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What is the state of Nigeria’s Public Service? Read @DrJoeAbah 's response.
"Public Service is in Transition" - Dr Joe Abah
Dr Joe Abah, Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR)
The Director-General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), Dr Joe Abah, recently featured on the Business Morning Show on Channels Television where he spoke on several issues, especially as concerns the public service reforms of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. The Reformer Monthly brings you excerpts.
What is the state of Nigeria’s public service?
The state of the public service is in transition. We have gone through military rule and we have had about 16 years of our democracy. And we all know that the characteristic of the military rule is that it systematically weakens the checks and balances that the public service brings in, and so we had to go through the period through which certain basic rules and processes were reintroduced at a start of democratic ruling in 1999 and I think president Obasanjo must be commended for that and that when the process of moving away from those rule based reforms and those rule that actually matter to the Nigerians on the street. So I will say that the public service is still recovering from very many years of systematic abuse if you like and a lot of the key institutions that underpinned the public service and the process of being rebuilt. So a lot has been done but there are still quite a lot more to do.
The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Winifred Ekanem Oyo-Ita recently stated that the Buhari’s administration inherited about 1.3 million civil servants at the federal level and they consume about N170 billion monthly in salaries and wages. How has that hit you?
Am sure what she said was 1.2 million public servants not civil servants, there is a difference between the two. The federal civil service is only about 90,000 people, the federal public service includes the legislators, the military, the police, the judges, and everybody that spends from the federal budget is a public servant. But if you ask me the question how does that hit me, if you do the mathematics, it actually comes down to less than N127, 000 per person per month. So it is a huge amount of money in relative terms however it is a huge amount of money to pay for such a small population. The issue there is that the country is not generating wealth, even the basic you need to run a sensible government immediately appears quite large and so the emphasis must be on growing the economy, making public servants more productive and having a sensible system of checks and balances that work. It is a bit hazy and short-sighted to say the system is bloated, without saying bloated for productivity, bloated relative to what happened and this is where the focus must be because if you look at how much we have spent on our public service relative to other sectors, it appears quite high but relative to the cost of running sensible government with checks and balances, you start to raise questions, what is indeed bloated for what purpose.
What are you doing in your agency in terms of public service reforms?
We are doing a number of things, we are in the process of if you like, re-jigging our service, to get a number of things that hasn’t been done for a very long time. Mr President announced a merger of ministries in November 2015. What we are doing for the first time is trying to ensure that those ministries are fit for the purpose. That is they are able to contribute to government priorities. That they are clear on what their mandate and vision are, they have a clear short medium target. We do what we call functional review to make sure that there are no duplications in functions between Ministries, Departments and their agencies. We look at how the staffs are deployed, the skills that the staff have, and ensure that every single person has a job description, not a job schedule.
The description is linked to departmental target which is linked to the ministerial target which is linked to government priorities. This hasn’t been done in that level of detail in about 62 years and we are doing that. We have done that with 6 merge ministries. We need to do that in the 14 other ministries. We feel that it is when we do this piece of work that we will start to get the different civil service, a civil service that knows what it’s doing, is focus on the result and its focus on individual accountability for those result. That is one of the things we are doing with the civil service itself.
We are doing quite a lot with the agencies, we are the secretary to the implementation committee on the white paper for rationalisation and restructuring of agency and Parastatals popularly known as the Oronsaye report. We have carried out a comprehensive review of that report. We are also providing practical guidance to agencies chief executives on how to run government agencies and Parastatals. This because many people are appointed into positions of director generals, executive secretary with every limited experience of public sector work, it’s no experience at all. So we felt it was vitally important we give them an easy straight forward guide on how to run a government agency. The right Circulars, all the rules, all the legislation to go with, procurement, financial regulations, human resource management, negotiating change, strategic plan, all of these things are contained in that guide.
We supplemented that with well-based need assessment tools through which agencies can assess themselves to see how well they are performing and that tool has already been piloted in federal road safety commission ,the Nigeria communication commission, and the Nigeria Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. So this is some of the ways in which we are working to reshape the way our parastatals work. This is because many people in the previous reforms have focused in my opinion on ministries alone, whereas the agencies are the ones that have the money, the authority, they are the ones that are closest to the men and women on the streets and if you look at any government that the agencies are working, government is said to be working. But if the agencies are not working, the government is said not to be working. Nigeria interface more with the Federal Road Maintenance Agency than the Ministry of Works, they interface more with the Niger Delta Development Commission than the Ministry of the NIGER Delta, and so it is important that our agencies work.
We are also collaborating with the Office of the Head of Service to put in the place a new performance management service which will be launch later this year. We have put in place a new structure mandatory training program for all public servants, that for the first time, it’s based on an assessment of the competence required to run a professional public service. In a nutshell, these are not rocket science initiatives; we are going back to the basics.
Could you give us a glimpse into the Oronsaye’s report on the rationalisation of the MDAs?
Well, the rationalisation has already happened, that is why Mr. President reduced the number of Ministries from 31 to 24 in November 2015. With regards to the rationalisation of MDAs, as you know, the government through a white paper it released in 2014 unfortunately rejected most of the recommendations. With the coming of a new government, we have done a comprehensive review of the Orosanye’s report, because this report is about 5 years old.