President Should Reduce Cost Of Governance By 50% – Onyekpere.

President should reduce cost of governance by 50% – Onyekpere

Barrister Eze Onyekpere is the Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). In this interview with ABDULLAHI ISA, he implores President Muhammadu Buhari to effect drastic cut in the cost of governance starting with the executive arm of government. He also lists ways the administration could handle other critical areas of interest
What are the specifics you expect to see from the new government in the area of electoral reforms?
We need to deepen the gains of the reforms started by the outgone team at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The introduction of more technology to take away the human element of discretion is imperative. Thus, we can work in the direction of electronic voting by 2019. INEC must also start preparations for the next elections on time. The fire brigade approach to elections in every election year is disgraceful.
How do you think government should tackle corruption?
Special courts should be established to fast track corruption cases and the courts should employ special procedures and have access to information and communications technology and research assistants to speed up trials. The appointment of judges should be de-politicised and persons aspiring to become judges of any of the superior courts should have their names published and the whole world invited to comment on their suitability to occupy the exalted office of a judge. This will help to weed out shady characters from the bench.
The Auditor-General should be empowered through a new audit law that allows the office to retrieve monies that have been stolen or mismanaged through tracing and to surcharge anyone who has incurred a loss for the treasury.
The office should be empowered to do value for money and forensic audits and it should be funded as a statutory transfer. Declaration of assets should be available to the public whilst machinery should be set in motion to let anyone found to be living above his means to show the source of the new found wealth.
The idea of budgeting without disaggregation in all statutory transfers should be stopped because it encourages legalised pen robbery. Fuller implementation of the Freedom of Information Act will also set the environment for increased transparency and accountability which will reduce corruption. The leadership of the anti-corruption agencies should be overhauled and fresh blood injected into the rank and file. Marching orders should be given to the security agencies to stop oil theft which is in the neighbourhood of 400,000 – 600,000 barrels a day and this will rake in additional resources into the Fed-eration Account for sharing by the three tiers of government.
Nigerians are having a harrowing experience when it comes to the issue of power. What template should the government pursue in that sector?
Apparently, the latest excuse is the unavailability of gas. The new administration should devise an agenda to make gas available and this should include the liberalisation of the sector to bring in local and foreign investors. All the special incentives offered in investment drives to foreigners should be made available to Nigerians to invest in this sector.
Special purpose vehicles that allow investments by diverse stakeholders including locals and foreigners should be devised instead of the perpetual wait for unavailable foreign investors. Companies in generation and distribution that do not have the resources to invest in the acquired GENCOs and DISCOs should be encouraged to look for equity funding rather than the cut throat interest rate loans available in the Nigerian banking system.
Let every Nigerian who buys diesel or petrol for his generator be encouraged to invest in the power sector through shareholding. The Transmission Company of Nigeria should be unbundled and new investments attracted. Vandalism and sabotage of gas pipelines should be checked through the deployment of technology and law enforcement personnel.
What about development of infrastructure?
Reform of the public procurement system and identification of priority projects should be the starting point. Savings from cutting down on the cost of governance should be channelled to infrastructure and capital projects. Public Private Partnerships should also be considered. Every Nigerian should be seen as an investor no matter how small – a few thousands and millions and the aggregate is a big fund. The big population is an advantage. The Nigerian Diaspora Community should be approached through Diaspora Bonds once confidence and transparency is restored in the economy.
There is the need to set the framework to encourage investors to invest in the long term. This will require stabilising the macro-economic fundamentals so that there will be predictability of the economic environment over the short, medium and long term. The deployment of pension funds to infrastructure development should be considered. This will involve collaboration between the Pensions Commission, Central Bank of Nigeria, Debt Management Office and the Federal Ministry of Finance.
Should the Buhari administration implement the recommendations of the confab regardless of whether his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), participated in it or not?
Not all the recommendations of the confab make eminent sense. The administration should set up a team to review the recommendations and choose the ones that will further transparency and development. Those recommendations that will unduly increase the cost of governance should be jettisoned.
Another major challenge before the administration is the issue of security. How best should they tackle it?
The new administration should tackle security challenges as soon as they arise. Indeed pro-active deployment of intelligence should be the rule. Security challenges should not be allowed to gain root and fester as happened in the last administration. The security architecture should be overhauled whilst those who betrayed the fatherland and collaborated with Boko Haram should be brought to book. The government should consider the establishment of State Police and more community involvement in policing.
Would you support the privatisation of our refineries?
The privatisation of existing government-owned refineries is imperative. The drain of turnaround maintenance that never turns around these refineries but rather turns around the pockets of the contractors should stop. Private sector operatives should be encouraged to build new refi the oil subsidy regime should be abolished while the regulatory agencies should still have the task of curtailing excessive profit and taking undue advantage of the market by cartels. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) should be a priority for the National Assembly in the task of liberalising the sector.
How do you think the new government should address the issue of high unemployment rate in the country?
This is a cross cutting issue that should be treated as such in government policy and across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). It will be a serious mistake to set up an agency or a number of them dedicated to employment creation. Thus, mainstream local content and employment creation across all MDAs. For instance, local refining of petroleum products, the full implementation of the new auto policy, further investments in the agriculture value chain will create jobs. MDAs should also use public procurement policy to create jobs through the Buy Made in Nigeria policy.
What is your take on cost of governance in the country?
We expect the government to lead by the power of examples. The President and National Assembly should lead the way by cutting down the cost of running the two institutions by not less than 50 per cent and thereafter challenge others to follow suit.
We expect the sale of the fleet of jets in the presidential fleet whilst leaving a auction of the limousines and their replacement with low profile made in Nigeria reconsidering of the funding of pilgrimages and restructuring institutions in accordance with the Oronsaye Committee report. National Assembly should regulate the number of presidential advisers and assistants under S.151 of the 1999 Constitution, a task they abandoned over the years.
We expect the revival of monetisation pro cutting down frivolous travels especially those who use first class and business class tickets will save costs. The full implementation of the Public Procurement Act through the inauguration of the National Council on Procurement and setting up of price intelligence database will help reduce the cost of public works. A moratorium should be placed on the establishment of new agencies through bills in the National Assembly unless the circumstances are exceptional.
High ranking government officials under the Certain Political, Public and Judicial office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, Etc) (Amendment Act) of 2008 enjoy full medical services provided by the state including treatment in foreign hospitals. While their other allowances have been monetised, the Act states that medical services are to be provided by the state.
These are the officials in a position to formulate and implement policies that will improve our health system. Having been licensed to look for their health services outside Nigeria, the incentive to fix the health system is no longer there.
As such, Nigerian incurs tremendous expenses in catering for the health of these officials outside our shores. The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) reported that Nigeria loses over $500 million annually to health tourism and about $260 million of this sum is spent in India.
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