Friday, 25 November 2016

The Challenges, The Strategies and The Reforms of BPSR. Interview with @DrJoeAbah.

Dr Joe Abah

General of the Bureau of Public Service Reforms (BPSR), Dr Joe Abah, in this interview speaks on the challenges of the agency as well as strategies to ensure that Nigeria has a working civil and public service. DAVID AGBA reports for Blue
So far, how has it being reforming the public service?
So far, I will say so good. It was only when we felt that we were strong enough did we try to go out to relate with others. I am pleased that, in the last three years, we have started to be recognised for the work that we do and perhaps, the greatest credit goes to the communication team.

We have our challenges, because people have been used to things not working and each time you try to make things work, there is that cynicism that it will never work. It takes a while for you to build that confidence in people for you to get that chance.

I can say that we have come a long way, but we are just at the beginning of the kind of changes we need to make in the system.
Going forward, how do you hope to take this reforming thing beyond where we are at present?
It is important to answer this in a structured way. We have spent quite a lot of time analysing  what the problem with the system is exactly. We have asked people in the system some questions; we have gone beyond that to do some survey in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, asking them what is working, what is not working, what the issues are and what can be done to salvage the situation. It is based on these analyses that we have developed a 15-year plan for reforms, which will surely go to the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

We have a plan and it is a realistic plan; not the usual Nigerian situation in which you would say ‘oh, planning is not the problem; implementation is’. We have factored in the implementation, including lack of money and the absence of a political will and all the challenges which we have had to face. All of them have been factored into the strategy.

That’s on the one hand: I’ll just focus on the two parts of that plan. One is the
re-structuring of the ministries. Many civil servants do nothing and fewer still do a lot. The work is there and our problems are myriad that it would be criminal for anyone to say there is no work. Too many are doing too little and too few are doing too much and one of the reasons for this is because we have not taken a look at the mandate of the ministry, what the ministry, department, unit and individual are supposed to do concerning that, then draw the link, so that each of these components can have a knowledge of what to do on a given day, to contribute to what their places of assignment are doing and the country’s progress. This has not been there for 62 years and we have brought this into play. When ministries were merged, that was a great opportunity to re-think how we run our ministries.

To this end, we’ve started this structured reform with the Ministries of Power, Works & Housing, Budget & National Planning, Transportation, Interior, Youth & Sports Development and Information & Culture…these are the ministries affected by mergers and, since then, we have received requests from the Ministries of Environment and Water Resources to help them out.
Having mentioned these specialised areas, can you mention concrete achievements which directly affect the civil servants?
I can mention so many reforms which have affected the bulk of the civil servants in the lower cadre. The Treasury Single Account (TSA) was part of the strategy I have been talking about, since 2008. So, people squabble about it being a Jonathan or Buhari thing. We actually put it into play since 2008, under the government of President Yar’Adua. Also, the zero-based budget thing is part of this plan. Others are performance management, the integrated personnel pay-roll system which pays our salaries, all came from here. 
Our work is not like pouring concrete and commissioning roads or bridges; our work is making government work better. We have done quite a lot in trying to raise the capacity of the civil/public servants, we have designed a new capacity-building programme with the Office of the Head of Service and our international partners – it’s been running for about a year – and we have engineered a new leadership programme to develop leadership skills in the public service – by leadership, we don’t just mean at directorate level. A Level 07 or 08 officer can display leadership skills, we have a way of nurturing these characteristics.

I was speaking with Aig-Imoukhuede, who has launched a new scheme on governance, through which he would give some young people to go to Oxford to study governance and return to Nigeria to lead. We want to get back to him and say “look at what we designed and it is home-grown,” so that we can be partners. If that one falls through, civil servants would see the immediate benefits.
Back in November last year, you were recognised by the ISDMG for your prompt response to FoI enquiries. Do you think others MDAs should emulate you? How can you encourage them to emulate the bureau?
Since this award you mentioned, a lot of things have happened. Recently, two members of our staff won the Presidential Merit Award, signed by the president. I was asked to sack everyone when I resumed here, but, upon that award, I felt like a proud parent. Would they have won the award if I had listened to the voices and sacked them?

The second award we got was major; it was Pan-African Award for Innovation in Public Service, awarded to us by an
organization called CAFRAD, in Morocco. We submitted our service assessment tool on how to improve public services and that was quite something. The third award we received was from an NGO called PPDC and they ranked the openness and transparency of procurement processes in 136 agencies. The BPSR was the government agency proactively disclosing its procurement details without waiting to be asked.
During the last lunch-time reform series of the BPSR, you disclosed that the bureau has saved the government the sum of N60 billion since 2007. How did this happen?
Before the Public Procurement Act 2007 was applied, it turned out that, out of every N100 the government spent, N60 was going to procurement fraud. Since the Act came into play, there have been a number of initiatives and, for the first time, the 2017 budget was developed using a realistic price-list for certain things. This means that you can no longer charge N2, 500 for tea-break, N10,000 for lunch. Now we know that tea-break is N500, lunch-break is N2000, to build one classroom is X naira and Y naira.

The savings, in this case, is the difference between the initial, inflated price and the realistic price which the BPP would now tell you to go procure [it for]. When we come to calculate what we’ve saved after the 2017 budget, we can say that NX amount was saved in 2016 and NX amount was saved in 2017 and, thus, we have saved the country so-and-so amount.
What about the ‘Open Government’ initiative. How can this affect how the average Nigerian view government?
Nigerians have very limited knowledge about how government works. Someone recently accused me of living in a government mansion and all sorts of things which have been scrapped since 2001, with the monetization policy. Sadly, these are very educated people.

Now, that is for the people. On our part, we do not do enough. Wes it in our offices and imagine that we know what the people want. So, we want to move away from that and work with citizens, civil societies and the media on propagating the FoI and its components. Just filing returns to the Office of the Accountant General would not do in that case; some MDAs can be taxed on FoI report.

The initiative is to bring government and citizens closer together, through better consultation and more serious approach to the FoI thing, greater transparence in the usage and spending of money [both in the legislature and in MDAs] , encouraging more journalists to ask about what so-and-so amount of money was used within such-and-such a time. (Blue Print)

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