WHEN THE ZEAL IN A CRUSADER DIES OUT

Mr. Niyi Akinsiju

Mr. Niyi Akinsiju

There must be something decidedly derelict about the civil service. I have seen several otherwise distinguished professionals that impacted their operating industries in the private sector turned hapless, loud talking caricature of their old selves.

 

 

In the instant domain of my observation is the Federal Minister of Finance, Shamsudeed Usman, a former Deputy Governor at the Central Bank of Nigeria. Though the CBN is not a private sector based concern, the apex bank has over the years bathed off the lethargy that usually counts in the characterization of the labourous working of the civil service. So we might as well assume that any one that had the privilege of working in the CBN had a quasi private sector orientation.

 

Not a few Nigerian were exhilarated when Usman was announced as the lead Minister at the Federal Ministry of Finance in the early days of President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s government. Usman is now helped by Mr. Remi Babalola, a professional banker nurtured and nourished in the culture of the private sector. Nobody could have questioned the good judgment of the President, at least, it represented a continuation of the second term disposition of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, who made away with the historian and politicians that held sway in the ultra sensitive Finance Ministry during his 1999 to 2003 first term in the presidency.

 

The appointment of Usman and Babalola revived the hope of furthering the modest economic gains recorded during the stay of World Bank chief, Ngozi Okojo Iweala, at the Ministry of Finance.

 

And I must say that the duo at the Ministry of Finance started well, that is, if you are one of those that gets easily enamoured oral rendition of what government wished to do and a generalized critique of current state of things the new officials met on ground.

 

This certainly seems to be the trend, newly appointed officials raged righteously at how heinous the responsibilities of the office they just resumed had been criminally abandoned by successor, and he shows his zeal, a candid reformist one at that in the manner of his outcry to the public. Unfortunately, this hysterical reaction merely last some few months, at best, a year. The newly appointed officials seem to get swallowed into the civil service vortex and thereafter fall into the now obvious description of furious motion without movement.

 

I recall the near radical presentation of the Ministry of Finance team to the public as presented by Usman when the administration was barely four months old. The presentation tagged The New Road Map To Economic Reforms succinctly captured the work load of the new helmsmen at the Ministry of Finance. Usman said of his intention to accelerate institutional reform and I quote him here.

 

“While it is acknowledged that the Federal Ministry of Finance is one of the pilot ministries under the first phase of the public sector reforms implementation, the evidence on the ground suggests the need to broaden and intensify the reform and restructuring, both within the Ministry and in a number of its agencies.

 

“In a number of its Departments and Agencies there is a fundamental lack of focus and strategic direction. A few examples will help to illustrate the point. the Economic Research and Project Management (ERPM) Department seems to have drifted from its core mandate of research and planning to supervision of the Ministry’s capital projects, a function for which it lacks the necessary expertise. As a result, the quality of the research reports produced by the Department leaves much to be desired.

·         the Home Finance Department (HFD), in addition to its many critical functions, is still granting approvals to government MDAs for foreign exchange transactions. In an era where foreign exchange transactions have been virtually fully deregulated, such approvals are completely anachronistic and, therefore unnecessary.

·         the National Board for Community Banks is still around, somewhere under the Ministry, ostensibly supervising the Community Banks, long after the CBN, where such responsibility squarely rests, has replaced community banks with microfinance banks.

·         A Budget Monitoring Department exists in the Ministry. It currently, however, has only one functional Division, which is somehow, still performing the functions of debt servicing and monitoring, which have since been effectively taken over by the Debt Management Office (DMO), itself being supervised by the Ministry. There is the need, furthermore, to reconcile the functions of the Budget Monitoring Department with similar functions performed by other MDAs of government, such as the BMPIU (now Bureau for Public Procurement), the National Planning Commission and NEIC, so as to avoid unnecessary duplication.

 

Thus, we intend to undertake a major restructuring of the Ministry, in order to avoid the overlapping of functions across Departments, eliminate outdated functions and redundancies and refocus the Departments and Agencies towards their core functions. The reform will also address the glaring problem of inadequate IT infrastructure knowledge and functionality. We also intend to resolve the serious delay in the completion of the second phase of the Ministry’s Headquarters project. The construction is already about 18 months behind schedule due, essentially to serious disagreement between the main contractor and the consultants to the project.

 

Working with other relevant agencies in the reform agenda also, such as the Public Sector Reform Bureau, we intend to champion reforms not only in our Ministry but also in the wider, public sector as well.

 

Well said, it was an obviously outraged Usman that presented the parlous state of his Ministry to the public. And to imagine that a World Bank chieftain once administered that den of rots as described by Usman. Anyway, I still thank the Minister for providing an insight into the cesspit of government in his early days in office when he still, obviously, burn with the redeemer’s passion.

Yet a review of the ministry’s activities still underscores the fact that nothing has changed, in fact, under Usman, what Nigerians have been regaled with are those genuflecting, ill explained seven-point agenda. I personally can’t yet discern a direction for the economy, fact is that I always have this feeling of journey back to the helpless economic drift of the 1980s God Forbid.  

 

Beyond the dump site that his Ministry can be compared with when he gave that presentation, Usman also talked about what he would do with other segments of the larger economy and related agencies. His words: “The most critical objective in the reform of the Nigeria Customs Service, however, is the reduction of the delay in the clearing of goods through the Nigerian ports of entry. Currently it takes an average of two weeks to clear goods through the Nigerian ports. The procedure is so cumbersome and frustrating that it engenders two events: The first is that it forces even the legitimate importer either to divert his imports to neighboring countries’ ports, or to succumb to unholy corrupt practices, in order to clear his goods. The second is that it creates a fertile ground for the illegitimate and or corrupt importer to undertake brisk business, at great cost to the Nigerian economy.

 

“Arrangements are therefore on, in consultation and conjunction with other key stakeholders engaged in the Nigerian ports of entry, to reduce this delay considerably. The target is to reduce the average clearing period from two weeks to two days. It is tough, but with the support and cooperation of all other stakeholders, it can be done. If other countries can get goods cleared through their ports in as little as six hours, Nigeria should be able to do it in 48 hours.

 

“It is a well accepted fact that a good tax system can be a major pillar of support for democracy. It can be posited, for example that one reason why the electorate has been so non-chalant in the face of the apparent fiscal mismanagement by some public officials, is the weakness in the personal income tax system, where the electorate does not directly feel the pinch of such transgressions. Considerable attention will be paid therefore to a broad range of efforts to improve tax administration all over the country, including the establishment of an efficient, computerized system of tax payer registration, working with other relevant agencies.

 

“Sustaining the Capital Market Reforms. It is important to acknowledge the growing confidence in theNigerian capital market arising from the recent reforms undertaken by Nigeria, including the banking sector consolidation and the repayment of the London and Paris Clubs debts. This has led to a substantial portfolio investment inflow into the Nigerian capital market. In 2000, the foreign portfolio investment inflow into the market stood at N51.1 billion compared with N1.0 billion in 1999. Since then the market has witnessed a tremendous increase in the inflow of funds from overseas, with a record high of N375.9 billion in 2005 and N117.2 billion in 2006. In this regard, it is very important to continue with measures that will strengthen and sustain confidence in the market. It is equally important to provide safeguards that will minimize the risk of the kind of meltdowns that have happened in the capital markets of some emerging market countries and the markets of some more developed countries. Such strengthening will be assisted by the following measures: a) the plan to broaden and deepen the market by, among others, the use of more instruments. In this regard the SEC will work closely with the DMO in the development of the bond market and its greater use by the Federal, States and Local Governments, as well as by corporates.b) Developing stronger mechanisms to check insider dealings and other forms of market abuse. c) Creating greater public awareness and utilization, of the capital market, especially the Abuja Commodities and Securities Exchange and d) The SEC will liaise with other key stakeholders to try to reduce further the cost of doing business in the Nigerian capital market”.

 

That was the Minister back then. Now, if you ask my opinion of the promises all that, and I guess it would tally with yours, I think the Minister’s speech writer is gifted with a lot of imagination and audaciousness.

 

So, what has changed with the Customs and goods clearing time from the ports? Is there an appropriately working tax collection and dispersal platform at work? And worst of all, the Minister actually saw into the future when he talked about averting a possible market melt down in the Nigerian capital market but It seems soon after those tough talks, the civil service packed him up, fed him the bland officious indulgence that others before him had got inebriated with…and well, as they all did, Usman drowled into complacency only to wake into the shocking reality of the sludge in the civil service. Shame!

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One Response

  1. […] … in the developed and developing worlds. International trade was deeply affected, as were personal incomes, tax revenues, prices, and profits. Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas … WHEN THE ZEAL IN A CRUSADER DIES OUT […]

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