As the clamour for President Muhammadu Buhari to unfold an economic blueprint and appoint ministers to his cabinet grows louder, there are indications that the president may not appoint any members to his cabinet for at least two months.
Opening up to journalists in Abuja, a source close to the president said Buhari was not in a hurry to appoint ministers to continue the culture of “chopping” and “corruption” that was pervasive in previous administrations.
He said the president was taking his time to study the Ahmed Joda Transition Committee and Steve Oronsaye reports in order to harmonise their recommendations with the aim of restructuring the public sector that is free of waste, corruption and inefficiencies.
“You would recall that Joda had recommended the consolidation of ministries to 19 to create a leaner structure in government. This is not far removed from the Oronsaye report of 2012, which also recommended the consolidation of parastatals and agencies of the federal government.
“So what the president wants to do is to put a structure in place that cuts waste, reduces or eliminates corruption and introduces efficiency in the system,” he volunteered.
The source said Buhari was very particular about introducing a system that is free of the decay of past administrations.
He also dispelled concerns that the business of governance had ground to a halt due to the absence of ministers to provide direction, stating that the “business of governance is ongoing because the president is meeting with permanent secretaries of the ministries and heads of parastatals and getting things done through them”.
The source explained that the first phase of the agenda is to reform and restructure the public sector, “following which the appointment of ministers who will deliver on the president’s campaign promises under a new system and ethos with clear guidelines and processes, will take place”.
The source also revealed that in spite of the delay in the appointment of ministers, Buhari might in the next week or two appoint a few advisers.
“However, he is currently working with a few people on a not formalised basis, as they are the ones assisting him to distill the two reports and will make recommendations on the immediate reforms that can be implemented in the public sector,” he said.
He stressed that the president was taking his time because he is reluctant to build on the “rotten foundation” he inherited from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration.
“You cannot even begin to imagine the situation we have met on the ground,
“Almost everything is in a state of decay. There is absolutely no way the new government can hope to achieve anything long-lasting without first building a new foundation,” he said.
The source likened Buhari’s plan of action to that of a doctor who first has to break a poorly set bone afresh, before resetting it to allow for smooth and proper growth.
Over the past week, Buhari has been criticised by sections of the media and public who are concerned that he has had more than three months since his election, including a month since his inauguration, yet no cabinet appointments have been made.
Responding to this, the source pointed out that it would be impossible to appoint ministers to portfolios, without first knowing which portfolios exist and which will be abolished.
“The president plans to cut down the number of ministries and parastatals,” he said. “He wants to cut down the cost of running government. He wants to make sure that all the loopholes that enable corruption to thrive are blocked. All these are procedures that require time and careful planning. You cannot do it in a rush.”
He added that Buhari could not realistically have begun this process without first receiving the full report of the Transition Committee and ascertaining with certainty the challenges his government is faced with.
“Remember that he has to make sure that all this is done without any job losses or mass retrenchments,” he said. “All this is not a day’s or a month’s job.”
The source also denied news reports that the absence of a cabinet had ground government to a halt, insisting that civil servants have been supervising the day-to-day running of ministries and that permanent secretaries of the various ministries have full access to the president.
“All these reports and agitations are being fuelled by politicians who want to put pressure on the president,” he said. “They have tried doing it in other ways and these haven’t worked. Now, they are trying to use the media. They only want their cronies appointed to ministerial posts anyhow and they are fuelling the agitation through the media.”
He said Nigerians should not fall for the old tricks and shenanigans of politicians.
The source referred to the current crisis in the National Assembly, listing it as one more excuse why forming a cabinet would be impossible until further notice.
“Look at how they are fighting among themselves,” he said. “The Senate has now adjourned till July 21. That means there will be no one to scrutinise or approve any ministerial list until the end of July.”
But when he was reminded that the Senate had agreed to reconvene to consider the president’s ministerial nominees as soon as the list was ready, the source asked the reporters to wait for the president’s long-awaited intervention in the crisis between the party and the National Assembly.
“The president wants to walk the talk on stable politics and being a leader for all. He has a plan for the National Assembly,” he said.
When contacted on this issue, both of Buhari’s spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, said this narrative was the nearest to the truth than all others being peddled by those anxious to get appointments in the government.
A further review by THISDAY of the 660-page Oronsaye report showed that had the Jonathan administration implemented the reforms recommended in the report, it would have made savings of N862 billion.
The source said the rationalision, restructuring and reform of the public sector could save the current administration under Buhari as much as N2 trillion as personnel and overhead costs, which have risen between 2012 and 2015 form the bulk of public sector expenditure as evidenced in past budgets of the federal government.
In the Oronsaye report and the summary exclusively obtained by THISDAY, the committee identified 541 parastatals, commissions and agencies in all sectors of the public sector at the commencement of its exercise in 2011, of which 427 were recommended for reduction.
A breakdown of existing parastatals, commissions and agencies in 2011 showed that Education/Training had 236 parastatals, Social Development – 104, Governance – 50, Economy – 47, Research – 41, Science, Technology and Infrastructure – 26, Professional Bodies – 26, and Transport – 11.
Of the 541 parastatals, commissions and agencies, 263 were identified as core parastatals; 50 agencies had no laws to back their establishment; three agencies were being wound up; and 49 agencies had overlapping functions with other agencies.
Using the six first generation universities in Ibadan, Ile Ife, Lagos, Nsukka, Zaria and Benin to buttress its point, the committee showed that personnel and overhead costs of N70.38 billion accounted for 96 per cent of the total cost of the six universities, while a paltry N2.6 billion was spent by the institutions or 4 per cent on capital expenditure.
Similarly, in the Yaba College of Technology; Federal Polytechnic, Kaduna; Federal Polytechnic, Auchi; Federal Polytechnic, Oko; Federal Polytechnic, Uwana-Afikpo; and Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, personnel costs amounted to N24.1 billion or 97.5 per cent of total expenditure in contrast to N625 million or 2.5 per cent that was spent on capital expenditure.
It was no different in teaching hospitals where overhead and personnel costs accounted for 93 per cent of total expenditure relative to a mere 7 per cent that was expended on capital projects by the hospitals.
In the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA), among several other agencies, the committee also established that they all had top-heavy manning levels while the federal government frittered away as much as N6.55 billion in 2011 funding professional bodies and councils.
Among its recommendations, the Oronsaye committee recommended the abolition of 38 agencies of government; consolidation of 52; reversion of 14 agencies to departments in their relevant ministries; a management audit of 89 agencies to capture the biometric features of personnel; full implementation of the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS); and discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils.
Had the federal government commenced the implementation of the report, by 2012 it would have saved N124.8 billion from the abolition of 38 agencies; N100.6 billion from the merger of 52 agenices; N6.55 billion from the discontinuation of funding of professional bodies and councils; N490 billion from universities; N50.8 billion from polytechnics; N32.2 billion from colleges of education; and N616 million from the boards of Federal Medical Centres (FMCs), making a total of N862 billion.
However, sources said aside from the lack of political will to implement the report, the Jonathan administration was hamstrung by labour unions that were resistant to the rationalisation of the public sector; turf wars among the agencies and corrupt heads of parastatals and management teams that did not want to lose their jobs; and an uncooperative National Assembly whose members, for self-serving reasons, refused to repeal and/or amend the laws that established the parastatals.
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