Thursday, January 15, 2009

Government’s Austerity Measures

The Federal Government is living up to its word by cutting its 2009 expenditure through the introduction of austerity measures in the executive arm.
Presenting the 2009 budget at the National Assembly last month, President Umaru Yar’ Adua had noted that ‘The decline in international oil prices has compelled Government to make some exceptional adjustments in our spending plans and priorities. In this regard, this Administration is introducing certain policies to curb inefficient spending in MDAs.’
To further demonstrate government’s determination to implement an austere budget the President announced the introduction of new Public Spending Efficiency Policy Measures, under which, recurrent expenditure by way of overheads is being frozen, in the main, at the 2008 level or substantially cut, in a number of cases. Investments in non-priority capital outlays such as the acquisition of new vehicles, and the construction and furnishing of new headquarters for MDAs, have been suspended; and excessive expenditure on international travels and training has been curbed by 50% with expenditure on local travels slashed by 25%. Also payments for goods and services will be discharged through the e-payment system to increase efficiency and reduce avenues for corruption.
Last week, some more details of the measures emerged. They include a two-year ban on procurement of new vehicles and suspended foreign training for civil servants.
These are commendable first steps at living the reality of the times, and the fact of the size of the civil service. With so many countries deep in recession in a globalised world, Nigeria cannot go to sleep.
We also support the proposal of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance that the austerity measures embedded in the document should be brought to bear on all facets of governance including the semi-autonomous revenue generating agencies.
But we wish to go further: To be effective, all arms and tiers of government should move quickly to reduce expenditure to make the Federal government’s efforts at cutting cost effective.
However, the experience from similar efforts in the past shows that it is easier to announce such measures than to implement them. Many of the plugged holes have been channels through which some people in government enrich themselves. For example, the average civil servant would want to travel overseas as often as possible because of the allowances they get for such trips.
The fact that such avenues to enrich themselves exist, the only plausible reason some people go into government as middle-class citizens and turn out to be billionaires overnight. As much as Presidents wish to control such tendencies, news loopholes are discovered and exploited. We therefore charge government to introduce an efficient monitoring system to ensure that the measures are not abused.
It would be very convincing to know what Government saves from these measures and how the proceeds are otherwise used to the benefit of the nation.
We are however frightened by the possibility of extending austerity measures to the impoverished average Nigerian, who is in desperate need for government to turn his fortunes around this year. The average Nigerian remembers clearly examples where she has been told to tighten his/her belt only to turn around to see government officials flaunt big tummies without belts.