Sunday 7 May 2023

Tinubu considers Oronsaye report, may merge govt agencies

Indications have emerged that the President-elect, Bola Tinubu, will take tough decisions when he assumes duty in order to revive the ailing economy.

Some of the decisions he is likely to take include the implementation of the Stephen Oronsaye panel’s report on the reform of the civil service and the removal of the controversial fuel subsidy, which has become a drain on resources, job cuts, introduction of higher taxes, privatisation of public corporations and the sale of some government assets.

Sunday PUNCH gathered that Tinubu had been impressing on his loyalists the need to take certain decisions that might be considered unpleasant in the short run, but pay off for the nation later.

Before the February 25, 2023 presidential election, Tinubu, who was then the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, had vowed to remove the fuel subsidy if was elected as it had constituted a huge drain on the government’s revenue.

A highly placed source told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the incoming President would merge some ministries and agencies of the Federal Government as recommended by the Oronsaye panel and would take tough decisions on other issues going by meetings that had been held by Tinubu and his core loyalists.

It was gathered that Tinubu had been meeting with some of his trusted aides on steps to reposition the country and that one of them was to take a critical look at the Oronsaye report.

The source said, “The report has been gathering dust at the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Nothing has been done to it.

“Even President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to cut the cost of governance, couldn’t do anything about it. But the incoming government is likely to take a critical look at the report. You know he (Tinubu) is an accountant and he knows how to manage resources, increase revenue and so forth.

“His meetings with trusted allies and those who are familiar with the economy will bring out the best for the country. He is not a novice in managing people and resources.

“So, I can conveniently tell you that some ministries are going to be merged. Nigeria should expect tough but meaningful decisions from the President-elect.”

Another source said the President-elect would appoint Nigerians from the Diaspora into his cabinet, which would likely not be populated by politicians as experienced under the outgoing government.

He said Tinubu had discussions with some Nigerians living outside the country during his recent travels, adding that the incoming President would put square pegs in square holes.

“He (Tinubu) won’t give ministries to people to manage based on patronage alone. He must have recognised capacity and ability in you before you can be appointed into key positions. That is the hallmark of this man that Nigerians have given the leadership of the country,” the source added.

The Special Adviser to the President-elect, Mr Dele Alake, disclosed that it would not take Tinubu up to 60 days to assemble a team of competent hands.

He had said, “I told you in an earlier interview that it didn’t take Asiwaju more than three weeks to form his cabinet as governor. That was as at that time. I think 60 days is even too much. A month, maximum, is enough for any serious government to form its cabinet and put a structure of government in place after the swearing-in.”

Former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 set up the Presidential Committee on Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies under the chairmanship of Oronsaye.

The committee submitted an 800-page report on April 16, 2012, in which it uncovered a high level of competition among several overlapping agencies, which not only created ill feelings among government agencies, but also brought about unnecessary wastage in expenditure.

It also recommended, among other things, the discontinuation of government funding of professional bodies and councils to free funds for capital projects.

The Oronsaye report established that there are 541 Federal Government parastatals, commissions and agencies (statutory and non-statutory) and recommended that 263 of the statutory agencies should be reduced to 161, while 38 agencies should be abolished and 52 should be merged

The panel also recommended that 14 of the agencies should revert to departments in ministries.

The government later set up a White Paper Drafting Committee headed by the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, to study the recommendations and to produce a White Paper on the report.

When the White Paper was submitted, the government accepted about 10 per cent of the recommendations and rejected the others.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in November 2021 set up two committees to review the Oronsaye report and all new establishments set up after 2014. However, with less than a month to exit power, nothing has been done about it.

The Chairman, Foundation for Economic Research and Training and a former Director-General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management, Prof Akpan Ekpo, said the Oronsaye panel’s report ought to have been implemented years ago.

He, however, added that the incoming administration should implement it systematically so as not to cause problems for the country.

This, according to Ekpo, is because it may render a lot of people, who work in the duplicated agencies and parastatals, unemployed.

He said, “Tinubu should implement the report but it has to be done systematically. This is because this is a report to reduce the cost of governance.

“He has to make sure that the workers that may end up losing their jobs are reassigned to other roles or agencies of government that are not to be collapsed together.

“There is a lot of duplication of agencies and parastatals in Nigeria. There is a revenue mobilisation commission and a fiscal commission. What are the differences?

“This will be one way of reducing the cost of governance and cutting down expenditure.

“The government has dilly dallied for too long and gone ahead to add more agencies to the already-existing ones. They should be closed down. They don’t make sense and the country does not have the money to fund them.”

The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Bismarck Rewane, said the government was running a bloated structure, adding that the structure needed streamlining and restructuring.

Rewane stated, “The Oronsaye is not a new report. It has been there since 2012, and I don’t know why the government has refused to implement it.

“If it is finally implemented by Tinubu after many years, it is fine.”

He, however, noted that the circumstances when it was written and the ones the country had today were totally different.

Rewane added, “I don’t think it can just be implemented the way it is. It has to be updated, and I am not sure how that is going to take place. The (Tinubu) government has to look for a way to make sure that it suits today’s reality.

“We have a bloated government structure and this means that it needs a lot of streamlining and restructuring. This solely depends on the circumstances.

“The economic profile of today is not the same as that of 2012 when that report was submitted. The debt service profile is also completely different from what it was then.

“It makes sense that Tinubu implements it; however, he must take into consideration that the times have changed.

“The problem that the report moved to address then has become worse and needs much more drastic therapy.”

The Chief Executive Officer, Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, said it was key for the incoming administration to implement the Oronsaye report, but advised that a committee should be set up to critically review the report to avoid social and political backlash

He said, “The incoming administration will have to set up a committee to critically look at the report to weigh its merits and strengths as well as its down sides; it needs to examine all the key aspects of the report because there are arguments for and against.

“Labour, for instance, is a critical part of the recommendations, majorly because of job losses. So, it is something that needs to be looked at critically within the whole context of reducing the cost of governance. It should also not be limited to the Oronsaye report; they should look beyond that to other areas like political appointees, budget processes and implementation of budgets, because there is a whole lot that needs to happen to reduce the cost of governance.”

He explained, “The whole idea of this report is that the civil service is bloated, there is duplication of agencies and functions. There are also issues about unnecessary expenditure, costs and of course, corruption. So, it is a cocktail of issues that need to be addressed but it has to be done in such a way that it will not trigger smuch backlash, either socially or politically.

“If the Oronsaye report is implemented, labour must definitely be engaged in the negotiation process and agreements have to be reached.

“There are so many ways they can handle job losses to minimise the impact. There are severance packages that can be arranged for anyone affected, so that we don’t have the same situation we had with Nigerian Airways and NITEL, where after disengaging people, several years after, they had not been paid their severance packages or terminal benefits.

“Also, they can freeze employment and ensure that as people retire, they don’t recruit new people. Another strategy is an attractive package for people who want to leave voluntarily. They can have a very good exit package for those who have spent so many years, but have not reached the retirement age. So, there are many strategies that can be adopted and negotiated by the incoming government.”

The spokesman for the dissolved Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council, Festus Keyamo, said no serious government would come to power without thinking of how best to take some tough decisions.

He was reacting to posers raised concerning the May Day speech of Tinubu in which he promised to join forces with Nigerian workers to ensure better welfare and working conditions, vowing that “workers will have more than a minimum wage.”

“The days ahead will, however, demand better understanding and cooperation from all sides, because leadership will require that we take tough and hard decisions so that our people and all Nigerian workers can live more abundantly,” Tinubu had said.

Although his speech raised some hopes, the ‘tough and hard decisions’ aspect has seemingly unsettled some Nigerians and political observers.

Keyamo said it was too early for Nigerians to start raising fears concerning the tough decisions that Tinubu plans to take after he comes to power.

While stating that the people had agreed that fuel subsidy must go, he gave an assurance that the incoming administration would ameliorate the pains of Nigerians.

“I can assure you that petrol subsidy will not survive under the Asiwaju government. It will have to go. But the other details, I cannot immediately confirm. The details of what he said will be released not long after he takes the oath of office,” Keyamo stated.

He, however, said there would be palliative measures to cushion the effect of the fuel subsidy removal.

He added, “That, of course, is certain. It will be worked out. There will be consideration for workers and certain decisions that will have to be taken to ameliorate the effect on them.

“If we remove subsidy and free up funds, we can easily reschedule our debts very well. It will also allow us to get very good debt repayment schedules,” he noted.


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