own banks and have already facilitated meeting with the three ministers after the meeting with the President. They were to bring $14 billion and to show the faith they were ready to block-off $1 billion for the government even before any transaction takes place between those ministries and the consortium. However, from the date of the meeting with the ministries till last week, it’s about eight months there was no movement, none whatsoever in fact, the three ministries totally discouraged us from having access to this fund, which is being offered without interest to build Nigerian infrastructure. I don’t understand that. I don’t know if you understand it. Well, I made bold to say that those ministers are no longer manning the ministries or are they in government anymore”.

It is also not surprising that our Ministers bungle foreign direct investments that would have benefitted that nation. In a situation when you have a President, who seems to care less and ‘nonentity’ as Ministers (all in the name of federal character) then you can’t expect any magic.

The democratic structure establishes a system of ‘checks and balances’. When the Executive makes mistakes, it is the role of the Legislature to ask the right questions. However, what we see is bickering about personal allowances. When you expect the National Assembly to scrutinise Ministers prior to their appointment, they simply ask them to ‘take a bow and leave’!

Despite been a former Senator and First Lady, Hilary Clinton was subjected to serious questioning at the US Senate prior to confirmation of her confirmation as Secretary of State. She was made to answer questions relating to her husband’s businesses and perceived conflicts of interest that may arise as a result of her appointment. In Nigeria, such a personality wouldn’t even be required to attend the Senate.

The National Assembly has demonstrated lack of competence and vision since its inception. Commentators who thought the election of Bankole as Speaker was breath of fresh air (considering his age and exposure), are now beginning to see that, he his just a new wine in an old bottle.. Honourable members have embarked on series of probes, inquiries etc in the 18 months, none of which has yielded any result till date.

It is time the Legislature starts fulfilling its role in holding the government accountable. It should help empower our democratic structure through an objective, open and transparent constitutional review process.

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